EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Shortly after announcing the signing of receiver Greg Jennings to a reported five-year, $47.5 million contract with $18 million guaranteed, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman spoke with Twin Cities reporters on the side and offered his reasoning for breaking from his philosophy of staying away from paying big money in free agency.
Spielman firmly believes in building through the draft and only supplementing through free agency. He usually steers clear of bidding wars. This time, Jennings was different.
“To me, he was a unique situation, Spielman explained. “And I tell you guys all the time, if there’s something unique out there that you have an opportunity to go get a player, and we’re very, very fortunate to have the ownership we have to give us the resources we need to go do a move like we did today. So, again, I’m a very strong believer in building through the draft, but every once in a while something unique will come about that you just want to make sure that you can try and get accomplished to get that player here.”
The Vikings still have needs as they look to improve on last year’s playoff team, especially at linebacker and cornerback, and a depressed free-agent market would seem to give Spielman a chance to dip back into the free agency waters again. But any other moves in free agency will likely be for bargain specials, possibly one-year, make-good offers and even those moves are unlikely at this point for Spielman.
Now that he made his “unique” splash for Jennings, Spielman is back to focusing on April’s draft.
“We always keep our options open,” Spielman said. “But I know getting the things we were able to do with our own players and to get Greg Jennings and to get (quarterback) Matt Cassel done, we’re going to probably really hone in and focus on the next important step to getting this team better, and that’s the draft.”
Minnesota owns two picks in the first round (Nos. 23 and 25), the 20th pick in the second round, No. 52 overall and six total picks in the first four rounds. The draft appears deep at key positions for the Vikings, including cornerback, receiver and defensive tackle.
Releasing cornerback Antoine Winfield last week was a surprise but a business decision as the 14-year veteran was set to make $7.25 million. It left Minnesota with only Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as cornerbacks with NFL experience.
Spielman said he wanted to keep the door open for Winfield to return but admitted Friday he hadn’t spoken with Winfield since the release. Reports say coach Leslie Frazier has talked with Winfield and is hopeful for a return. Winfield will be 36 years old before next season starts and could look for the best chance possible to reach a Super Bowl for the first time. Or he could maybe finish out his career in Minnesota because of the familiarity but would have to do so at a significantly reduced price.
Instead, the position could be another focus in the draft for the Vikings, and Jennings’ signing helps keep Spielman’s options open.
“It opens up all the doors, and it doesn’t force you to take a receiver in the first round,” Spielman said. “We’ve never forced an issue. We go right off the true value of our board. But if there’s another need we have to fill, and you know there’s depth in this draft at the receiver position, it doesn’t force you to say you need to take a receiver. We can take whatever we need to fill.”
Instead, Minnesota could look to address its open middle linebacker spot with a first-round pick, add depth and youth at defensive tackle in an exceptionally deep draft for the position or look outside at receivers or cornerbacks. All are options and give Spielman the chance to capitalize on value.
“I think with the depth of this draft and as we’ve developed our board, we feel very strong about getting two players who can come in and help us win ballgames right away,” Spielman said.
After one week of free agency, the Vikings’ only starting spot that appears open is middle linebacker after Jasper Brinkley chose to sign with the Arizona Cardinals last week as an unrestricted free agent. In the draft, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown and LSU’s Kevin Minter could all be in the late first-round range.
After one week of activity in free agency, Spielman is back to his patient approach. The remaining holes will likely have to wait until the draft.