Sunday slant: Can ‘the fixer' fix the roster?

Mike Zimmer calls himself a "fixer," referring to the defense, but he could fix a slipping reputation of Rick Spielman's draft prowess if Zimmer is able to work the same kind of magic he had in Cincinnati.

Rick Spielman is giving Mike Zimmer his first chance as a head coach, and Zimmer's first chance could be Spielman's last chance to redeem his draft record.

While the draft is filled with hit-and-miss stories for every franchise, there is little doubt that drafting a quarterback is the most important move a general manager can make. Officially, Spielman didn't have the general manager title until 2012, but he played a major role in the drafting of Christian Ponder.

Unless the quarterback situation is straightened out in short order and a winning record is a regularity instead of the exception, Spielman's job will be up for debate in the coming years. But hiring Zimmer may be the quick fix Spielman needs to make his past picks look better.

If Zimmer succeeds, it will give the appearance that Leslie Frazier and his coaching staff didn't get the most out the players Spielman gave them to work with. If Zimmer continues to have a winning record only once every four years – as has been the case over the last four years at the end of the Brad Childress era and entirety of the Frazier era – the roster decisions will look as bad as the coaching.

The roster is, of course, Spielman's domain. From the time he was named general manager in January 2012, he has rightfully taken ownership of that mantle, ending the murkiness about who was really calling the shots in the draft room and during free agency. Now there is no such public confusion.

Spielman has put his mark on the current roster. In the last two years with him in full authority of the roster, 28 of the 53 players were added through the draft or free agency and waivers. Eleven more were acquired in 2011 – after Childress was fired and when Spielman was essentially in charge of the roster without the title of general manager yet. That's almost four-fifths of the roster coming during Spielman's authority.

The remnants of the Childress era are quickly disappearing. Only nine players that were acquired in 2009 or before – Cullen Loeffler, Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson, Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, John Sullivan, Erin Henderson, Phil Loadholt and Jamarca Sanford – are left under contract for 2014.

The 2010 draft, the last one with Spielman and Childress splitting power, could be coming to an end. Chris Cook and Toby Gerhart could be moving as unrestricted free agents. Everson Griffen might still be a valued commodity, but he doesn't have any history with Zimmer and his staff, and Joe Webb's run in purple could be over. All of those 2010 draftees are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

The 2011 draft is fading quickly too. Ponder lost his starting job last year, despite being a first-round pick, and Kyle Rudolph, the second-rounder, appears to be the only true gem of that class. Brandon Fusco is a serviceable guard and is the only real contributor left from the 2011 draft after Rudolph in the second round.

With losing records in 2011 and 2013 and apparently not getting enough out of the draft picks, Frazier was shown the door with one year left on his contract.

If Zimmer is to succeed, and thereby engage some job security for Spielman, he will have to live up to his reputation for getting the most from undrafted and seemingly unwanted players.

In 2013, the Bengals had 25 players from their 53-man roster or on injured reserve that were drafted in the fourth round or later or acquired via waivers or as undrafted rookies.

Some of the names are impressive mainstays and important contributors, from undrafted rookie LB Vontaze Burfict in 2012, who was the NFL's leading tackling in 2013; to S George Iloka, a fifth-round pick in 2012; to DT Domata Peko, a fourth-round pick in 2006; to DT Geno Atkins, a fourth-round pick in 2010.

While the Vikings have had only one winning season in the last three, the Bengals have made the playoffs each of the past three seasons, although they have failed to win a game in the postseason. Still, the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC's representative in today's Super Bowl, prove that a roster doesn't have to be lit up with high-round picks and expensive free agents. Sure, the Seahawks have invested heavily in former Vikings wide receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin through free agency and trade, respectively, but Seattle has 21 of the 53 players on their active roster that came into the NFL as undrafted free agents.

Spielman's draft class of 2013 features three first-round picks and there were 10 first-round picks on the 2013 roster, but the Vikings are going to have to start getting more out of their undrafted and late-round picks if they want to make a quick and sustainable turnaround in the near future. They have two third-round picks this year because of the Harvin trade, but they didn't have a third-round pick on their season-ending 53-man roster (Josh Robinson was on injured reserve).

If Spielman wants to maintain his position of roster authority in the coming years, it could be Zimmer's ability to get the most out of the afterthoughts and outcasts that accomplishes it.


The Super Bowl is a time for the most interesting proposition bets. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The over-under on the length of the National Anthem is 2 minutes, 25 seconds.

  • Peyton Manning's utterances of "Omaha" during the game have an over-under of 27.5.

  • After the debacle in last year's Super Bowl in New Orleans, there is a 25/1 bet on whether the power goes out in the stadium this year during the game.

  • There are also bets on how many times Archie Manning and Eli Manning will be shown on TV during the game, which head coach will be shown on TV more, which sideline reporter will be shown first – Pam Oliver or Erin Andrews – and the number of references to "Beast Mode," the "12th Man" and "marijuana."

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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