Jim Souhan: GM Rick Spielman just kept the Vikings competitive with his deft handling of the NFL draft

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Now that the 2020 NFL draft is over, we can begin second-guessing every decision the Vikings have made in the past three months:

Q.?Should they have traded for Trent Williams?

A.?Would he have been the best magic-bullet incoming player the Vikings could have acquired? Yes. He would have immediately upgraded the offensive line and solved the team’s most pressing problem, and the San Francisco 49ers did well to get him for a third- and a fifth-round draft pick.

So, the 49ers win and the Vikings lose?

That’s half-right. The 49ers did well to get Williams at that price, and he will replace the retiring Joe Staley. So the best team in the NFC gets better, or at least deftly fills a lineup hole.

That’s not to say the Vikings erred. If we speak only in terms of player value, the Vikings should have traded what it took to get Williams. But it’s not just about player value — it’s about the salary cap. To afford Williams, the Vikings would have had to trade Anthony Harris, and probably for less than he’s worth.

Harris is a fine player who is healthy and in his prime. Williams is an injury risk who didn’t want to play for his previous team, even after player-friendly coach Ron Rivera arrived.

Harris is a better value and a sure thing. The Vikings should be better off in the long run developing Ezra Cleveland, assuming he turns into a quality player.

Q.?Should the Vikings have drafted the Gophers’ Antoine Winfield?

A.?No. I think he’ll be a dynamic pro, but you don’t spend a high draft pick on a player who would be your third safety.

Q.?Should the Vikings have drafted the Gophers’ Tyler Johnson?


Now we know what the NFL thinks of Johnson as a prospect. He was the 161st player taken overall, falling to the fifth round in a draft filled with quality receivers.

I think he projects to be a quality second receiver in the right NFL system, but once the Vikings took Justin Jefferson in the first round, they had little incentive to spend other draft capital on someone who might have, this year, been their fourth or fifth receiver in a system that doesn’t frequently use three receivers.

Johnson is not a natural kick returner, either. With the 176th pick, the Vikings chose Miami (Fla.) receiver K.J. Osborn, who can handle that role.

Johnson to the Vikings would have been a nice story, but it wouldn’t have been ideal for either the team or the player.

Q.?Are the Vikings a better or worse team today than they were at the end of last season?

A.?This is the most important question facing the team, and the most difficult to answer.

Remember, before the Vikings faced the Saints in the playoffs, there was media speculation that General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer could be in trouble if they lost. Then they won, and given the patience shown by the Wilfs over the past seven years, maybe they were never in trouble to begin with.

Since then, Stefon Diggs, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Josh Kline have departed, and Michael Pierce, Tajae Sharpe and a ridiculous number of draft picks have arrived.

The Vikings are much younger. That is generally a good thing in the NFL.

They can’t be any worse at cornerback this year than they were last season, and they’ll be spending a lot less on the position, while employing players who should improve over time.

The offensive line now features three talented and promising youngsters — Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Cleveland, and watch for 2019 pick Dru Samia to make a move this year.

It’s hard to say they are a better team now than three months ago, but if you accept that they had to trade Diggs and that massive defensive changes were necessary because of salary cap concerns, the Vikings have positioned themselves to remain competitive while making over their roster.

That doesn’t sound like much of a marketing slogan — “The Minnesota Vikings: We’re Getting Through This OK!” — but they have navigated a number of mini-crises.

After all of the dealing and drafting, the Vikings have the best roster, top to bottom, in the NFC North. That’s a credit to the scrambling skills of Spielman and his front office.


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