When Rick Spielman came to the Vikings in 2006, it was after Fran Foley imploded on draft weekend and left the Vikings gobsmacked with how he treated his peers and subordinates. A week later, Foley was fired.
The initial plan was to have Foley as an equal to Brad Childress, working in concert with capologist Rob Brzezinski to create a Triangle of Authority. When one of those legs (Foley's) got kicked out of the equation, Spielman was hired. Childress had already carved out a niche for himself within the organization as the shot-caller. He was brought in to clean up a team that had become the punch line to a joke that wasn't funny. In the wave of the Love Boat scandal, Chilly was going to change the culture of what had been widely viewed as Delta House run amok.
The "bad eggs" were quickly dismissed from the team. There was going to be culpability for one's actions. Stray too far off the farm and there would be consequences.
Mike Zimmer comes to the Vikings from what would be the NFL version of Boys Town. If you had a problem with the NFL, you wound up in Cincinnati. Inner Circle sang your theme song. The petulant attitudes and checkered pasts gathered. From Chad Johnson/Ochocinco to Terrell Owens to Cedric Benson to Rey Mualuga to Pacman Jones to Jerome Simpson to Vontaze Burfict, if you had a red flag, you ended up in Cincinnati.
The funny thing is that, although the Bengals and Vikings have challenged one another for millennial lead in player arrests, the Vikings' plan to redirected their arrest record involves drafting players of "high character." Spielman has a ton of red flags on players. Yet, Zimmer has a history of reclaiming careers of players (on the defensive side of ball, anyway) that other teams decided weren't worth the potential public relations hit.
Burfict may be the test case for Zimmer's ability to get the most out of players. There is such a thing as draft stock. Some stocks go up dramatically. Some drop just as fast. Burfict was one of those players. Spielman had multiple opportunities to take him. He didn't. His chart said an emphatic "no." Zimmer got him. Burfict is heading to Hawaii. Pacman is now called Adam. Zimmer helped that transformation.
At a time when the Vikings are at a crossroads in their franchise history, Zimmer's ability to conduct reclamation projects runs contrary to business as usual with the Vikings organization.
Perhaps Zimmer's gift to the franchise will be the ability to get those who have too many check marks against them by the current view of Vikings protocol – skill always trumps red flags, just ask Randy Moss – to play a significant role in changing a franchise.
It can be argued that nobody has a knack for getting the most out of outcasts than Zimmer did in Cincinnati. There is an inherent risk in taking players that might be a day-to-day disruptions but on Sundays can make the difference between winning and losing.
The Vikings still compete for the unwanted top spot in 21st century arrests, but, for a team that is viewed as not being one to take on players with "baggage," Zimmer might be the guy that can get the most of talent, regardless of potential red flags.
This may be the first test of the Spielman-Zimmer partnership. Where the Vikings of recent vintage say "No," Zimmer has a track record of getting the most out of that type of player.
Get your popcorn ready.
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.
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