Rick Spielman's third draft as the Minnesota Vikings' general manager wasn't totally unlike his previous two -- the team came out with one more first-round pick than it went in with and further developed a burgeoning young core.
But it wasn't really the same, either. It couldn't have been, not when one of those first-round picks was a quarterback.
Thursday night marked the completion of a months-long process to find a long-term answer at a position that has lacked stability since Daunte Culpepper's career-altering knee injury in 2005. Minnesota walked away from the 2014 NFL Draft with Teddy Bridgewater. The truth is, it could've been Johnny Manziel, too. Or Jimmy Garoppolo. Or Tom Savage.
What matters going forward is the conviction the Vikings had in the player they got with the 32nd overall pick. And Spielman had no doubt, going into last week, that all of that was there with the franchise's new hood ornament.
"I don't know what you'd call the 'eureka' moment; I'm not sure what the hell that is," Spielman said with a laugh as he unwound and caught some college lacrosse on TV on Sunday. "The whole spring, all these workouts, the dinners, the meetings, the only way you get to know these guys is to spend as much time as possible with them, all the time you need. And if you have a specific area you're not comfortable with, you spend more time.
"You can say, 'I think I know,' but you want to have all the answers, especially at that position. We had a specific plan."
The plan for the Vikings started with nine quarterbacks: Bridgewater, Manziel, Garoppolo, Savage, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and David Fales. With each, the traveling contingent of Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterback coach Scott Turner set out to conduct a 60- to 90-minute private workout, a three- to four-hour board session, a film session of about one hour, and a dinner, allowing the quarterback to bring whomever he wanted with him.
The group got to Louisville on March 16, spent an hour with Bridgewater on his college tape, then put him on the board for an intensive, three-hour session going over the new Vikings scheme. After that, they took him to dinner; Bridgewater brought his mom and his agent. The quarterback's much-scrutinized pro-day flop came the next morning.
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The Vikings' representatives -- sans Zimmer -- went to South Florida to work Bridgewater out over the second weekend in April at a high school field near the Dolphins facility that both Spielman (who was in Miami's front office from 2000 to 2005) and Norv Turner (the offensive coordinator there from 2002 to 2003) once called home. The idea -- for Norv and his son, Scott -- was to treat the workouts like practices and coach the players through them. No one responded to that better than Bridgewater.
"We honed in on the game plan that Norv and Scott put together -- Do we feel like he can make the throws in the system, especially with Norv's system, the way it is?" Spielman said. "But you'd see Scott and Norv out there doing little things, telling him, 'Hey, speed your feet up at the top of your drop,' these little nuances. And they were fixed, like that. It was amazing how he responded."
The final phase of the process was to tie up any loose ends, and to do that, the Vikings brought Bridgewater and Savage to Minnesota. In Bridgewater's case, it was to triple-check a heart issue, which they did on April 15. It really wasn't much more than that -- the Turners were out of the office that day, as Scott welcomed his first son.
All the while, Spielman and his personnel people were running through dozens and dozens of scenarios. It's not an accident that the Vikings have traded back into the bottom of the first round in three straight drafts. "Those guys (in the first round) are the best players," Spielman said. "So if you get an opportunity to get the best players possible, why not do that? ... Historically, your best chance of hitting is in the first round."
One four-hour, marathon session of mock scenarios actually included the scenario that came up on Thursday -- so the Vikings were ready.
Minnesota went into the draft viewing its defense as more deficient than its offense, and Spielman and Co. saw very good value on that side of the ball with the eighth overall pick. The Vikings targeted outside linebacker Anthony Barr, whom Zimmer loved, and who they figured would be there, presuming the teams picking before them would be drawn to the top offensive talent, like the tackles and receivers, on the board. The perception had been created that Minnesota wanted cornerback Justin Gilbert, which facilitated a trade back one slot with Cleveland that netted Minnesota a fifth-round pick.
The Vikings had Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater on the same horizontal tier of their board, with Manziel slightly ahead -- technically, Manziel was No. 1 and Bridgewater was No. 2. Both were a bit of a stretch with the eighth pick, but both were worth more than the 40th pick, which was Minnesota's second selection. Minnesota categorized the quarterbacks in buckets, with Garoppolo viewed as worthy of being taken with that 40th pick and Savage viewed as a third-round consideration.
Assistant GM George Paton and VP of football operations Rob Brzezinski started making calls at No. 20 and went on down the line. They made a run at No. 22, but an Eagles source said the Vikings' offer wasn't close to Cleveland's -- the Browns gave up No. 26 and No. 83 to take that selection and grab Manziel -- largely because Philly would have had to drop down 18 spots in a deal with Minnesota, while the swap with Cleveland merely moved the Eagles four spots down.
"We put (all the quarterbacks) in specific categories," Spielman said. "We felt very strongly that both of them (Bridgewater and Manziel) were very good football players. We had strong feelings for both."
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The Vikings now have seven first-round picks from the past three years on their roster. And they haven't given up much in numbers, having made 29 total selections, thanks to the Percy Harvin trade with Seattle last year, the single-pick trade downs with Cleveland this year and two years ago (the Vikings got the fourth-overall slot plus a fourth-, fifth- and seventh-rounder from the Browns in exchange for No. 3 in 2012) and other late-round wheelings and dealings.
"That gives us a very solid foundation," Spielman said. "Once I took over three years ago, I wanted the focus to be to build it through the draft, so you don't have to do much in free agency. And with each one of those guys, we had specific needs to fill. The left tackle spot and safety were needs. We wanted a replacement for (veteran defensive tackle) Kevin Williams, knowing he was older, and might not be back. We wanted to build the secondary. We wanted to replace Percy with a guy like Patterson."
Then there's Bridgewater.
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Spielman's first pick in 2011 -- though he wasn't named GM until 2012, Spielman directed the team's drafts during his time as vice president of player personnel -- was another quarterback: Christian Ponder. Ponder's struggles -- along with the team's overall troubles at the position -- have, to a large extent, held the Vikings' emerging youth back. Whether the team says it publicly or not, the implicit idea, in all this work, was to find the guy to break down those barriers.
"At that position, and with the decision to go quarterback, you want to have all the answers," Spielman reiterated. "I'm glad that we spent all the time we needed."
The importance of the outcome on this call is easy to see and hard to contest. And, as Spielman and all those who were there back in 2011 know, only time will tell whether the Vikings got it right.