Rick Spielman became the Vikings general manager in 2012. He ran drafts for the team before that as the VP of player personnel — who can forget Christian Ponder in 2011 — but there is no doubt who owns the 2012-16 drafts for the Vikings.
For better or worse, it is Spielman. And for a while, those last five drafts looked a lot better than they do now. Specifically, events and decisions of the past several months — starting with Teddy Bridgewater’s terrible injury and continuing through this free agency period — have to make us re-evaluate those last five classes.
Let’s take a look at 10 key players/events, with at least one from each class, to illustrate that point:
Matt Kalil: The 2012 No. 4 overall pick was either injured, ineffective or both for much of his Vikings tenure. Now he’s gone to Carolina after signing with the Panthers as a free agent.
Blair Walsh: Also a 2012 pick (sixth round), Walsh floundered after receiving a contract extension and was released in the middle of the 2016 season.
Cordarrelle Patterson: The Vikings moved up and traded a bunch of picks to land Patterson, one of three first-round choices in 2013. He was a great kick returner but never developed as a receiver. Now he’s with Oakland after signing there as a free agent.
Sharrif Floyd: A valuable player when healthy, Floyd has struggled to stay on the field. He missed five games in 2014 and 2015 combined, then missed the entire 2016 season. The Vikings picked up his fifth-year option and because Floyd — also a first-round pick in 2013 — is still injured his $6.8 million salary is guaranteed for 2017.
Jeff Locke: A fifth-round pick in 2013, Locke signed to punt with the Colts this offseason.
Bridgewater: One of two first-round picks in 2014, Bridgewater and the Vikings (Spielman by extension) were dealt some terrible luck with his freakish and devastating injury in the 2016 preaseason. Before the injury, there were signs that Bridgewater was ready for a strong third season, though questions remained about his development.
Anthony Barr: The other 2014 first-round pick, Barr looked to be on the path to stardom as a rookie and second-year player but had an underwhelming third year last season.
Jerick McKinnon: He’s certainly a useful player, but if the 2014 third-round pick had shown he could be a featured running back the Vikings might be more willing to give him the starting job instead of pursuing Eddie Lacy and now Latavius Murray in this free agency period.
T.J. Clemmings and Willie Beavers: Fourth-round picks in 2015 (Clemmings) and 2016 (Beavers), respectively, if either had shown more of a progression at this point the Vikings’ search for offensive linemen in this free agency class might not have been so frantic and led them to spend $90 million on two tackles. This is particularly true of Clemmings, an offensive tackle who started 30 combined games the last two seasons.
Laquon Treadwell: Would the Vikings have pursued Alshon Jeffery in free agency if they thought Treadwell, their 2016 first-round pick, was ready to step into a more prominent role after an injury-plagued, one-catch rookie year?
This doesn’t even account for the fact that 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes enters 2017 with plenty still to prove while 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander also figures to be given a more prominent role with Captain Munnerlyn gone. If Waynes and/or Alexander end up contributing less than should be expected, those draft picks would come under more question as well.
That’s not to say, of course, that the news has been all bad. Harrison Smith (2012 first round) and Xavier Rhodes (2013 first round) are standout players for a very good defense. The 2015 draft, particularly if Waynes continues to develop, looks very good: Waynes, Eric Kendricks (second round), Danielle Hunter (third round) and Stefon Diggs (fifth round). Barr and Floyd could have bounceback seasons. Bridgewater could still be a big part of the future.
And it’s important to remember that 1) drafting players is an inexact science and 2) when players hit free agency, they can choose to play elsewhere.
But an organization that has tried to build through the draft has taken major hits in recent months in a variety of different ways. Spielman received plenty of credit for stockpiling picks and building a team that went 11-5 in 2015. As it has started to unravel, he is left with the task of fixing it while also taking some of the blame.