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Updated: March 19th, 2013 10:56am
Q&A with Rick Spielman: Vikings tried to be fair to Antoine Winfield

Q&A with Rick Spielman: Vikings tried to be fair to Antoine Winfield

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman sat down with 1500ESPN.com on Monday at the NFL meetings to discuss the team's free-agent activity, the holes he still needs to fill and the possible return of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, among other topics.

You gave Matt Cassel a lot of money (two years, $7.4 million) to be a backup quarterback. Do you envision him competing for the starting job with Christian Ponder in training camp?

Nope. No. No. It's purely we felt he was our best option to get a veteran backup quarterback that would fit from not only our needs as to, if something does happen to Christian, having a guy that's capable of going in there and winning ballgames, but also the right chemistry fit for Christian, too, which was very important.

Did you know they knew each other a little bit?

Yeah, but not to the extent of things. But I know that was one of the things, once (Cassel) was released, that we definitely talked with him about and his agent about.

So, once the Chiefs signed Chase Daniel to back up Alex Smith, were you in a holding pattern, expecting Cassel would be released?

Yeah, we were just waiting until he was released. You can't do anything until he's released.

Having signed Greg Jennings and re-signed Jerome Simpson, how do you feel about the receiver group?

We'll still look at depth, but it doesn't force you say if there's something there with our two first-round picks -- it doesn't force you to take a receiver there, because you can get value, I think, in the second round as well. It really frees you up to fill needs on your team, but it doesn't force you into one position.

Jerome had the back injury and it really seemed to affect him ...

The whole season, yeah. Because we've seen coming off of the suspension and doing some things in the Detroit game (in his Vikings debut on Sept. 30), we figured he was just going to continue to grow. But then that was a major setback, because I think it was Tennessee the following week where he woke up with (the injury) and it just affected him the rest of the season.

And he did not need surgery?

No.

It was just a matter of rehabbing and resting it?

Mm-hmm.

Can be a viable starting split end?

Oh, yeah. We've seen some of the things he did in Cincinnati. We thought he was one of those young receivers that was on the come. Being back with us, in our system, understanding the offense, continuing to grow with Christian, he's definitely a viable option -- or else we wouldn't have signed him back.

Is Jennings more of a flanker, with what he does in the short to intermediate game?

Yeah, but I also know that he was battling that groin issue all last year. But he has the position flexibility to play both outside and inside and he's smart enough to line up and play at multiple positions.

It seems his route-running and reliability can really help out your quarterback.

And that's just him and the quarterback getting on the same page. I think it'll be tremendous help for Christian, just as he can learn from some of the experiences that Greg has had.

You restructured the contracts of John Carlson and Charlie Johnson. How important was it to free up cap space while also keep those guys in your program?

Well, I will not comment on any restructures.

I'm not asking about the restructures. I already reported that.

I know. I'm not (commenting).

OK. It appears John Carlson will still be around ...

Right. Yes.

... and he'd missed 2011, he hurt the knee in camp, missed the preseason, had the concussion. He never really got started.

No. But there were signs of John, too, and to have John Carlson back and to get Charlie back, too -- Charlie was basically in a relatively new position as well -- so to get some of those veterans back and to keep that continuity that we always talk about, it should help our offense continue to grow.

With your top three defensive ends on expiring deals -- Jared Allen has a big cap number, Brian Robison has a big cap number -- will you do anything there to both stabilize the future and clear some more cap space there?

We'll see.

You had Geoff Schwartz rotate at right guard some with Brandon Fusco. Schwartz signed with Kansas City. Are you looking to bring in competition for Fusco?

We're looking to bring in competition at all the spots, not right guard spot.

How do you feel about Fusco?

We're excited about Brandon. I know offensive linemen tend to take jumps from their first year to their second year. When you look at Brandon's history, he was a center for four years at Slippery Rock, so now all of a sudden you're throwing him in at right guard in the NFL. But there's nothing from a physical standpoint that says he's not going to continue to improve and grow into that position.

Can DeMarcus Love be your swing tackle?

Yeah. And we're excited to get DeMarcus (back). He was having a very good training camp last year and were very excited about him until he tore his pec. That set us back a little bit. But we have a couple guys -- the (Kevin) Murphy kid that we signed that improved through the season that was on our practice squad. And (Troy) Kropog's been around. We'll have plenty of competition for that backup swing tackle.

Are you anticipating Greg Childs will be able to give it a go after the bilateral patellar tendon tear?

Well, he's I know working extremely hard in his rehab and continues to want to get back out on the field. I know it's a pretty significant injury. But just his mentality and his attitude that he has shown since the injury and wanted to prove to everybody that he can come back from that -- and he is young. He's not an older player. He's a young player. But that's just kind of a wait-and-see as we continue through the rehab process.

Do you feel you have what you need at nose tackle?

Fred (Evans) played very well for us last year and made some big plays for us. And (Letroy) Guion early in his career -- and remember, he was a junior that also came out that bounced around from three-technique to nose to three-technique -- so last year we signed him back, we were going to play him strictly at nose tackle and let him grow at that position. But some of these guys, I know people like to pass judgments, but some of the things that he has done and the combination of him and Fred, we are very encouraged going forward.

Jasper Brinkley signed with Arizona. You knew you needed an upgrade there anyway. Where do you stand right now with the mike linebacker position?

We'll continue to monitor any potential guys out there. But that's something that we'll probably have to look at through the draft as well at some point.

Is there any chance Brian Urlacher ends up on your team?

Um ... he's a free agent. That's it.

With Antoine Winfield not on the roster at this stage, how do you look at the cornerback group?

We feel very confident in where Josh (Robinson) is coming and with A.J. (Jefferson) and with Chris Cook. Brandon Burton, it'll be a big year for him because he has shown signs of the physical tools being there. We were excited about Bobby Felder, what he did on our practice squad all year. A lot of the things that the media doesn't see in practice that, as we evaluate some of those guys and their potential to come in and help this year, that maybe were on practice squads or guys who didn't play last year.

The door is open on Antoine at this stage?

The door's open on Antoine.

At what point would you reach out to him if he's not on a team?

We've always kept open dialogue and communication. As hard as that business decision was, we also wanted to be fair to Antoine, too, to put him out there at the same time everybody else was going to go out there on the market. It wouldn't have been fair to keep him under contract and then if something didn't work out and let him be released after the market had opened. So, as hard as the decision was, the timing was to be fair to Antoine, to be able to let him go out and shop when the market opened at 3 o'clock our time that Tuesday.

What's the plan at the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith? Are Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford and Robert Blanton all in that mix?

Oh yeah. We're excited to see that, and we were very excited to get Jamarca back. Not only are those guys all safeties -- and you can throw in (Andrew) Sendejo, too -- those guys are all core special teams players for us. The improvement we had on special teams last year was due to the fact that, at that position, not only the depth that guys can step in and play on defense, they really were the core of our special teams unit as well.

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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