Rick Spielman finally has the authority he has always desired to lead an NFL franchise.
Promoted to be the Minnesota Vikings’ general manager in January, a position vacant since Mike Lynn held it in the 1980s, Spielman is now the top figure in the front office after years of joint collaboration between Spielman, whoever was the team’s coach and Rob Brzezinski, the vice president of football operations. Spielman, formerly the vice president of player personnel, had been the leader of the draft room and scouting departments.
But Spielman always hoped for the autonomy that comes with being the general manager and being able to shape the organization’s philosophy. Two months on the job, Spielman is ready to make his mark as a general manager with the approaching free agency and draft.
“It’s been very exciting,” Spielman said before heading to Indianapolis for last week’s Scouting Combine. “You get a chance to put your stamp on some things. We’re doing some things a little differently.
“Hopefully, you’ll see some improvements in some things that won’t be written about in the paper. But I’ve been very excited on how it’s gone so far.”
Spielman’s new role is just part of a change in the organization structure. After interviewing with the St. Louis Rams for their general manager position, George Paton, was promoted by the Vikings to assistant general manager from director of player personnel. Brzezinski and director of college scouting Scott Studwell remain in place and will be leaned on by Spielman.
Keeping Paton on staff was important to Spielman. The two have worked together for much of the past 11 years, including when they were on staff together with the Miami Dolphins.
“George’s role will change,” Spielman said. “He’ll be the one doing some of the things I did last year as far as during the season he handled mainly the pro stuff and caught up on the college stuff this time of year after we get done with all our UFA stuff. He’ll be more actively out, seeing college kids next fall … but also overseeing the pro department as well. And then I will be a little bit more in-house and handling some of the responsibilities that I have to do.”
That includes having final say over the roster, an important aspect for a rebuilding Vikings team coming off a 3-13 season. Nearly a third of the roster is filled with pending free agents, and Minnesota expects to have at least 10 picks in the upcoming draft — including the third-overall choice and picks near the top of each subsequent round.
The scenario fits Spielman’s philosophy of building through the draft and supplementing the young talent with free-agent acquisitions.
“You always want, hope, you’ll be able to fill most of your team needs through the draft and continue to develop the young guys,” Spielman said. “We’ve got to do a good job as far as identifying those players, making sure they have enough ability to play in this league. The type of players who we want in here, we’ve always emphasized those guys have to have passion for the game to give our coaches a chance to develop those guys and then the coaches take it from there, develop those guys and try to get them on the field as quickly as we can.”
It’s not Spielman’s first chance at being a general manager. He received a similar promotion from Miami in 2004 but lasted only one season as the Dolphins went 4-8 and decided to overhaul the entire organization. Spielman never had the chance to institute his own belief of how the organization should be run.
Spielman hasn’t hid his desire to make the Vikings a younger team, more in line with the trends in the NFL. Minnesota has been competitive in the NFC North for several years and was always building for the present, at times sacrificing the future. That won’t be the case for Spielman and the Vikings anymore.
Spielman still collaborates with coach Leslie Frazier in figuring out the best way to build the roster and finding players to fit the specific schemes, but Spielman has made sure it’s known he will be the final decision-maker.
“Just from a standpoint on an overall vision and working with Leslie on our philosophy and where my philosophy is,” Spielman said of working with Frazier. “You know just going forward on how we are going to improve and some of my thoughts, which are a little stronger than they have been in the past on what I think we have to do to improve.”
Asked if that meant approaching the roster with more of a long-term vision, Spielman simply said, “Yes.”