EAGAN, Minn. — With roughly 48 hours to go until the 2021 NFL Draft, plenty of mystery remains on what the Vikings will do with the 14th overall selection … or any of their 10 picks, for that matter.
And even though draft analysts and experts have routinely pegged Minnesota to go with an offensive lineman or edge rusher early on, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman isn't married to any position at the moment.
Spielman held his annual pre-draft press conference Tuesday afternoon and was asked about the possibility of potentially taking a quarterback in the draft.
"I will just say this: There's no position that's off limits going into this draft," Spielman said. "I'll just leave it at that."
That means quarterback could be in play at No. 14, as could every other position across the roster.
Well, maybe not kicker, punter or long snapper. But Spielman was later asked about the chances of taking a kicker, and the GM gave the same answer.
"There's no position off-limits in this draft," Spielman said with a loud laugh before turning serious.
"I know we spend a lot of time on all of these positions, and there's a couple of guys that we looked at from a kicker standpoint, whether they're drafted or we think they'd come in and be very competitive to win the job," Spielman said. "[Greg] Joseph, the kicker we did sign, we feel very confident in what we've seen, but we know we have to create some competition at that position, so I would not rule out a kicker potentially being drafted or us going pretty strong after a college free agent.
"I really hone-in and rely on the special teams coaches a lot, on their opinions. I don't think any of us are experts," Spielman added. "Those guys spend a lot of time studying kickers and what makes them tick and not tick, so we're relying a lot on our special teams coaches to help us with what they feel at that position."
Joseph, the lone kicker currently on the roster, was signed in February. He spent the 2020 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad and has made 17 of 20 career field goals (85 percent), and 34 of 38 extra points (89.5 percent). Minnesota released veteran kicker Dan Bailey in March.
Here are four other topics Spielman discussed Tuesday:
1. A somewhat normal draft experience
A year ago, Spielman and his staff, plus Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Minnesota's coaches, all worked remote during a virtual 2020 draft.
View every Vikings first round draft pick through the years.
Spielman revealed Tuesday that everyone will be inside Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center later this week, with 10 people allowed in the Thomson Reuters Vikings Draft Room.
"We're one of the teams that will be all vaccinated, so [the 10 people] will not have masks on there," Spielman said.
As for the rest of the scouting and coaching staffs, they will be split up into different rooms but are required to wear marks.
"We will have ancillary rooms outside the Draft Room that will be COVID-compliant, all of our scouts and coaches wearing masks," Spielman said.
The GM noted that having everyone in the same building will be crucial for communication, especially in the later rounds of the draft on Saturday.
This year we don't have to work in chat rooms like we did last year, especially during college free agency," Spielman said. "Each position had their own individual chat room [in 2020].
"This year will be a little bit more normalized, where the scout and the coach can work together, as long as they're following the COVID protocol in the building, which we definitely will do," Spielman added.
Spielman told a quick story Tuesday of a recent prospect evaluation that ended with Vikings scouts and coaches laughing.
"Just having those little interactions and kidding with each other and being in person … like I said, we functioned and had a successful draft, we felt like, last year … adjusting just like everybody else has to adjust," Spielman said. "But there's nothing like being together in the room and grinding through the 12-to-14-hour days together in-person."
View photos of reactions and announcements on draft day when Vikings were selected.
2. In absence of true Combine, pro days & Zoom calls gained significance
While the draft may have more of a normal feel, the evaluation process was anything but for the second straight year.
The impact of alterations was felt in the fall when Spielman could not travel to college campuses for practices and games without breaking protocol that would have prevented him from doing is in-season work with the club. It was amplified because there was no traditional NFL Scouting Combine in 2021. He said he canvassed the country for college pro days more than normal to make up the difference.
Teams were allowed socially distant, in-person meetings with prospects at the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl, but all other chats with players this spring were done over Zoom. Spielman said the Vikings conducted 200 video chats over Zoom in the month of March alone.
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"We did the interviews live so you could read body language and talk to these kids," Spielman said about the Senior Bowl. "But what was incredible for us is … normally at the combine you get a 15-minute interview … but we were able to Zoom call these guys up to five times and spend an hour per time with our coaches and our scouts.
"We recorded all these Zoom calls since I was out on the road so much [for pro days], so I had to go back and refer to a lot of watching recordings of these interviews. But I think we did close to 200 Zoom interviews through the month of March and we're finalizing a lot of those Zoom interviews up until Wednesday," Spielman added. "From that standpoint, I think it helped us a lot with the Zoom calls. We've always been very proactive in the past with it to make up for maybe that 15 minutes we got at the combine."
Despite the abnormal process for the second straight year, Spielman said everyone inside TCO Performance Center will be raring to go Thursday night.
"The draft process was a little different again this year," Spielman said. "Last year we had to make a lot of adjustments. This year we had to make some new adjustments.
"But we've been through it so many times and we have so many competent people that work on this draft, that it was a smooth transition," Spielman added. "We feel just as prepared as we've ever been for a draft."
3. Medical evaluations
Perhaps the biggest question mark that has hovered around some prospects in 2021 is the medical side of things.
In a normal year, teams would be able to see players up close at the combine, and then perhaps get them in their team facility before the draft.
Not this year. Instead, there was a medical only combine in Indianapolis in early April for roughly 150 prospects. That doesn't equate to the 259 total picks in the draft, not to mention players who sign as undrafted free agents.
Spielman quipped that it's been a busy time for Eric Sugarman, the Vikings Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer.
"The biggest difference I think this year, and again we're so used to adjusting, was we didn't have the combine, so the medical [details] may not be as detailed as they have been in the past," Spielman said. "Eric Sugarman and our team doctors only had 150 players at the so-called medical combine this year.
"The rest of it we're trying to get through on this virtual [medical interview] and trying to do a lot of physicals that way with imaging on the MRI," Spielman added. "We normally would have a lot of background, especially from the medical standpoint, but this year we had to adjust and do things differently."
Spielman also noted the Vikings have tried to gather medical info on prospects that played 2020, as well as those who opted out, meaning they haven't been on the field in over a year.
4. How free agency will affect the draft
The Vikings obviously focused on the defensive side of the ball in free agency, immediately adding defensive Dalvin Tomlinson to a multiyear deal once the frenzy began in mid-March.
But the other deals followed — defensive end Stephen Weatherly, cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander, linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Xavier Woods — were all just one-year deals.
Spielman on Tuesday said the shorter deals were mostly due to the salary cap falling to $182.5 million, a nearly $16-million drop from the 2020 season.
He also noted that just because a certain position group, such a cornerback, has multiple players on one-year deals, it doesn't mean those players won't be in Purple in 2022, or that particular position is an immediate need in the draft.
"We thought we got some quality players that could come and fill [needs]. We also had to work with the cap constraints we had," Spielman said. "As I mentioned the last time I talked to you guys, when we did all of our cap planning, it was pre-COVID. And not only us, but every team had to deal with the cap not going up, but going down.
"[I] feel like we did a good job of getting quality guys. I think we had some value where some of those guys may have gotten multiyear deals in the past," Spielman added. "It doesn't mean these guys come in and we don't look at next year where the cap is going to be projected, and they don't end up signing multiyear deals. Knowing the situation and everybody's situation, a lot of players had to take shorter-term deals or one-year deals because of how the cap came down this year."
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