Almost showtime for the Vikings’ draft team
By: By Jeremy Fowler, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Superior Telegram
On TV: Round 1, 7 p.m. Thursday; rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. Friday; rounds 4-7, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, all on ESPN
The picks are in, and Rick Spielman doesn’t think twice.
These picks fill a need. They are, in Spielman’s opinion, the best available on the big board.
Petite filet, chopped salad and a Michelob Ultra.
On Wednesday night, April 25, the big board will be the menu at Wildfire in Eden Prairie, where Spielman’s personnel staff will hold a celebratory dinner on the eve of the NFL draft.
Spielman hopes to laugh with friends, exhale after months of 12- to 15-hour days and enjoy the same meal he orders every year.
“And I sleep great the night before,” Spielman said. “Wake up with butterflies.”
With what transpires
over the next 72 hours, he’s going to need the rest.
The scene inside the team’s Winter Park headquarters during the NFL draft, which begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, is high on energy, anticipation and calculation.
Spielman insists everyone must remain calm throughout the process, especially while inside the “war room.”
“I think when people see you’re calm, the room’s calm,” Spielman said.
Here’s a look at how the Vikings will handle the draft, from the prep work Thursday to being on the clock.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The hours before the draft can be a relatively easy part of the evaluation process. The Vikings will have decided which player they want to select third overall, and whom they’ll target in subsequent rounds.
Vikings will prepare the war room and print trade charts and analyses for all the key members involved.
Spielman will spend most of Thursday afternoon talking trades with teams, though he won’t do much talking over the phone.
Vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski is the intermediary between Spielman and NFL teams, giving Spielman the lowdown on what a trade would cost and comparing trade offers to draft history.
“Would you do it for this?” might be a common question
Brzezinski asks Spielman.
If there’s not an attractive offer, then it’s time to get ready for the show.
Seven days before the big night, the personnel department’s meeting room had enough clutter to upstage a college dorm.
Two Red Bull cans, five water bottles, two Gatorade bottles, seven laptops and one can of chewing tobacco rested on purple, cloth-covered tables in the room’s work area, which was sandwiched by beige curtains covering top-secret draft info.
The tables will be cleared off by Thursday night, and the staff’s major players will have designated spots inside the modest-sized room.
Spielman stands in front of the room, manning the big board, which no longer will be covered by a curtain. He’ll spend most of the first night on his feet, he said.
The foursome seated at the table directly in front of Spielman: director of college scouting Scott Studwell, team owner Zygi Wilf, president Mark Wilf and coach Leslie Frazier. To Spielman’s left, Brzezinski and assistant general manager George Paton sit at the “trade table,” ready to make a series of calls at any second.
Eight Vikings scouts will have their own small table. Two tech-savvy staffers will oversee the “computer engine” table by the entrance, ready to post a player’s bio/scouting report on the projector on request or print out the trade-value chart that’s updated after every deal.
One scout will be responsible for calling the Vikings’ soon-to-be-drafted player once they are on the clock. The Vikings want to make sure the player is healthy, and they don’t want to draft a player who’s not reachable by phone.
That’s not always easy.
“We had one player, we called the agent, the agent got ahold of him, but he was in the bathroom,” said Spielman, declining to identify the player. “We barely got him in time.”
The Vikings have a protocol for their selection process -- not that it mattered much when drafting running back Adrian Peterson.
After the Washington Redskins selected safety LaRon Landry sixth overall in the 2007 draft, allowing Peterson to slip to the Vikings at No. 7, jubilation filled the room.
“Were you anxious inside? Yeah. But you just sat there,” said Spielman about waiting/hoping Peterson would fall. “We were getting phone calls (about trades), but we just wanted to wait and see what happened.”
Normally, when the Vikings are a few picks away, Spielman will group his top four players available, in order, on the board. The staff has evaluated these prospects for months, and they’ve already run through all the scenarios and which players to take if/when they’re available.
The adrenaline races when the team is deciding whether to chase a coveted player, fearing he’ll be gone before the Vikings select.
For example: If the Vikings are 10 picks away in the third round, and they aren’t sure whether Player X will fall to them, Paton and Brzezinski will call all 10 teams in front of them to inquire about trading.
“Bam, bam. Rob will go this one, George will go this one,” said Spielman, moving his hand back and forth to show how his executives split up the workload. “They can make 10 calls rather quickly. Everything’s on speed dial.”
Spielman will hear the offers, write the best one on the big board for all to see and then weigh the pros and cons. Healthy debate might ensue, but Spielman has the final call.
Spielman has been willing to trade in the past, moving up to select defensive end Brian Robison (fourth round, 2007), safety Tyrell Johnson (second round, 2008) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (fifth round, 2009).
If the Vikings are only a few picks away, Spielman will consider the needs of the teams ahead of him and decide whether to facilitate a trade or play the waiting game.
“Hey, we’re interested in moving down. Are you interested in moving up?” Spielman said, describing how a conversation with another team might go. “They say, ‘Yeah, we’re interested if our guy’s there. It’s always, ‘if our guy’s there.’ “
“Then, when we’re on the clock, all of a sudden you’ll get these calls coming back to you. And you have those five minutes to start negotiating, which is the funnest part of the draft.”
Conversations are always cordial, Spielman said, and he’ll negotiate with anybody -- even the Green Bay Packers.
ALL ON SAME PAGE
What’s ownership’s role in all this? The personnel and coaching staffs have traveled the country evaluating talent and conducted countless meetings. The Wilfs are involved in that process, to an extent, but they don’t handle the day-to-day operations. On most occasions, they are briefed on the Vikings’ plans.
Spielman said the Wilfs are supportive during the draft and know what to expect.
“They’ll ask some questions, but I’ve already rehearsed it all with them,” Spielman said. “They’ve been through all the scenarios. It’s very organized. And very (signals hand in straight line).”
Ownership saw the Vikings take nearly the entire 10-minute time allotment to make last year’s No. 12 overall selection, quarterback Christian Ponder.
The Vikings knew they wanted Ponder, Spielman said, but they decided to wait in case a team blew the Vikings away with a trade offer.
“Are we going to take that guy 30 seconds into the pick? No, we’re not,” Spielman said. “We’re going to sit and wait.”
After the Redskins take the second overall pick Thursday night, presumably for Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, expect nearly 10 minutes of Vikings deliberation.
That’s the fun part, at least for Spielman.
Copy Right (c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)/Distributed by MCT Information Services