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Spielman: Short Vet Deals Created Opportunity to Develop 2021 Picks

Beyond the roller-coaster of game days by the current Vikings squad, General Manager Rick Spielman must always keep an eye on the long-term status of the roster.

That entails working with the personnel department on contracts to make sure the team complies with the NFL's salary cap and with the scouting department on timelines for prospects, when they'll be available and able to contribute.

The COVID-19 pandemic-induced reduction of the salary cap for 2021 resulted in more players signing one-year deals.

Those players include Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, Xavier Woods, Mackensie Alexander, Everson Griffen and Nick Vigil, who have all started for Minnesota this season.

Other contributors who signed one-year deals at different points of free agency include Sheldon Richardson, Stephen Weatherly, Dede Westbrook and Sean Mannion.

That's a huge group of players logging significant time for Minnesota, aside from Mannion, who was brought in to back up Kirk Cousins and help him with each week of preparation.

Spielman could point to those additions during a Tuesday media session as reasons why most of Minnesota's 2021 picks have yet to spend much time on the field.

"Some of the younger guys that we drafted, especially in the third day, are guys that we knew were not going to have to play every day," Spielman said. "If you look at our (unrestricted free agent) class, because of the uniqueness of all the one-year deals that we did because of the pandemic and the way the cap went down, we were able to find a lot more unrestricted free agents than we have in the past.

"All those guys are playing right now, and what that allowed us to do is play some vet guys, fill some holes immediately, what we had to fill from last year's roster," Spielman added.

That positioned Spielman and the Vikings to evaluate traits and potential for development while drafting, particularly as the rounds advanced.

"So, the philosophy and the thinking behind it is now you have these guys on a one-year basis, you take these draft-class kids — and the coaches do a phenomenal job of developing guys — and then let them develop where you don't have to push them in right away," Spielman said. "Then, hopefully, if we need them toward the end of the season and you start seeing them play, or if we get injuries or even in the next year, that'll help determine on which direction we go with some of the guys we're going to have coming out of contract."

After an 0-2 start, the Vikings have clawed back to a 3-3 mark with three important NFC wins that could be used to determine tiebreakers for a playoff spot. After resting this weekend, Minnesota will host Dallas (5-1) on Halloween in a matchup that will be nationally broadcast on Sunday Night Football.

Two days later, the NFL's trade deadline will hit.

Spielman spoke in the generalities of monitoring "everything like we always do" and there's "always a lot of calls this time of year."

Teams must keep in mind salary cap ramifications and potential effects beyond the remainder of the season. Plus, there's the understanding that it can be hard for a player to change teams in November and learn a new system.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.

"Unlike other professional sports, whether it be baseball and sometimes basketball or other areas, this is such an 11-on-11 team game that it takes some time to create that chemistry," Spielman said. "The way our defense kind of started out a little slowly and the way you see our defense has really started to come together, especially over these last couple weeks and how well they're playing, I think the last two games we've created five turnovers.

"Well, that's a bunch of guys playing together for the first time, where now they're getting in game situations, and you see them getting more and more comfortable, like I said, not only with the scheme but with each other, knowing where each other's going to be on the field," Spielman added. "So we'll always keep an open eye on things. I think we have — it's starting to show a little bit — we have some good depth where some teams may be looking at our depth, as well, that have inquired about some guys. So we'll just see how it all evolves."

Spielman said it is important to avoid depleting too much of the roster because of the additional 17th game of the regular season. A full roster is paramount for a run to and through the playoffs.

"You're going to have to deal with injuries, and every team is going to have to deal with it at some point. Some are dealing with it right now," Spielman said. "That's why they're looking for more depth, but you don't want to trade too many guys away. You could trade anyone away and deplete your roster where you end up not having enough to get through the season."