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Spielman Discusses Free Agency Via Conference Call

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman

Thanks for joining this afternoon. Just to start off, it's been a very busy week since last Friday. We've been able to get a lot accomplished. I can't thank Coach Zimmer and the coaching staff and all of the scouts for all of the hard work that was put into this before free agency began, the way Rob Brzezinski has handled our cap and all of the contract negotiations throughout this process, so it's been a great team effort. We are trying to be aggressive as we can, trying to hone in on specific guys that we know can come in and help our ball club and I think by the activity that we've done so far it's by no means the end of what we're going to do. We're going to continue to monitor the market and work through the next couple of weeks but it gives us the flexibility that we'll need heading into the draft where you have to hone in and say you have to take this position.  It'll give us an opportunity as we develop our draft board to take the best available player. With that I'll take questions.

*Q: Going into the last few weeks did you expect this much activity on your part? *

A: Well, we had the little period over Saturday, Sunday and Monday where you're reaching out, you're talking to all of these agents, you're putting out a lot of feelers out there. We've talked to maybe 15-20 agents during that time because you don't know what's going to happen. We had guys that we specifically kind of honed in on and were trying to go get but we also had some alternatives that we wanted to look at as well. But we had a specific plan put in place and very pleased at how that plan came together.

Q: Can you talk about the emphasis that's been put in place on defense during free agency?

A: From a defensive standpoint, the scheme is changing. Coach Zimmer has been very clear on specifically what he's looking for at the positions and what we need to get in order for our defense to definitely improve and we've been trying to attack those areas. I know we were older on defense and wanted to get younger. There were some very good players out there. You can see most of our contracts that were bigger contracts were guys that were young and 25 years old and getting a first chance to get a big contract. Those are the type of guys that we want to lock in so they will be here for the long haul. You'll also see as we continue, there will be some contracts that are shorter, one-year deals that we're going to have our guys come in, whether it's our own guys or other guys that are currently still out in the market on one-year deals to come in and show us what they have, let our coaches get ahold of them to see what they can do with them and give them the chance to compete as well.

*Q: Does "monitoring the market" mean that your first wave of activity has ended? Did you accomplish all you wanted in that period? *

A: We'll continue to monitor the market. We'd like to still continue to fill some holes. We have some guys coming in next week on potential visits as of today and we'll see where that goes. But we're not, by any means, saying that we're completely finished because you don't know what's going to happen or there are some guys that may be looking for a lot of money at this point but a week from now that could potentially change. We'll continue to monitor that and if the market changes and we feel there is a good value there and a good player that can come in and help our ball club and wants to come in and compete, we'll definitely be looking at that.

Q: What have you seen in Everson Griffen's development in the time he spent here that made you want to express the faith in him that you did?

A: Everson from an ability standpoint is a very, very explosive athlete. He's always been kind of in that rotation. I know when Coach Zimmer and Andre Patterson and George Edwards came in and evaluated our roster, they saw a lot of the positives that Everson has had and what he has shown in the spurts that he has played. They feel, and we feel, very confident that Everson is going to get his opportunity to be a starter now and showcase what he's been able to showcase in spurts over the last couple of years. But I know their philosophy is we want to try to get as many good defensive linemen in here as possible and they really believe in the rotation and getting those guys in and out of the game to keep fresh as well. So as many quality guys as we can put together, we're definitely going to do. I also know that as we went through the negotiations with Everson that there were other teams that were very interested in him that also made a strong push to get him.  

*Q: What do you see in Linval Joseph that shows that he fits Mike Zimmer's defense? *

A: Coach Zimmer is very big, no pun intended, on having a big two-gap type nose tackle and he's had a lot of success with that with the defenses he's been in. Linval Joseph, and you guys got to meet him, is a big man but the one thing I don't think he gets enough credit for, people say, "We'll he's a great run stopper." He's very athletic for his size. In fact we had him in here on a top-30 when he was coming out in the draft and we feel not only is he going to help us stop the run, but also he has enough power and enough athletic ability and enough quickness to get up field and get some push as a pass rusher.

Q: What's your view on what you think Captain Munnerlyn can do for your defense? What sort of role do you envision for him?

A:The roles will take care of themselves when we get all of these players in and then the coaches will go out and get an opportunity to work with these guys in a volunteer mini camp coming in before the draft, which is going to be a huge advantage for us because they'll actually get their hands on our current players that we will have under contract. That will lead us in some directions that we need to go in the draft as well. But Captain, just monitoring him, we've played him the last couple of years and just watching all of his tape this year. Very competitive guy, very tough minded, has that veteran savviness to him. When you watch him, I think one of the things that we wanted to address was especially the nickel position and we see a lot of nickel snaps in this division when you're playing Green Bay and you're playing Detroit and you're playing even Chicago. We feel not only is he going to bring that leadership quality and that fire and competitiveness, but he's going to also be able to definitely fill out that nickel role as well.* *

*Q: How much of a factor do you put on youth? And do you think age may have played a factor in the defense last season?  *

A: Last year is last year. I know that we are just excited to move forward. As teams evolve and guys do get older, you have to get younger and that's been our objective to this point so far.

*Q: Do you see any chance that Kevin Williams can be back? *

A: I talked to his agent a few days ago and we're continuing to monitor that. There's no decision that's been made. I told him we'd leave it open but we are trying to address some other needs that we definitely wanted to get done first, but there's no decision that's been made on Kevin Williams at this point.  

Q: Where do things stand with Charlie Johnson? And did you see enough from Jeff Baca that showed you that he could be a starter in the NFL?

A: We're excited about where Jeff has come. We're working trying to sign Charlie back if we can. I know he has a couple of teams that are interested in him as well. I think the more depth that you can accumulate on that offensive line that it really helps your ball club. That's an area that we'll probably address in the draft as well. We bring 15 offensive lineman to camp and we're going keep our best eight or nine regardless of who we end up signing, who's going to be the starters and who's going to be the backups but we definitely want to add some youth, but would love to have Charlie Johnson back as well.

*Q: Are you set at cornerback? Do you have enough heading into the draft last night?    *

A: Getting those guys, Josh Robinson, but that doesn't preclude us from drafting a corner. I know you need corners in this division and you need corners in the way the NFL is today and you can never have enough of those guys. We'll look to continue to add even more corners and the more competition that we can create not only at that position but every position is going to help our ball club that much better.

*Q: From a free agent standpoint, you seem to be set at that position heading into the draft? *

A: Well unless someone gets cut. We're monitoring a few other guys out there as well.

Q: How important was it to have some success in filling some big time needs that you had, especially on defense, so that you can go into the draft as open as possible to however it plays out?

A: As we laid out our offseason plan once we got all of coaches in place and evaluated our current roster and then we've been through our meetings. The coaches haven't been through the draft meetings yet but I've been through the draft meetings and the UFA meetings and kind of laid out our plan. The biggest thing I think, the most important thing is to get some things accomplished in free agency, especially with the holes that we had and we had a lot of holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. By doing that, it sure helps you when you're heading into the draft not to get boxed in, well you have to take this position. Now we have that flexibility to see how the draft is going to fall, and I do believe this is a very deep draft, and the potential of moving up or down in the draft to accumulate picks. You're still going to add a lot of youth and a lot of talent that can come in and help our ball club.

Q: When looking at the draft, how much do you look at the different positions and how deep they are and let that help guide you in free agency?

A: That's part of our planning process where I'll put together with where the UFA market is and where the strengths and weakness are there and then also where the strengths and weakness are in the draft. So if you know you have to address certain areas in free agency, you try to be as aggressive as you can to go do that if you don't think there is enough depth in the draft. If it's just the opposite and there's enough depth in the draft then you'll maybe lay back in free agency knowing you're going to fill those gaps in the draft. Right now we feel we've got a good start but by no means is this what our 53-man roster is going to look like. We've still got a long way to go and we'll still continue to add, not only in the draft but as guys get cut too. We're always monitoring that day-to-day. We're monitoring some trade situations. We're also monitoring what's going to happen June 1 if there are cuts after that as well.

Q: Do you think that you'll need to replace Toby Gerhart as Adrian Peterson's back up?  Or will Matt Asiata be able to step into that role?

A: Matt stepped in and did a great job for us last year but I know that you can't go into the season with just two running backs so that's an area that we've talked about a couple of running backs that are currently out on the market but also honed in on a couple of running backs in the draft as well.

*Q: How did you think the process played out with Matt Cassel? And what was your level of concern before you did re-sign him? *

A: We had talked to Matt, I had talked to Matt after the season and then once when we got a coaching staff in place I wanted to make sure it was comfortable with Matt and when we hired Norv, Norv liked Matt a lot. I think that was a huge piece to this whole thing and again it got us started when we were able to get him done a week ago (today). That gets us going in the right direction but these coaches, once we get all of these bodies in here, the coaches will have everybody competing. I know they will do a great job putting our best players out there to help us win ballgames. 

Q: Does having Matt help you from being boxed in during the draft? Or do you still need to get a quarterback there?

A: We're still in the process of going through these draft kids. There have been rumors out there that I was at Alabama, there will be rumors that we'll be out all over this month at these different quarterback workouts and spending a lot of time with these guys, not only what they're doing on the field but doing a lot of things behind the scenes with them in the room, going through their college tape, learning our system, and that'll be done with Coach Zimmer, myself and Norv and Scott Turner.

Q: Did you see the rhythm of when the spending changes in free agency change at all this time?

A: I think this first week was a frenzy and I think it's always going to be just because of that three-day negotiating period before everything starts and that's why there is a frenzy and guys hone in on guys. There was a pretty good amount of money out there that was spent but I think now some teams are going to sit back because a lot of the top guys are off the market, are going to sit back and see if there are some bargains out there. I know as we met on it yesterday on guys that are still available to us and any guys that we have any interest in and as we continue to talk to their agents and as I said, we'll have some visits coming up over the next couple of weeks.

Q: Bears General Manager Phil Emery said that Henry Melton was still trying to see what his value is out there. Do you sense the same from him?

A: I can confirm we had Henry in here yesterday and spent some time with him yesterday. You kind of go with the pace of the player too. I know he wanted to take a few other trips to see what was going out there. I think he had a couple of other trips lined up, but we've contacted his agent as well and just monitoring that as it goes along.

Q: What are your thoughts on bringing Jerome Simpson back and him getting back to his good graces after his arrest?

A: There were circumstances in his arrest. I know Coach Zimmer has spoken with Jerome, I know Norv Turner knows Jerome and watched tape on him. He signed back on a one-year deal. He does have explosive speed down the field and does give us a vertical threat. We felt confident enough and comfortable enough after the new coaching staff had met with him and understood the circumstances behind that last arrest that we re-signed him back to a one-year deal.

Q: Where does he stand with the league and is there any threat of a suspension?

A: We've talked about that but none of that has been determined. We're aware of the potential of any situation but don't have any conclusion to it.

Q: How do you feel about the linebacker position?

A: You know we have some young, unproven guys there. We were able to sign Jasper [Brinkley] back. We're looking through the free agent market, what's still available out there, but I also feel pretty strong about the draft and some of the depth that is in this draft class.

Q: With Matt Cassel and some of these potential draft picks, how do you proceed with Christian Ponder?

A: Christian is under contract here and he'll be out here participating when we get to April 7th. I know he'll get an opportunity to come in and compete as well. Like I said, my job is trying to get as many guys in here to compete at all of the positions and as the coaches work with these guys and see what their abilities are, that will give us some direction on what we do in the draft and how we proceed forward.

Q: How is Adrian doing after his surgery?

A: Adrian should be fine and ready to go when we get started.

Q: Do you have any interest in any of the restricted free agents?

A: We've looked and talked about a few restricted guys. I think strategically there is a way you approach those guys. Sometimes you have to see where the other team's cap situations is, sometimes you have to look and see if you can structure something were you think they would match or not match. There's a lot of strategic discussion that goes into that if we go and dabble into that area. But we did talk a lot about some of the restricted free agent guys that are currently out there.

Q: Are any of the linebackers capable of playing the weakside and competing with Gerald Hodges because there's been nobody that's been a proven starter there?

A: I wish you could say you had 22 guys that you're going to line up with and say that they're all proven starters. That's not the way the NFL is. You have to play these young guys and you have to get them ready to play and we have an unbelievable coaching staff that I know will do a great job of getting these guys ready to go. When you look at Audie Cole, he did a nice job when he came in at Mike, he can also play the strong side. Hodges can cross-train because the strong side and the weak side. They're talking about doing some things with Chad Greenway and Jasper Brinkley can play some Mike and he can play some strong side. I think all of that stuff will sort itself out once these guys get on the field and once we get through the draft and figure out what the best combination is for these guys. All of these guy, we feel that they do have ability, most of them are able to cross-train between one linebacker position and another. It's a different philosophy on the linebackers as far as what Coach Zimmer is going to use in the nickel situations and the dime situations that is a little different than what we've had here in the past. I'm excited to see how all of that comes out. 

Q: Can you say what he'll do with Chad Greenway? Can he play the middle?

A: I don't know. That's the coaches' decision. I know he's played on the weak side, he's been in our nickel package and stuff. Like I said, they do a lot of things from a defensive side that's a little different from what we've done in the past and once these coaches figure out what the skillsets are and once they get an opportunity to put their hands on these players to figure out what their best skillset there, they'll figure out how to best utilize them on the field.

Q: How do you feel about your cap situation at this point?

A: We're in great shape. Rob has done a great job of monitoring our cap. The one thing as you guys know, you don't spend up to the cap at this point. You still have your draft picks that have to be signed and added in there, you also have to leave some cushion as you head into the season for your practice squad, you have to leave some cushion for injury replacement guys. But Rob Brzezinski has done an outstanding job of keeping us very competitive with the way our cap is set up.

Q: It looks like you have the four guys on the defensive line but do you need more depth there?

A: That's what we're monitoring and we're looking at. That could be some potential other free agent signings, that could be some potential guys that when we enter into the draft. Ideally I know you'd like to have 8 guys. We were able to sign Fred Evans back to a one-year deal but ideally you'd like to have 8 guys that you know are going to be active on game day that you can rotate in and out of there. I know one thing that Coach Zimmer really emphasizes is he wants guys that can not only stop the run but we need to get some guys that we're able to put some pressure on the quarterback. 

Q: What do you do now? Do you sit back over the weekend or is it pedal to the metal?

A: No, it's pedal to the metal. You are down in Alabama one day because you have everything kind of lined up and next thing you know you are doing dinners and hosting free agents and then we're getting ready to head out on Sunday. I'll be here doing tape all day  tonight and all day tomorrow and then we're heading out to some pro days next week. Between the pro days and working on free agency it never ends but that's part of this business and that's what's the exciting part because this is the time of the year with this free agency and with the draft that you're going to improve your ball club. We've got a lot of great people in place that are working extremely hard in their specific areas to get that accomplished.

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