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.