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How Much Love Should Rick Spielman Be Getting for the First Round?

Rick Spielman is riding high on a wave of adulation right now after orchestrating one of the more satisfying and successful first rounds in recent Viking history. In the course of a few hours, Spielman netted three extra picks in a one-spot trade down, took arguably the third best player on the whole board in Matt Kalil, swapped picks with Baltimore to return to the first round and finally filled a major need by taking safety Harrison Smith. And he left himself with enough picks to maybe work his way back up the board on the second day and fill more holes at cornerback, receiver, defensive tackle or what have you.

Sounds like a nice day at the office. But let’s look at the thing coldly and rationally for a second. Yes it was a good first round for the Vikings, but how much dap does Spielman really deserve for the way things went down? How much of yesterday’s triumph was draft day skill and savvy and how much was pure dumb luck and blind panic?

Let’s start with the Browns trade. On the one hand, you can pat Spielman on the back for pulling off the deal. On the other hand…wasn’t that deal kind of a no-brainer? I mean what big decision did Spielman have to make there? What GM in the same position would have done anything else? They got three picks and were still able to draft the guy they wanted. They fleeced Cleveland yes, but only because Cleveland allowed itself to be fleeced.

It’s possible Cleveland could’ve stayed at four, keeping their picks, and still gotten Trent Richardson. The Vikings certainly weren’t going to take Richardson. Maybe there was a team that wanted to trade ahead of Cleveland and take Richardson, but does anyone know that for certain? There were rumors of the Buccaneers wanting to trade up but I heard someone say Mark Barron was the guy they wanted all along. If they wanted Barron they would never have traded up for Richardson, and Cleveland reacted to a phantom.

My point is, Rick Spielman didn’t really DO anything to make that trade happen. Did he somehow fool Cleveland into thinking he had Tampa Bay on the other line? Then why only ask for three second day picks? If you really have another suitor on hold, don’t you try to squeeze them for at least a third rounder? I think Cleveland just panicked, sort of the way the Vikings did with Christian Ponder last year, and made a trade they didn’t have to make. And Spielman just got lucky and had those extra picks drop in his lap.

By all accounts, none of Spielman’s pre-draft smoke-screening did a damn thing. There have been vague reports that Spielman got trade calls as early as Monday but who knows if that’s even true. If the calls did come, who knows, they could’ve been from Cleveland. Or from some team out of the top 5 that the Vikings were never going to trade with. By all outside evidence, the Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne jive fooled no one except Adam Schefter, Bob Sansevere and a few dumb-ass wannabe draft experts. The majority of level-headed observers kept Kalil as the pick for the Vikings the whole way and, I’ll be darned, they ended up taking Kalil.

This brings us to the second part of yesterday’s extravaganza, the Kalil pick. That was an even bigger no-brainer than the trade. Did you see the Vikings’ pass blocking last year? Did you notice how small Christian Ponder is and how easily he gets hurt? Kalil HAD to be the pick. Anything else would’ve been gross negligence. So Spielman gets no credit for doing what any sane executive would’ve done. Sorry.

Now we come to possibly the last aspect of this whole affair: the trade-up to take Harrison Smith. I have no quibble whatsoever with the decision to take Smith. Some people are skeptical that Smith should’ve been valued as high as he was and Notre Dame haters are making fun of him and a few people even pointed out that Ted Thompson passed on him, claiming this as evidence that he must surely suck. But I can’t quibble. The Vikings had a huge need at safety and Smith happens to fill that need nicely. He’s not going to be a ball-hawker back there but he does everything else. He runs, he tackles, he covers. He likely won’t be a Pro Bowler but he’ll be a meat-and-potatoes starting-quality player. What would you have rather had? A free-wheeling gambler like Brandon Meriweather who puts up big stats but drives everyone nuts after two years with his boneheadedness?

Smith can be a solid cog in a solid defense, that’s not in question. What is in question is whether Spielman actually had to trade up to get him. This might be a minor thing but, it did cost a fourth round pick. The Vikings had four fourth rounders, sure, but they also have a lot of needs and by giving up that fourth rounder for Smith they slightly lessened their flexibility in moving around on the second day. Okay, so they were worried about losing Smith. After the Packers and Patriots passed on him there wasn’t necessarily another team that wanted him but you never know. Somebody back there may have liked him enough to move up and get him. Spielman did the old “he’s our guy and we don’t want to take a chance” routine. Sort of like the Browns did by moving up to three.

Wait, you mean Spielman may have given up a pick to the Ravens in panic the same way the Browns gave up three picks to the Vikings? And there may have been EVEN LESS chance of the Vikings losing the guy they wanted than the Browns losing Richardson? Okay but doesn’t the same logic apply to the Vikings that applies to Cleveland? When in possession of a large number of picks, you can afford to give a few up to secure the man you want. True enough. Probably not fair to totally bash Spielman for the  move. It is a little bug in the ointment though. It’s not quite as egregious as Brad Childress trading up for Tarvaris Jackson, but still, it’s an asterisk.

In the end, Spielman’s moves added up to a solid first round. The Vikings got two starters and they can maybe still move around some on the second day. It was a nice job by Spielman even if a lot of what went down was purely in the no-brainer category and some was a tad questionable. You have to at least give him a B for the first round.

Thing is, as many have pointed out before, this draft was never really about the first round. The Vikings and Spielman have done well in first rounds before. The story of this draft will be written from the third round on (or the second if the Vikes can move back up). Rounds four throush seven will be especially important. That’s where Spielman has struggled. Nate Triplett anyone?

After a good first day, the verdict is still out on whether Spielman is an able talent evaluator and wheeler-and-dealer. And it will still be out for a long time to come because, as all sane people know, you can’t honestly rate a draft at all until several years have elapsed. Only then can you say for sure whether the players taken were worth drafting or not. So Spielman can lap up the love all he wants. I’m still not sold and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

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Topics: Harrison Smith, Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings, Rick Spielman

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