Rick Spielman restores order for Vikings
April, 27, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The sky is still blue.
Grass is still green.
Water is still two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
Up is still up.
Down is still down.
Left tackle is still one of the most important positions in football.
Had the Minnesota Vikings passed Thursday night on the opportunity to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil, I would have been left questioning one of the most basic premises of life. Crazy Rick Spielman, the Vikings' general manager, tried to convince us that he might turn the earth on its axis. In the end, Spielman stopped short of losing his mind.
He took Kalil over LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne because his team was barren at one of the most difficult positions to fill in football.
Spielman drafted Kalil because the immediate future of the franchise depends on creating a more comfortable environment for quarterback Christian Ponder.
And Kalil is a Viking because there are more ways to elevate poor secondary play than there are to fill a hole at left tackle. Spielman demonstrated just that a few hours later by trading back into the first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
"There is never or rarely ever a left tackle that's going to come available in the unrestricted free agent market," Spielman said. "You look at the corners, the top three corners in free agency became available. There are receivers that become available. When you're going back and forth at this position and that position, I know that when you have the opportunity to get a left tackle, especially where we were picking, and as talented as Matt is, I don't know that you'll ever get that opportunity again."
I agree, and frankly I felt like banging my head against a wall this week as so many of you argued for Claiborne. I don't have a single bad thing to say about him or his talent, but the left tackle position is arguably more important than ever given the passing explosion of recent seasons. As long as you're convinced Kalil is a true franchise player, as the Vikings are, you make the move first and then start sorting through your other needs. Left tackle can't be an afterthought. Not on this team, at least.
Even Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a former NFL cornerback and longtime defensive coach, agreed.
"It's a very important position," Frazier said, "when you're talking about a young quarterback that you want to make sure gets a little bit more comfortable in the pocket, and Matt gives us some confidence in knowing that that position is taken care of.
"We had some needs, but none were more important than addressing the left tackle position."
Drafting Kalil was part of a bravura opening performance for Spielman in his first draft since the Vikings promoted him to general manager, a mixture of sound thinking, stoic poker-playing and aggressive targeting that netted Kalil and Smith -- and still left the Vikings with 10 picks between rounds 3-7.
Robin Alam/Icon SMIMinnesota addressed their needs in the secondary by drafting Harrison Smith late in the first round.
According to Frazier, the coaching staff has felt comfortable since last month that Kalil should be the pick. Kalil said he got "good vibes" on the possibility during a visit to Minnesota this month, but Spielman managed to turn public perception of what seemed an obvious decision into a legitimate debate.
It doesn't appear that any team bought into the possibility that Claiborne or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon was his top choice. But Spielman still managed to parlay his professed flexibility -- Kalil, Claiborne or Blackmon -- into an easy pre-draft trade with the Cleveland Browns. If the Browns were convinced he was going to take Kalil at No. 3, they never would have felt compelled to move up and block a team from taking their target, Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Adding three picks from the Browns to move back one spot made it easier to deal a few hours later with the Baltimore Ravens, who accepted second- and fourth-round picks in exchange for the No. 29 pick to select Smith. As much as Spielman had spoken publicly about Kalil, he had never mentioned Smith -- whom the Vikings fell in love with while coaching him at the Senior Bowl. To hide their interest, the Vikings made no contact with him at the scouting combine and didn't invite him to Minnesota for a pre-draft visit.
Even with the trade, the Vikings have enough picks remaining to move back into the second round for a receiver or a cornerback. On the other hand, they might move further back and start piling up picks for in 2013. Or …
"You never know what's going to happen," Spielman said with a laugh.
Not with Crazy Rick Spielman. No sir.
Look, this is the same Spielman who ran the Vikings' past four drafts with mixed results. I don't think it's time to start interviewing artists for his Hall of Fame bust. We had some fun with him this week, but the guy had a good day and the Vikings are better for it. That's all.