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Updated: February 26th, 2012 5:49pm
Pelissero: More likely than ever Matt Kalil is Vikings' man at No. 3

Pelissero: More likely than ever Matt Kalil is Vikings' man at No. 3

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Rick Spielman did everything he could at the NFL scouting combine to cast doubt on the Minnesota Vikings' plans for the No. 3 overall pick in April's draft.

He refused to rule out taking a quarterback. He praised Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III as "everything you're looking for" in a franchise signal-caller.

He even downplayed the importance of the left tackle spot the Vikings appear more likely than ever to fill with Southern Cal's Matt Kalil, who might be the safest pick in the draft.

In reality, the Vikings have every intention of sticking with Christian Ponder at quarterback and appear poised to use their most valuable commodity to protect his blindside.

Their general manager's talk of trading down is more than pre-draft subterfuge, though.

"The vision is to get your roster as competitive as you can in '12," Spielman said, "but also, where's your roster going to be in the future?"

All indications are the Indianapolis Colts will draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. Griffin measured and timed well enough here to solidify his status as the favorite at No. 2, assuming St. Louis gets its asking price.

If that happens, the odds drop substantially the Vikings would receive an offer they can't refuse. But what if they do?

What if some team is willing to mortgage a first-round pick this year and next for the chance to come up and snare Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon or, heck, Kalil himself?

The Vikings are beginning what amounts to a two-year plan for turning over the roster. Left tackle is a core position that must be filled, but it's far from the only issue on a depth chart that has numerous holes, many of them to be addressed through the draft.

"The biggest thing you want to make sure is if you move back, how far you move back, and if you move back too far, you're going to lose an impact player," Spielman said.

"There's going to be a very good first round. It's a very good depth in this draft this year. But if there's a difference-maker and you move too far back and you get out of that difference-maker category, you don't want to do that either."

In other words, the Vikings know how many players have "blue" grades on their board and they'll make sure they get one of them -- whether that's the left tackle at No. 3 or one of the cornerbacks, receivers or defensive tackles who could be available in the next dozen picks or so.

The Vikings are likely to strike in the second tier of free agency, too, with upwards of $10 million of salary-cap space that could more than double through cuts and restructures. Meetings this week between Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier, cap man Rob Brzezinski and ownership will finalize the course there.

Spielman made clear that "we're not going into '12 and thinking it's a throwaway," but he knows the best chance for forging a shortcut on the road back from 3-13 is maximizing the value of the Vikings' highest draft pick since 1968 -- when they took another USC tackle, Ron Yary, who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"As tough as this year was," Frazier said, "if there was positive, it's the fact that we get a chance to draft in a position where we need some players. We need players."

The Rams could opt to stand pat and take Kalil, giving the Vikings a chance to hold the "RG3" sweepstakes at No. 3. The approach then would be a no-brainer, since Spielman could take a haul and doesn't want to abandon the quarterback he drafted 12th overall last year anyway.

Failing that, only an extra first-round pick in 2013 -- if not more -- seems likely to sway the Vikings from taking the safe route, installing Kalil as their left tackle for the next decade and providing Ponder the protection he needs in what could be another challenging season with a team in rebuilding mode.

"You never know what happens," Spielman said. "When I say we're not only focusing on '12 but the future, you're not going to go out there and say, 'Hey, we're hoping we're 8-8.' No, our goal is to go out there and win a division and hopefully get in the playoffs and see what happens from there."

It's just that it would take a lot of good moves and a lot of good fortune for that to happen in 2012, which is why Spielman can't rule out anything, even if he wants to.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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