In the past few seasons, the Minnesota Vikings have made it clear that they are working on building their team through the draft instead of relying on bringing players in via free agency. Instead, they want to use free agency as a way to help fill in a couple holes and possibly provide depth.
Before the 2014 season, Mike Zimmer’s first offseason as head coach, the team brought in Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn and acquired Terence Newman a year later, but apart from them not many starters on the Vikings roster were acquired via free agency. Instead, the Vikings are resolute to bring in players through the draft and keep them around for the majority of their careers.
“The draft has always been our focal point. That’s how we’ve built this football team,” said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. “I think building through the draft you can maintain consistency year in and year out. Not saying we won’t dabble in the free agent market, but I don’t have a big history of that. If there’s a guy or two out there we think are significant players that can come in and help us win, we’ve already looked at doing something if it presents itself. But the theme and philosophy we’ve done is built through the draft, and all those draft picks now we’ve been able to accumulate, and with the coaching staff and how they develop young players, that’s starting to show up on the field.”
Every year Spielman says that his goal is to have drafted at least 10 players. That way the team can bring in more players every year and those new players can then be used to push the ones already on the team.
He said he is trying to get guys beaten out every year because that means that the level of talent on the team is only increasing. Even if players aren’t getting beat out, he is hoping that the competition among starters and backups, and even just the players fighting for a roster spot, is enough to push everyone on the team to improve their game from the previous year.
By creating this competition year in and year out, the coaching staff and front office can see the core group of players who are consistently earning starting roles with the team. They know these are the players that will help the team win and are the ones they focus on signing to long-term contracts.
“That’s the No. 1 thing to me. If you draft ‘em right, those are the guys that you should know,” Spielman said when asked about re-signing his own free agents. “If you know them the best, it’s the safest investment. Hopefully. Now you can’t predict injuries, but you should know the warts that they have, if they have any warts, where in the (unrestricted free agent) market you may not know all that guy’s warts if he has warts.”
The key to keeping these guys around, though, is by building a winning culture inside the locker room and out on the field. If the team is recording losing seasons every year, then the key players are likely going to take their talents elsewhere. But if the team is winning every year and making the playoffs on a consistent basis, players will be more apt to stay.
There has been a clear trend moving in the right direction with the Vikings and it is all starting with the draft and retaining the key players on the team.
“When you have, I think, the type of team we’ll have right now and continuing to hopefully ascend, and then to come and play for this type of coaching staff … because guys who come in here, they all want to be better players,” Spielman explained, “and if a player thinks he can come here and be on a team and this coaching staff can make him a better player, I think that’s going to be appealing as well.”