Draft First Round Rewind: Why Did the Vikings Not Take Manti Te’o?

Feb 21, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman speaks at a press conference during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We might as well address this thing head-on and not make any bones about it. A lot of people including yours truly went into Thursday’s first round thinking the Vikings absolutely would draft Manti Te’o of Notre Dame. The reasoning was pretty simple. The Vikes are without a proven starting MLB on their roster. Te’o is someone in whom the Vikes showed a lot of interest. Te’o's skill-set would seem to fit the Vikings’ Tampa-2 defense. It seemed straight-forward.

But as we know the Vikings did not take Te’o after all. They did not trade ahead of the Bears to grab Te’o as we were told they might. Did the Bears attempt to bluff the Vikings into a dumb trade by putting out stuff about Te’o? Maybe. As it turns out, that bluff was probably pointless. The Vikings were not interested in making a trade up for Te’o at all, smokescreen or not. They apparently did not intend taking Te’o period.

So what happened? Was all the Te’o talk just smokescreening? I would tend to doubt it. I doubt any organization would be capable of that coordinated and thorough a smokescreen job over that amount of time. I think what happened instead is this. I think the Vikes were sincere when they said they wanted to fill their MLB need via the draft. And I think the Vikes did want Te’o to be the guy. I think the Vikes had every intention of drafting Te’o. And then something happened that screwed up their plans.

What happened? Antoine Winfield walked on them.

This is how I think it went down. I think the Vikes heavily scouted Te’o. They interviewed him. Rick Spielman took him out to dinner. They did everything they could to satisfy themselves that the guy is not some kind of crazy or idiot. They were all ready to pull the trigger on Te’o come draft day. And then Winfield walked despite their desperate last minute attempt to bring him back by fully guaranteeing his new contract. And that forced them to shuffle their draft board. MLB had to go on the back burner in favor of cornerback. And when push came to shove they could not bring themselves to take Te’o over the defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. The defensive line was just too big a need for them and Floyd just too good a prospect to pass up.

I’m guessing the Vikes are disappointed they did not get to draft Te’o. I also think probably the talk about Erin Henderson playing MLB was an attempt to preemptively placate fans who were looking for an MLB in the draft. Spielman need not worry about placating fans though. Right now they think he is a genius. They love that he snapped up Sharrif Floyd, the alleged steal of the first round. They love that he addressed the cornerback position with a guy in Xavier Rhodes who draws comparisons to those nasty big Seattle corners. They love that he aggressively traded back into the first for Cordarrelle Patterson, a potential big-time receiver.

Spielman hit a home run in the eyes of fans. But I have to wonder if he is entirely satisfied with how things played out. I don’t think the Vikings can be too happy about the prospect of going into the season with Erin Henderson at middle linebacker. I have to believe they are keeping Brian Urlacher’s number handy in case they need it. Would you rather have Urlacher or Henderson as a one-year band aid at MLB? I’d take Urlacher just based on experience.

The Vikings, I believe, would have preferred not to worry about a one-year band aid at MLB. They had their guy picked out and they had to punt on it because a more pressing need arose. The Rick Spielman handling of the Antoine Winfield situation was abysmal and he ended up paying the price. It just goes to show: All the draft day brilliance in the world can’t help you when you lack people skills. What happened Thursday may gloss over the Winfield debacle in the eyes of some, but it still sticks in my craw. And it still may bite the Vikings in the butt in the long-run.

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  • Jake

    If that is the case then why didn’t they take him when they traded back into the 1st round? I think you’re way off here. I don’t think they had any intention of taking Teo, not in the 1st round anyway. Everyone passed on him, even Chicago and Baltimore who both need MLB’s. The fact is teams are not sold on him as a 1st round pick. The Vikes knew what they were doing. They deflected away from Rhodes and Patterson so they could have a shot at them. Floyd just happened to fall into their lap and they couldn’t pass him up. They never planned to take Teo in the first or they would have done it when they traded for the 29th pick. They probably feel that between Henderson and Cole and the possibility of signing Urlacher that the have it covered for now.

    • Sean Smith

      I stand by the Article, if it wasnt for winfield they probably would have tried to grab him, Also wide Receiver was simply more important a position to draft.

  • Daniel Laxen

    You just won’t let go of the Winfield thing…He’s old! Get over it!…The draft went swimmingly and by saying anything but I see you still don’t like Spielman…I mean how can ANYONE knock that the Vikings got 3 prospects that were rated in the top 20 in this weak draft? In 3 years we may be looking back on last night as the night the Vikings solidified their stranglehold on the NFC North…The core of this defense is now pretty solid…Free agents can still be brought in for the MLB, so that Winfield thing goes out the window right there…The Packers are aware what happened last night and the rest of the NFC should be too! The Vikings made huge strides on becoming a top 5 defense last night!

  • Rob

    I’m sick of clowns saying Spielman botched the Winfield thing. It was reported well before his release that the Vikings asked Winfield’s agent about restructuring his contract, and the Winfield side said ‘no’. That’s all the warning Winfield needed that the Vikings could soon release him. Sounds to me like Winfield played chicken and lost. Too bad.

  • Charles Stocks

    Karlos Dansby.??….Unless we can trade up to get Manti. Toby Gerhart might be good trade bait. Maybe offer next years #1 for an early 2nd this year??? Regardless, loving what we have done so far

  • MikeH123

    This draft will come back to bite Spielman even though they got 3 of the top players at their positions, all of which the Vikings desperately needed (DT, CB and WR). Using 3 picks to get the split end WR Patterson cost them, not only a good young MLB in the 3rd round, not only a decent guard in the early 4th round, but even more importantly a good possession WR for Ponder. Spielman still won’t admit he reached badly for Ponder, who clearly doesn’t have the arm to fully utilize a deep threat like Patterson. Spielman and Ponder have no more excuses.

    • Jake

      They already signed the sure handed receiver they needed in Greg Jennings. They don’t need to draft one. Patterson is a home run hitter not only as a receiver but possibly as a tail back and a returner. He would not have been on the board by the time they picked in the 2nd. It was a good move. LB was not as pressing a need as CB or WR and there was no way they could pass up Floyd. There is still plenty of time to draft a decent G or LB in the 4th and 5th.

      • Sean Smith

        Obviously they liked what they saw or they wouldn’t have done it and Spielman has done well by us in the past so i’m going to have some faith in the man. We needed help on offense terribly and cant just put our passing in the same situation as last year with a single injury prone #1 receivers and other guys who while got good are not meant to be played in that spot. This gave us help on special teams as well as good depth at Receiver to help our weakest side of the field. (the gaurd situation they wanted to wait on so as not to ruin the connection the line built togethor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.lietz.7 Brian Lietz

    Another poor article. Vikings play the nickle about 75%. Last year, Brinkley left the field, and Henderson slid over to MLB, and nobody said that he did a bad job. Nobody. So, This year, Henderson earned the chance to stay at MLB in the base package.

    Why would you take a guy who had a poor showing at the combine, which many attribute to his negative spotlight? The pressure effected the kid’s performance!

    And they needed to replace Winfield in this draft anyhow…which was WAAAAAAY more important than the concerns at MLB. CB is arguable the second most difficult position to field behind QB, and clearly a weak spot even if we still had Winfield!!!

    You need to learn more about the game before you report on it.