On a day where the short-term future of the NFL is up in the air and the potential of free agency returning faster than many had anticipated just a week or so ago, it was a sure sign of spring at Winter Park. It may not have felt like it with temperatures in the low 40s and a steady rain, but, with the clock counting down to the 2011 NFL, months of work and preparation by all 32 NFL teams will be tested.
As sure on Punxsutawny Phil ushers out the winter season, the site of the Vikings' draft brain trust is just as certain a sign that the page is being turned from the past to the future in the NFL. Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier met with the assembled Twin Cities media to discuss their draft plan – or at least talk around it.
A year ago, picking 30th in the first round, the Vikings had nothing to do but wait on Day One. In the end, they traded out of the first round so as to be in possession of the first pick in both the second and third days of the draft.
A year later, things are much different.
"Options" has replaced "waiting" as the draft buzz word heading into the first round of the 2011 draft Thursday night. Last year, the first four hours were spent with the Vikings as mere observers. This time around, they're sitting at pick No. 12 in the first round. There are options to the extreme.
They could wait for 11 teams to make their selections and, if a player they have identified as a top-notch prospect (they admit to six such players) is still available, the Vikings could make their selection where they are slotted to pick. They could trade down to re-gain the third-round pick lost in the Randy Moss debacle. There has been some speculation they may even trade up – although that seems difficult to fathom given their lack of currency at the top of the draft to get a taker as a trade partner.
Options are before them and Spielman said Tuesday that the Vikings war room was discussing their options for the second round shortly before meeting with the media, wondering out loud what the Vikings might do.
"What can we do there?" Spielman asked rhetorically. "Can we move back there? Can we pick up another pick? We will definitely stay in this position for this player? I think, at the 12th pick, I know one thing – we're going to get a very good football player. What position? I don't know what it's going to be. I know we have six or seven options at this pick – all different positions. There are a couple multiple players at the same position. We've stacked those guys.
"We've had three or four teams (that have) already called us on potentially moving up to the 12th spot. So, we're going to look at all those options. But a lot of that won't happen until we're on the clock."
While trying to get a straight answer out of Spielman is typically like believing a round peg can fit in a square hole if tried enough times, Frazier is in his first draft in which he has been given the honorary Triangle of Authority war-room blazer. He admitted that much of the public discussion of the Vikings' intentions in the first round have been centered on quarterback – due in no small part to his own statements about the glaring need at the position.
Frazier referenced comments about the recent early success of top college quarterbacks in recent drafts, but said, like Spielman, the Vikings are far from being locked in at No. 12. However, he said the Vikings will be in the same boat as the fans who are watching the draft along with them.
"I referenced three guys that have done it in the last couple of years – (the Jets' Mark) Sanchez, (Baltimore's Joe) Flacco and Matt Ryan down in Atlanta – and hopefully, that will be the case for us," Frazier said. "But who knows who is going to be there at 12 and if the one we want is going to be there at 12 or not? Who knows?"
The biggest issue, it would seem, is how badly the Vikings want the third-round pick back. While Spielman is as adept as any NFL executive in giving circuitous answers to relatively straightforward questions – being polished in the art of being wordy, yet vague – he has said on multiple occasions that the Vikings want that third-rounder back. What Randy Moss brought to the table wasn't nearly worth what the team surrendered to get him in a desperation move to salvage the lost 2010 season. That has been a thorn in the side of those who are in charge of the Vikings draft ever since.
"If you can get a player you like and get a third-round pick, you'd think we've had a successful draft," Spielman said. "But there are players we have already talked about that, if he's sitting there at 12, we're not going to move. We're going to take that player because we think he's that significant of a player that we wouldn't want to trade out."
One thing that can be said about Spielman is that he won't be caught unprepared. In his first draft with the Vikings (after several failed attempts to bring "the next Dan Marino" to Miami), he had literally dozens of mock draft scenarios to get Adrian Peterson at No. 7, which effectively was wait for him to fall in your lap and say a resounding, "Yes!"
At No. 12, one can only imagine Spielman is in hyperdrive. Not only could the Vikings wait and hope for another draft-day pot of gold they received in A.D. and Percy Harvin – the only two first-rounders Spielman has pulled the trigger on – but the potential to move down and guesstimate what the teams in between will do has had Spielman working overtime on the options and possibilities.
"We've been through the scenarios where, what would our team look like if we moved back, lost that player, picked up another player we liked, but we got a third-rounder?" Spielman said. "And we've looked at a scenario where we didn't move back, didn't have a third-rounder and had that player (at No. 12), how would that impact our football team?"
Is moving up a possibility? Likely only if Blaine Gabbert is the player that would help solve the Vikings' short-term questions at the quarterback position. But Spielman said the odds are the Vikings will take one of two tracks Thursday – stay put or move down – but won't dismiss the option of moving up for what would have to be a franchise-type player.
"I would say if we felt that strongly about a player, that would not prevent us from moving up," Spielman said "I don't ever want to say we would never move up because we might. But I say the more likely scenario is to stay or move back. But, if we see someone falling down that board and we think he that significant a player, then we may say, ‘Hey, this is too good of an opportunity to get a difference-maker – we need to go do what we have to do to get it done."
For restless fans who haven't been energized by free-agent signings, the 2011 draft is their oasis in the football desert. What will the Vikings do? Until the draft starts unfolding, if they told you they knew, they would be lying. It's a wide-open labyrinth of opportunities and, like the millions of NFL fans needing their next shot of enthusiasm, they will spend the first 90 minutes of prime-time draft night watching and waiting…and mulling their numerous options.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings have numerous draft options
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