For fans of the Minnesota Vikings and the other 31 NFL teams, draft weekend in something they look forward to. It would stand to reason that players would have the same feeling, hoping the team will add the component pieces needed to get their team to the playoffs with hopes of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done.
The reality is a little different.
The Vikings ended the 2015 season with 53 players on the active roster, a handful on injured reserve and eight guys on the practice squad. Only a few of those players are gone heading into draft weekend.
A lot more are eventually going to join them.
Few things are as certain in life than the inconvenient truth that the career expectancy of NFL players is finite. In few other occupations is turning 30 an occasion for black balloons at your birthday party. Once you pass the agreed-upon expiration date of 30, you’re walking on egg shells to keep your career alive.
Worse yet is those who have a draft pick made at their position – an unspoken indictment of the job that is currently being done. It can happen in the first round – when the Vikings gave Christian Ponder No. 7 to hold up at his draft press conference, it sent a clear message to Tarvaris Jackson that his era was over in Minnesota. The drafting of Jeff Locke and Blair Walsh sent both Chris Kluwe and Ryan Longwell packing within 72 hours.
So who are the players that will be watching the draft the closest for the Vikings?
Butch and Sundance (a.k.a. Terence Newman and Michael Griffin) – They’ve both had impressive and lengthy NFL careers and, as things currently stand, both would appear to be written in pencil on the final 53-man roster. Drafting a corner or a safety in the first two rounds would show why there is an eraser of the other side of that pencil. If the Vikings go all-in on a cornerback or a safety, Newman or Griffin will find themselves in competition with younger players who, if they pan out in the system as the coaching staff expects, could have their role reduced because it’s best for business.
John Sullivan – There’s no two ways about it and Sully knows it. He was drafted when Matt Birk was entering what would turn out to be his final season with the Vikings. Birk’s NFL story was identical – sixth-round pick sits one year and replaces a fan favorite. Sullivan added a one-year extension to his current contract effectively based on that experience. If the Vikings draft a center, the handwriting is on the wall.
Phil Loadholt – He’s in a difficult situation with the franchise. Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner have combined to coach 33 games in two years. The first eleven were with Big Phil. The last 22 have been without him. Throw in new offensive line coach Tony Sparano and Loadholt doesn’t have a lot of vested love/respect built up. If the Vikings draft a tackle, chances are a salary will have to be lopped from a veteran and Loadholt fits the M.O. of the type of roster move the Vikings make when adding a young player that is expected to fill a role.
Brian Robison – B-Rob has been a Viking for a decade and, for a fourth-round draft pick, has put together an NFL career that is impressive to say the least. But he has been witness to the systematic dismantling of the defensive line that, at one point, included himself, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen. He is the sole survivor of that group, but adding a young defensive end early in the draft will start the clock ticking on his Vikings career.
Chad Greenway – He’s already made it clear that 2016 likeky will be his last rodeo. If the Vikings draft an outside linebacker early, his role in his final season may be diminished to that of a supporting cast player.
Cordarrelle Patterson – He’s led the league in kickoff return yardage two of his first three seasons, but you don’t draft players in the first round – much less trade up into the first round for them – to be core special teams players. He is in the final season of his rookie contract and the drafting of an elite wide receiver will set the tone for 2016 at the position and make this a make-or-break season for the rest of his career, which has all the looks of continuing in another city.
For the most part, the advent of the draft is seen as a good thing for organizations – a chance to stock the shelves with players that they hope will end up being a critical part of the team’s future success. But, in the NFL, success comes with a price and is typically at the expense of veterans. Not everyone is going to be thrilled with the picks the Vikings make this week because each pick in the first few rounds will likely come at the expense of someone else currently on the roster.