Sunday slant: Deception season in full bloom

Reports are all over the place about which quarterbacks the Vikings have worked out, met with privately and investigated further. They're likely all true, and without any context about who the Vikings really want, which is exactly the way NFL franchises always want it before the draft.

With sunshine emerging sporadically like a long-lost friend, spring is allegedly developing in Minnesota. It coincides perfectly with a darker period in the NFL: the lying season.

Not that the league is a bastion of truth-telling at any point during the calendar year, but teams go to great lengths to conceal their intentions as perhaps the biggest decision-making month of the year is upon us. The draft is little more than three weeks away and general managers have done all they can to find out the smallest details on prospects while telling outsiders as little as they can about their own intentions.

Most coaches and general managers don't tweet their thoughts, but it's obvious the personnel people in the league want to know everything a prospect has to say on social media. Teams are gathering that information as part of their extensive and exhausting research.

Why so much cloak and dagger, research and reconnaissance? The 256 picks spread out among the 32 teams in three days (May 8-10) are the most important decisions organizations will make in a 365-days-a-year job. All teams say they want to build through the draft, but when they fail to do that adequately enough, they are forced to fill the depth-chart cracks with bigger spending in free agency. That's why they want other teams to think they are zigging when they are zagging.

In some cases, the intentions are pure. Teams truly do want to find out as much as they can about a prospect. But there are also the cases where they misled the prospects.

In 2003, Jimmy Kennedy was paraded around Winter Park in a predraft visit and the Vikings weren't afraid to let the media know it. The public vibe was that Kennedy, if available, was their man. The reality behind the scenes was very different and both sides knew it. When the Vikings were on the clock, they chose a defensive tackle, alright, but it wasn't Kennedy. The Vikings chose Kevin Williams, which turned out to be the better choice, but it was something Kennedy never forgot, even after he was signed by the Vikings for a rotational role seven years later.

"When they brought me in, they didn't show me any love," Kennedy told Viking Update in 2010. "It was a smoke screen and, on top of that, I didn't want to come here. Truth be told, when my agent called me last year and told me he wanted me to come to Minnesota, I told him ‘hell no.' Honestly, I just felt that this wasn't the place for me – that God didn't want me here. Boy, was I wrong."

But it took seven years before the Vikings and Kennedy were reunited. His signing served a rotational purpose, but it also put a face with the shadowy side of predraft evaluations.

A former NFL scout told Scout.com that his former teams would tell their coaches and scouts before the draft to pump up the players they didn't like and publicly downgrade those prospects they like. In other words, when the media comes calling, publicly promote zigging when the bosses really want to zag.

Even the league's official media site, NFL.com, plays into it, saying recently that Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel are reportedly all still in play for the Texans at No. 1. "Reportedly" that may be true, but realistically the Texans surely know which quarterback they want – if, indeed, they actually decide to choose a quarterback first overall instead of landing Jadeveon Clowney, universally analyzed as the most talented player in the draft. So instead of two possibilities in the public perception, the Texans are promoting the possibilities of four prospects they might choose.

This year, general manager Rick Spielman has been up-front in some of his comments. He said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February that the Vikings would likely meet privately with close to 10 quarterback prospects. If they aren't already at that number, they are close. They have met with Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and several others, all the way down to David Fales, who is expected to be a mid- to late-round prospect. It's simple due diligence, but with the increased media coverage during the offseason, it's easy to assume that every week they are high on another quarterback.

The truth is, they are simply trying to find out everything they can about an imperative upcoming decision on arguably the most important position in sports. You'd blame them if they weren't doing their homework. But with so many choices and options, there is no need to be too secretive this time around, unlike when they were giddy with their ability to conduct a 2006 predraft workout with Tarvaris Jackson without the media at large knowing about it. Whether it's been Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer or offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Vikings personnel has been at all the top pro days. If you want to guess which one they will draft in the first three rounds, you have about a one in 10 shot of getting it right.

Internally, they likely already know which one they want the most, but they aren't going to let the rest of the NFL-loving world know it just yet. Welcome to deception season, which is in full bloom whether the sun is shining or not.


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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