May draft proves beneficial for Spielman, Vikings
The NFL doesn’t go dormant these days; one only needs to look at the anticipation of the pro day for "Johnny Football" on Thursday or the curiosity in the Philadelphia Eagles signing Mark Sanchez and releasing DeSean Jackson on Friday.
Yet, the buzz of free agency has worn off and last season is a fading memory for anyone unassociated with the Seattle Seahawks. The next significant moment on the NFL calendar is the NFL Draft more than a month away.
The extra time this year because of the draft being moved to May has a boon for the Minnesota Vikings and other NFL teams. Count Minnesota among the teams who are benefiting from more preparation.
"It’s been great this year because I’ve seen so tied up with the coaching staff and the coaching search," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said last month. "I’m going to love this extra two weeks to get caught up. And the other thing is just the record number of juniors that came out so it’s a whole other scouting season."
Minnesota is one of seven NFL teams with new head coaches. As is often the case, those teams with new head coaches are also picking at the front of May’s draft. The Washington Redskins (which lost the No. 2 pick in this draft in the trade for Robert Griffin III) are the only team with a new coach that isn’t currently slated to pick in the top 11.
"That’s part of our planning process; where I’ll put together with the UFA market is and what the strengths and weakness are there and also where the strengths and the weaknesses are in the draft," Spielman said. "So if you know you have to address certain areas in free agency, you try to be as aggressive as you can to go do that if you don’t think there’s enough depth in the draft. And then it’s just the opposite; if there’s enough depth in the draft then you maybe lay back a little bit in free agency knowing you’re going to fill those gaps in the draft.
"Right now we feel we have a good start. By no means this is what our 53-man roster is going to look like. We still have a long way to go and we’ll still continue to add, not only in the draft, but as guys get cut too. We’re always monitoring that day to day. We’re monitoring some trade situations. We’re also monitoring what’s going to happen post June 1 if there’s cuts after that as well."
Spielman spent the first part of the offseason focused on a coaching search that ended up with the hiring of Mike Zimmer to replace the fired Leslie Frazier. Spielman and Zimmer filled out the rest of the coaching staff with hires like offensive coordinator Norv Turner before being able to fully turn their attention to free agency and the draft.
Zimmer and Turner brought with them different schemes and the Vikings have used the extra time to develop one unified vision. The extra time between the start of free agency and the draft also aids teams. Minnesota — because of hiring a new coach — can start its offseason program on April 7 and will even have one minicamp prior to the draft.
"I think it’s extremely important, especially some of the guys that are so-called young, down-the-line guys, because I might be looking for something different in a player than they’ve looked for before," Zimmer said of the pre-draft minicamp. "Yeah, I like this guy. This guy has a chance to be really good. Obviously these things are up to Rick, but we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about them all. But if you have all the information before the draft, then you can move your pieces around and change things and kind of figure out, ‘OK, well, all right, this looks like it’s going to be fine here.’ Or, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got to fix this right away.’"
Aside from the occasional pro day to breathe momentary life into the embers of draft speculation, the time to May’s NFL Draft only adds to guesswork and rampant rumors.
Spielman has joked he’s not sure what’s going to happen when May 8 rolls around and NFL teams are finally on the clock for the first round of the draft. Yet, the later draft has only brought on more inane predictions with little information to go on.
But with the coaching staff settled and free agency on the back burner, Minnesota is using the time to its full advantage.
"It’s pedal to the metal," Spielman said two weeks ago. "You’re down in Alabama one day because you have everything lined up and the next thing you know you’re doing dinners and hosting free agents and then we’re getting ready to head out on Sunday. I’ll be doing tape all day tonight and all day tomorrow and then we’re into some pro days next week.
"Between doing the pro days and working on the free agents, it never ends. That’s part of this business and that’s what the exciting part because this is the time of year with free agency and the draft that you’ve got to (improve) your ballclub. And we’ve got a lot of great people in place that are working extremely hard in their specific areas to get that accomplished."
Having a few extra weeks to prepare doesn’t hurt, either.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter