Q&A with Rick Spielman: 'No question' of Vikings' faith in Les Frazier
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings chose to exercise an option for 2014 on coach Leslie Frazier's contract this week, rather than negotiating a long-term extension.
On Friday, general manager Rick Spielman dismissed the notion the organization's approach displays a tepid level of support in Frazier, who led the Vikings to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in his second full season in 2012.
"Our biggest thing was, Leslie has done an outstanding job here," Spielman said. "He's been a great leader of the men down in the locker room. We expect him to be our coach for a long time.
"He's been outstanding at everything from leadership to development of young players, everything we're doing. We're just looking forward to getting ready for next year and anything from a contractual standpoint or anything like that will always be held internal, just like players. We don't talk about player's or coach's contracts."
Spielman added that there is "no question of the support that our ownership group, myself, I think our whole organization has for Leslie Frazier" and downplayed the possibility the contract will become an issue.
"No. Not with Leslie Frazier," Spielman said. "I don't want to put words (into his mouth), but Leslie Frazier if you know what type of character and what type of person he is and what he stands for. I know, just being with him, as we're getting ready for (free agency) and draft preparation, we're very excited to build off of last year."
Frazier's contract was one of many topics that came up in a roughly 36-minute session with a small group of Twin Cities reporters to preview the NFL scouting combine, which begins on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Percy Harvin, Manti Te'o, strengths of this year's draft class and the Vikings' approach to free agency also were discussed. The following is an edited Q&A of that seesion:
With a record number underclassmen in the draft, how much more focus goes into events such as the combine?
A lot of those guys will be part of our interview process at night. We'll spend a lot of time this spring with them as well. I know we have done a lot of work already. But with so many juniors coming out, we have to get our coaches involved in the process. They just started the process and catching up with myself and Stud (college scouting director Scott Studwell), just trying to make sure we get through all those guys, and (assistant GM) George Paton. But nothing out of the ordinary that we normally wouldn't have done.
Do you feel behind at all?
Nope. In fact, I think we're ahead, just on the amount of looks we have already. Just finalizing everything through our process. But I'm probably farther ahead on the juniors than I have been in the past.
How about interview-wise? They changed things at the Senior Bowl.
We kind of adjusted to that on the run. We were able to get all of them done. It's just a little different way of doing things. We'll make some adjustments next year now that we know the rules.
Now that you know how to break them?
There's no skirting. We don't skirt around the rules. We just figure out a process.
What excites you most about the combine?
It's probably the biggest event heading into the draft. It's the first time you're going to get all the Olympic numbers on these guys -- the height, weight, speeds -- the first time that we'll get in front of a lot of these guys, especially the juniors. We'll get all our medical, our psychological -- both areas that we test in those. It's probably my most exciting time besides the day of the draft is going to the combine, because there's so much that you get accomplished there.
Are there combine moments that stick out from last year?
No, because I've just heard 250-some offensive guys that we're just slashing away at. I've got another 350 defensive guys to get through over the next couple days. Right now, those guys I'm kind of honed in and focused on.
How long have you been doing psychological evaluations?
I've done it for a while. I brought that process here when I came here. I think it's part of the total picture. That's why you have to interview these guys, and the red flags that do show up, you try to address. If something from the psychological profiling came up, you address it with that player, and you kind of make your own determination, too. It's kind of an instinct and an experience factor that goes into that decision. It's a tool. It's not a be-all, end-all.
Will you take guys off your draft board based on things you hear at the combine?
I think the biggest thing is that these kids get really polished up for the interview process. With all the agents trying to get these kids prepared for the combine, not only physically, but through that interview process. We try to do it where we can get that guard down and focus on ways to really get to know the kid and take some of that polish off. There's ways, I think, that we've came up with that we can do that.
What's the deepest position on offense in this draft?
Offensively, there's going to be some good offensive linemen. I think there's a pretty good group of receivers. I think those are probably going to be the two strongest positions.
What's your vision for adding receivers to your roster?
We're going through that process now. I've got a pretty good feel for the UFA market and now piecing this draft together. We're going to keep all our options open, regardless if it's receiver or where else, just to try to get as many good football players in here to create as much competition as we can and build on what we've been able to accomplish some last year. But we didn't win a Super Bowl yet, so it's not good enough. We have to get better players in, get better competition in and hopefully, continue to build.
Do you set the initial draft board by Tuesday?
Yeah, it'll be done by Tuesday.
Do you stack it overall as well as by position?
Yeah, I've got 'em woven in there.
What do you think when someone chooses not to work out?
I've always been a little stickler about guys not coming in to work out. I think it's been a lot better. I know just speaking with the agents, the agents try to get these kids prepared to come and work out at the combine. Some guys won't work. We usually try to find out why. If it's a legitimate injury, then it is what it is. But I always felt very strongly that if a guy's coming to the combine and he's had ample amount of time to prepare, why wouldn't you come in an compete with everybody at your position?
So that's a negative?
Unless there's a legitimate reason, then yes.
What strikes you about the depth at receiver?
There's so many. ... It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds when you get through, as you develop your board and how they come off. It will be a very exciting draft because I think there's going to be a lot of depth and a lot of value throughout the draft that you're going to be able to get some pretty good players that can come in and help your ball club. But there's a lot of guys that are athletic guys that can stretch the field. There's some guys that are smaller but very unique. There's some guys that are maybe not as fast but have some unique catching skills that make them good players. So, there's a wide variety of guys in this draft."
How important are the medical evaluations at the combine?
Medicals are the whole thing. If our doctors -- and again, I have the utmost confidence in our training staff and our doctors and I would stack them up against anyone in the NFL -- but if they are sitting there telling me we can't take a player because of a medical, I'm going to listen to them. I think I know everything, but I didn't have my M.D. degree hanging up in my office. I need to trust their judgment, and if they say this guy is a medical fail for us, then that's what we go with. That's one area where I won't say, 'No, we're still going to take this guy.'
All 32 teams can put their hands on guys, right?
Yep, and some teams will pass guys that we fail. Some teams will fail guy that we pass. There's been a number of guys that we've rejected or red-dotted in the past that other teams felt comfortable enough to take.
Are there any red dots or guys you've taken off the board already?
Well, it's too early in the process. There's a lot of guys just teetering right now.
Guys who were jerks at the Senior Bowl?
There's some guys that are right on that bright line of falling into the red-dot bucket or not. That will be determined over the next two months.
Are you guys more harsh with those red dots than other teams?
I don't know. I only worry about what our philosophy is and what type of players we want to bring in and what we're able to handle. I think we have a great support staff in place, where some teams might say 'we wouldn't touch this guy,' but we feel very confident in our support staff that we can handle that guy and other guys we can say we just don't want to deal with.
How often are you surprised by another team drafting a guy you wouldn't touch?
I'm not surprised, because I don't know. I'm not sitting in their meetings, so I don't know what they feel. So, I respect if another team takes another player that we didn't feel (was worth taking). That all plays out in the end, but we respect their opinion as well.
Have you had any of your scouting assistants trying to 'Catfish' guys?
We'll be a little bit more heavily involved in social media.
So with Manti Te'o and his situation, how'd you get your arms around that whole thing?
It's not like anything else we don't do. You gather all the information you can. I did watch Dr. Phil for the first time in my life Thursday and Friday, which was interesting. I was like, 'This guy makes a living?' Maybe we should hire him to come down. We might need some of that. I did watch those interviews Thursday and Friday, with that other person. But all we do is gather all the information, and you go through your process to make the determination.
So, the voice wasn't a match?
I'm not that good. I'll leave that (be).
Will any of that matter when it comes to somebody drafting Te'o?
In the end, you'll sit there and discuss all that. Every team will make their own determination. How do you compare what happened -- because he's an extremely talented football player -- against a guy who may have a drug issue or may have an arrest record or may have some other off-field issue? Everybody's going to have, just like on any player, their difference of opinion. We'll go through that process as well.
With all the research you guys do, would NFL teams have found out about the fake girlfriend if the media hadn't?
"We know some things that have not been reported in the media. I'll say that."
How much does the national title game matter? Because he didn't play well.
I'm sure that's something that will get addressed at the combine. Was it (the fake girlfriend)? Was it because he's such a talented player and on the banquet circuit? I don't know. But I still think you evaluate the whole body of work. You don't just evaluate off one game. That's a huge part of the decision-making process, to make sure you have the whole big picture in front of you to make that determination, just not one game. Because there are other guys you look at who had a poor game in Week 3 for whatever reason or maybe in Week 7. He just happened to have it in the biggest college game of the year, but I don't think that's a reflection of what he is as a total overall football player.
How early in the evaluation will the fake girlfriend issue come up in the conversation with Te'o?
We'll get in front of him at the combine when our turn comes. It's no bigger than anyone else. I know it's high profile, but I try to treat everybody the same and try to do the same due diligence that you would with any other player. I don't put one emphasis above another.
The organization exercised Frazier's option this week. What was the conversation and the decision-making process to go that route instead of negotiating a longer-term extension?
Our biggest thing was Leslie has done an outstanding job here. He's been a great leader of the men down in the locker room. We expect him to be our coach for a long time. He's been outstanding at everything from leadership to development of young players -- everything we're doing. We're just looking forward to getting ready for next year and anything from a contractual standpoint or anything like that will always be held internal, just like players. We don't talk about player's or coach's contracts.
You understand why taking this route looks tepid, right?
There's no question of the support that our ownership group, myself, I think our whole organization has for Leslie Frazier.
When you say a long time, do you mean more than two years?
Leslie Frazier is a very good head football coach in the National Football League. Look for him to be leading this team into the future.
Could this become an issue?
No. Not with Leslie Frazier. I don't want to put words, but Leslie Frazier if you know what type of character and what type of person he is and what he stands for. I know, just being with him, as we're getting ready for the (free agency) and (draft) preparation, we're very excited to build off of last year.
Will you entertain trade offers for Percy Harvin?
We have no intent of trading Percy Harvin. Percy Harvin is under contract and we expect him, just like all of our players under contract, to be here. He is a very good football player but he knows what he does for our football team.
When was the last time you talked to him?
I haven't personally spoken with him in a while. I know Leslie has when he came for his exit (physical). Naturally, I speak with the agent (Joel Segal). But I also speak with the agent because he has a lot of good football players coming out in the draft too.
Does that mean that you won't trade Harvin?
Again, there is no intent to trade Percy Harvin. He is a very good football player. I'm not going to talk about any contractual issues because those are kept internal.
Has he expressed any concerns about the offense?
I know Bill Musgrave does a great job, I think, trying to get Percy the ball in his hands. But I'll leave that between the coaches and Percy. That's something that's between coach and Percy.
Do teams call and inquire about trades when something like this comes up?
I'm not going to discuss any calls or trades, or anything like that. No.
Were you bothered when Percy wasn't around after being placed on injured reserve?
We've talked about that before. We felt comfortable enough with him, just like we had a couple other players that went and rehabbed off-site.
What's he doing now?
He passed his physical, I know, when he came in. So, he's ready to go.
Do you anticipate a holdout?
I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.
You have to prepare the team, though ...
We expect all our players under contract to be here.
There have been very few changes to the coaching staff. What's your level of confidence in that group as a whole?
The job the coaching staff did last year was phenomenal with all the change, with all the youth movement and to come out and play the way we played. I think that Leslie has a very good staff together and it's nice to go into next season with the same continuity, same coaches and continue to build on what we've already established.
Was exercising the option versus an extension because you want to see if they can do it again?
We're not going to talk about anything from a contract standpoint.
It's just like any other position. We've been through our Vikings' personnel evaluation. The coaches were working on the UFA evaluations this week. I know George had all our pro scouts finalizing. I've seen most of the UFAs that we may potentially have an interest in, but what we do, after we've met on our particular players, then we meet on particular UFAs. We build a draft board just like we do with the draft and integrate our players in with the UFA market. Now, it's a little different because you have to take the financial considerations in. Our stance has always been that we're going to have an open door and we'd love to have all our UFAs back.
Where do you stand with right tackle Phil Loadholt?
We're going to have visits with all our UFAs. All our UFAs we'll talk with their agents about their contracts.
Have you started those conversations?
We just set up some initial meetings. I know Rob (Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations) has talked to some of the agents. I think most of the business will start to really hone in when we're down at the combine.
How will the new rule that allows the three-day negotiating window affect free agency?
It will be interesting, because I think with the ability to talk with the free agents before it actually happens, you'll probably get a truer, maybe, idea of where the market is going to be on that player, because that agent wants to have the ability to talk to other teams and he'll have a sense of potentially where his market is going to be, and you know it's legal what he's telling you.
Will that make it more difficult to re-sign your own free agents, since they can test the market first?
I think it could work both ways. It could work to your benefit but it also could work against you because on the other shoe, maybe he didn't think his value was out there as far as what he thought it would be.
Is the rule a good thing?
This is the first time going through it, so it kind of will be interesting to see. It's funny because now, if anything gets done when free agency kicks off, you'll know why -- because there has been negotiations going on. You won't have to get a multimillion deal done in an hour now.
Will you ask any of your currently contracted players to renegotiate?
I'm not going to talk about anything we're going to do in-house with our current players.
Are there lessons learned from the success you had in last year's draft that can be applied to this year?
I think the biggest thing is identifying the type of players we want. I think with us, the personnel, the scouts and the coaches working together a lot more closely and everybody being on the same page and identifying exactly what we're looking for both on and off the field as well, I think it really honed in and cleaned up and we want to still stick to that same philosophy. I know watching them work together at the Senior Bowl and now we're getting ready to go at the combine and everything we got coming up, everybody is very excited about building on what we were able to accomplish last year. A lot of it has to do with Leslie and myself working together, and our scouts working together and being all on the same page. And I think we definitely are.
Why didn't Josh Robinson ascend the way you had hoped? Technique? Because he fell out of the rotation late in the season.
You have to remember, Josh is an extremely talented football player. It didn't have anything to do with technique. It was just I think the rotation that the coaches felt comfortable with down the stretch. But we're very excited about where Josh has came and looking ahead. He was a junior who came out, so he was a young kid with tremendous upside. You're going to see significant jumps with all our rookies, hopefully, going into their second years.
What goes through your mind as you see this Harvin situation unravel into such a national story?
I know there's a lot of sources. There's a lot of rumor. There's so much stuff flying out there this time of year that comes from everywhere. I know where we stand, and there's the people in this organization -- it's a very close circle on what gets out -- and so I sit there and look at some of the stuff. But I would just say don't believe all the half-truths or the rumors or the no-truths that are out there because there is so much stuff that flies around and flies around on the draft kids before the draft. It's great reading.
So, how would you clear it up for people?
Well, I'm not going to sit every time there's a report out there and clarify it. Not going to do that. I know where we're at, not only with Percy, but with everybody. You can't just come out there and clarify every half-truth and every no-truth, because there's so much that goes on at this time of year.
How do you make sure the player's not getting caught up in it, though?
That's on the draft kids. That's on everybody. But that's today's age and the Internet and the social media and everything like that. So I understand that's a part of the deal.
Does it strain relationships?
Not as long as the communication is there.
So, you'll clarify to the player what's half-truth and what's not?
Yeah. Right. You're right. Leslie is. Or clarifying with the agent.
How hard is it to execute a trade with any blue-chip player?
We made a trade with Jared Allen. So ...
But has it gotten harder to find the market for a blue-chipper?
I don't know. We have never traded a blue-chip player.
What about acquiring one?
Never truly really tried to acquire one. Last blue-chip guy we felt was Jared ... which I would do in a heartbeat just to have a Jared Allen.
The new collective-bargaining agreement has changed the value of first-round picks, though, right? The cost of those rookie contracts is no longer prohibitive.
"So you're talking about draft picks for draft picks? I think there's a lot more activity now. Because there isn't the financial ramifications that there have been in the past. So I don't know if - I haven't done this research, to look back and see how many first round trades have been since the new CBA compared to what they were in the past. How many in the upper, top 10. It looked like last year there was some pretty good movement in the top 10.
Safety Jamarca Sanford is another one of those UFAs. What allowed him to take the step forward he did from 2011?
He had significant play time and got thrust into that starter (role) the year before, but just the significant jump he made from '11 to '12 -- and he's really developed not onlya as a good football player for us but one of our leaders down there in the locker room, both on and off the field. So, he's one of those late-round guys that has really developed and we're very pleased with where he's at.
Have you thought about re-signing Jerome Simpson?
We've talked about Simpson where you saw in the first Detroit game, you saw what he was doing in the preseason and just the suspension and then the setback with the injury. So, he's one of those -- how many UFAs we have? (Ten.) He's one of those guys, all those guys, that we would love to have back.
Do you intend to tender your only restricted free agent, A.J. Jefferson?
We would love to have all our guys back.
As you look at the strengths of the draft, how do you feel it fits in line with what you guys are looking for?
Regardless of our needs or not, we're always going to draft the best available player within our slots and our categories that we've put guys in and try to fill needs if they're in the same level of player. But yeah, I think this is going to be a deep draft with all the juniors that entered in and there are a lot of good players of the juniors that came out that will I think give it the depth -- it's going to be pushing some guys down that were good football players, that you're going to get some quality players where we're picking.
What are the strong points on defense?
Just defensive line is definitely (a strength). There are some good safeties in this draft. There's always going to be corners. I think this year is a little bit out of the ordinary. The defensive line depth is pretty unique to years past.
To what degree does your opinion of the draft class inform your strategy in free agency?
It's huge. It's huge, because if I know there is a potential we can pick a need out of the draft, I'm always going to lean that way. I always believe in we have to build this thing through the draft, and that's what we have to rely on to stay competitive year-in and year-out.
Does having your head coach under contract for at least two more years help you in terms of luring free agents?
Oh yeah. Our ownership has done a great job bringing stability, between myself and with Leslie, not only going forward and that definitely helps as you go out and get into the free-agent market.
Do you ever mix your draft board with your free agent board, just to see how they match up?
Too different. I have (an) overall plan. It's funny -- it almost looks like a game-plan sheet, where it's one big sheet and taking all of the things that we've done over the past month, and it'll have how we graded our guys by position. It'll have the UFAs by position. It'll have the potential cut-trade-restructure list by position, and it'll have the draft by position. What you can really do is get a big overall view of where the strengths and weaknesses are in each area. It's like a grand deal.
Do you know where your team ranks age-wise with the rest of the league?
I don't know how it ended up. I think we were in fourth-youngest last year and don't know where we'll end up this year. But we'll see. I know we had a lot of first- and second-year starters, though. If you look just look at the starters, we had to be one of the youngest with the group of starters we had and first- and second-year players.