EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman met with reporters Tuesday and formally confirmed his team’s trade of leading receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, a deal that stripped Minnesota of its second-best offensive player and the top talent at a position that already needed to be addressed.
Spielman wouldn’t get into specifics about the reason for trading Harvin, though it’s widely understood the receiver forced his way out through a series of confrontations with coaches, contract demands and trade requests. In his wake, Harvin left a receiving core that consisted only of Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, rehabbing Greg Childs and practice-squad player Chris Summers.
If anyone expected Spielman to mention Tuesday how he will fortify the weakest position on the roster, he wasn’t willing to offer any particular insight.
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“I don’t think you panic because you don’t line up and play until August,” Spielman said. “There are so many things that happen between now and then. Your roster isn’t set tomorrow by 4 o’clock. I mean, it’s a continuous process. And you have to be patient. You have to have a schematic-type approach, and doing your due diligence. And if there’s something out there that we think not only is going to help us in the short term but the long term, we’ll definitely take a peek at it. But if there’s something out there that we don’t feel very good about it, then we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to just do something just to do it. We’re going to be very meticulous on how we handle this.”
In Wright and Burton, Minnesota returns just 27 catches from its receivers last season. Wright, after not playing the first nine games, did show some ability in his rookie season after being a fourth-round draft pick last year. He caught 22 passes for 310 yards (a 14.1 yard-per-catch average) and two touchdowns. Burton, a seventh-round pick in 2011, has seven catches in his two seasons. Childs, a fourth-round pick last year, tore the patellar tendon in each of his knees and his return is no sure thing.
Which leaves the Vikings with a lot of unknowns for quarterback Christian Ponder.
Just before Spielman’s press conference, Minnesota reportedly did come to terms with Jerome Simpson, who was underwhelming in his first season with the Vikings while dealing with a suspension and injury. He is reportedly back on a second one-year deal, though Spielman wouldn’t confirm the signing “until we have signatures.” Simpson, of course, isn’t the big signing Vikings fans are hoping for with Harvin in Seattle. He ended up with 26 catches for 274 yards last year, and Minnesota will be expecting — hoping? — for more in 2013.
“Jerome had to deal with the suspension and he had to deal with the injury that he had through most of the year, but I know coming back for a second year in the offensive system, coming back healthy, you could see some of the potential that he showed during training camp, that he showed in the preseason.” Spielman said. “And if officially Jerome is signed back here, we look forward to having him.”
Some expected Minnesota to open the checkbook for Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent receiver Mike Wallace. Spielman’s M.O. isn’t to chase the hot free agent, though, and Wallace reportedly agreed to sign with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday less than an hour after free agency opened for a five-year, $65 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.
The next rumored move is signing Greg Jennings, the former Green Bay Packers receiver who is an unrestricted free agent. If there’s interest, at the right price, Spielman wasn’t saying on Tuesday.
“We’ll look at everything,” Spielman said. “We’re going to look at the UFAs. The philosophy here is putting an emphasis on signing your own back. We’ve been doing that through the night. We’re currently doing that right now and trying to get as many of our guys back that were UFAs last year because of the success that we had last year. And if we can sign some of those guys back that were a key to that success, and then have another strong draft, we feel very excited about the direction this team is going.”
But where Minnesota is going at receiver is unknown for now. Spielman’s philosophy is always to first build through the draft. Acquiring the No. 25 overall pick in the Harvin trade (along with a 2013 seventh-rounder and 2014 third-rounder), Spielman certainly has ammunition to find help in a draft that is considered deep at the receiver position.
Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, Cal’s Keenan Allen, Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and USC’s Robert Woods are some of the receivers expected to be drafted in the first two rounds, in which the Vikings have three picks.
Spielman has the time and the opportunity to change the depth chart significantly before training camp opens this summer. The draft will be flush with talent, and free agency still offers the chance to alter the depth chart. But Spielman will be left to answer the questions until he finds a suitable replacement for the star player he traded away.
“It was an opportunity that came really quick,” Spielman said of trading Harvin. “We had something that presented itself that we felt would not only help us in the short term but in the long term as well. You know my philosophy of trying to build this roster year in and year out through the draft because I think that’s the way you’re going to maintain success. And it was a situation where we felt it was the best decision we could make going forward.”