With two weeks remaining until the start of the 2017 draft, we’ve reached the point that just about anything a team says publicly has to be treated with some skepticism as to the veracity of the statement and the truth that is being told. In short, believe nothing you hear.
The landscape of social media has made keeping player visits on the low-low much more difficult to pull off. A player will brag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or whatever the hot new social media platform is that he’s visiting a team. Or an agent will spill the beans. Or maybe a parent, sibling or girlfriend gets the word out.
It wasn’t always that way. In 2003, the Minnesota Vikings draft gurus had a plan to throw other teams off the scent of their true intentions and were willing to lie about it.
It was no secret heading into the 2003 draft that Minnesota was looking for a defensive tackle to help fill a void on the roster. The player they had their heart set on was Kevin Williams, whom most scouts viewed as a mid-first round pick who would be a stretch for the Vikings at No. 7. But, the Vikings fell in love with Williams and had every intention of drafting him. They only problem was that they didn’t want teams that also coveted Williams to be in on their plans.
They created a fall guy.
Most draft analysts viewed Jimmy Kennedy at the top of the draft class for defensive tackles in 2003, but the Vikings didn’t view Kennedy as a scheme fit for their defense. They had no interest in drafting the Penn State defensive tackle but didn’t want anyone else to know that.
At a time when the Vikings were in full cloak-and-dagger mode with draft discussions, scuttling players in and out of Winter Park under the cloak of darkness, the team propped up Kennedy and then-head coach Mike Tice for all the reporters and TV cameras to see.
Was this a new approach to how the Vikings were conducting business?
Nope, it was second-level chicanery.
The Vikings had no interest in Kennedy, but were willing to show him off to the football world that he was in the facility and the Vikings were having a private visit with him, although they had no interest in selecting him. At the time, it was a secret the Vikings kept, but Kennedy didn’t appreciate being a pawn in the bigger game the Vikings were playing.
Five years later, in 2008, the Vikings signed Kennedy as a free agent and Viking Update had to ask the question of whether the Vikings were seriously interested in him back in 2003 when they brought him to Winter Park. After all, Kennedy was still on the board when the Vikings were scheduled to pick at No. 7 – then No. 8 and No. 9 following their infamous draft botch that let two teams slide in after the clock ran out on their pick.
Suffice it to say, Kennedy wasn’t in on the bit.
“I knew within 10 minutes of being there that they had no intention of drafting me,” Kennedy told VU after he actually did sign with the Vikings. “You could tell how they were treating me that they didn’t seem serious.”
Other teams had put Kennedy through his paces with a private workout or play-design study session. A lot of owners, G.M.s, coaches and front office types were involved in his other professional recruiting visits. Not the Vikings. He was being dangled to the media as someone to latch onto and the local media gleefully obliged, dutifully reporting that, against standard practice, the Vikings aren’t keeping it any secret that they want to draft Kennedy.
Little did they know, the disinformation campaign to hide their true feelings toward Williams was being laid out masterfully to the masses with the local media fueling the fire and fanning the flames.
For his part, there wasn’t the media platform for Kennedy or his agent to register their disgust with the Vikings franchise, but Kennedy held a lot of resentment over how he was duped and used by the Vikings as a red herring.
“I hated Minnesota,” Kennedy said in 2008. “I didn’t just hate the Vikings. I hated the city. I never wanted to come back here.”
How deep did his animosity run?
“I threw away everything I owned that was purple,” Kennedy said. “If I had a shirt that was purple, it was gone. If I had anything that was purple, I got rid of it.”
The Vikings would become infamous for their draft day gaffe that would see Jacksonville and Carolina scramble to get their picks in front of them when the clock ran out on a proposed trade the Vikings were cutting with Baltimore to drop back three spots and still take Williams – punctuated by play-by-play man Paul Allen getting a raucous fan party at Winter Park to chant “Suggs! Suggs! Suggs!” because he thought the Vikings were going to draft Terrell Suggs, a talented rookie who was still on the board.
The Kennedy saga was just one of hundreds of similar draft stories over the years where teams made a public display of affection toward a prospect only to go in a different direction, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the players involved that they were merely collateral damage in the bigger picture.
The moral of the story is that, between now and Commissioner Roger Goodell getting booed as he reads the names of the players being selected by the NFL’s 32 teams, don’t take as gospel anything you hear from a coach, a G.M. or a lapdog media member spouting the company line on draft intentions. As Kennedy can attest, what you see isn’t always what you get.