Anyone who has been around Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows the M.O. by now. He’s not afraid to trade draft picks. He has shown a penchant for moving up and a bigger penchant for trading back to end the draft with about 10 picks.
The problem is that, as he enters his third year working alongside head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have a dearth of players that are likely to make the final 53-man roster.
At quarterback, the Vikings seem content with veteran Shaun Hill serving as Teddy Bridgewater’s backup. Taylor Heinicke doesn’t have a free pass as the No. 3 guy, but he’s the project they’ve opted into at this point.
The Vikings spent almost the entire season with four running backs – Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata and fullback Zach Line. All four of them are under contract and there’s no reason to think any of them are in any serious jeopardy.
Wide receiver remains a question mark. The Vikings have five currently under contract that were contributors last year – Stefon Diggs, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen. As things stand, there’s room for one more, but that’s about it unless the Vikings trade Patterson – cutting him seems a little unlikely given that he’s led the NFL in kickoff return average in two of his three seasons.
At tight end, the Vikings already have three under contract – Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and MyCole Pruitt. The team signed Brian Leonhardt, but he has no guarantees. But, it would appear that the three that were here last year are coming back this year.
Something is likely going to change on the offensive line. With center John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt expected back from injuries, they are expected to rejoin up with 2015 starters Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, Mike Harris and T.J. Clemmings. Throw in the free agent signings of guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith, you’re already at nine players and that doesn’t include a handful of backups from last season. Something has to give, but it looks like they have nine spots currently locked up.
On the defensive line, starters Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Brian Robison are all back. Veteran Tom Johnson has been a valuable role player, Danielle Hunter isn’t going anywhere. The Vikings re-signed a couple of their own free agents, but, barring injury, a minimum of six D-linemen will be back in 2016.
At linebacker, bringing Chad Greenway back gives the Vikings the returning starters of Greenway, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. The team went into free agency to sign Emmanuel Lamur and Travis Lewis and re-signed Audie Cole. That makes six. While anybody other than Barr and Kendricks don’t have guaranteed job security, it’s looking pretty good that at least five or six of the guys listed are going to take those spots. Considering we haven’t mentioned Brandon Watts or Edmond Robinson, it’s cautiously safe to say that six linebackers on the 2016 final roster may well be on the roster already.
The Vikings also seem pretty stocked in the secondary with Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman and Trae Waynes at cornerback, and Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo and free agent signee Michael Griffin at safety. We’ll call it seven players here and that doesn’t include Marcus Sherels, who avoids the hangman’s noose every year.
Throw in three special teams players – kicker, punter and long snapper – and you have a grand total of 46 players barring injury, trade or a decision to cut loose a veteran like Loadholt or Greenway.
That still doesn’t take into account players the team has been grooming for the future that are already at Winter Park.
We know the Spielman Rules – somehow, some way, you end up with about 10 draft picks. This could be the year to buck the trend. With as few as seven spots potentially up for grabs this early in the 2016 season – and that effectively discounts any in-house back-of-the-roster candidates – this might be the year to make the big move.
Sometimes, very good teams pick their shots to make big moves, giving up multiple picks to move up in the draft. The Vikings could get this accomplished one of two ways – package picks to move up in the first round and make a big splash or move up after their first-round pick to get another player they covet at that point in the draft.
Spielman and the scouting staff can still take their swings on Day 3, but this is a well-stocked roster. In the first two seasons with Zimmer and Spielman, 17 of their draft picks remain on the roster. There just isn’t room to add nine more without parting ways with people who expect to be part of the division title defense.
Spielman claims he’s always running draft scenarios – hundreds, if not thousands of them. Perhaps he should consider the scenario under which he ends up with five or six picks and makes the big move that can add a couple of players who could make an immediate impact and be a big part of the team’s future moving forward.