Q&A with Vikings GM Rick Spielman: Talks with Frazier, Harvin private
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Rick Spielman isn't tipping his hand about whether the Minnesota Vikings' plans for extending any contracts in the months ahead.
That includes coach Leslie Frazier, who is in the second year of a three-year deal, and receiver Percy Harvin, who privately has made clear he expects a new contract to replace the final year of his rookie deal in 2013.
In all, Spielman fended off a half-dozen contract-related questions during a roughly 38-minute session with reporters, keeping with his general policy of not discussing money matters publicly.
It was his first session with reporters since the start of a season that has the rebuilding Vikings at 6-4 entering their bye week with what Spielman calculates is the NFL's fourth-youngest roster.
Asked if that youth means he must have more patience with Frazier and the coaching staff, Spielman said, "I think it's patience, but it's also a sense of urgency, too. Because you want to win and when we went into the season, we wanted to win.
"We want to win every game. That's why you're in this business. Patience is a fact that you know you have a lot of new faces, you have a lot of first and second year guys that are contributing. But also know that you have to go out there and win ballgames too."
Spielman also discussed Adrian Peterson's impressive recovery from left knee reconstruction, the Vikings' inactivity at the trade deadline, Christian Ponder's progress and the NFC playoff picture, among other topics. Here's a partial transcript:
What strikes you about where Adrian Peterson is 10 weeks into the season after the injury he had in December?
"The biggest thing was, I knew when we spoke to him and the injury occurred, and I think I've said this before, the first thing that came out of his mouth was, 'I'm going to get better than I was before this injury.' No one ever envisioned that, but that's what makes Adrian so unique and so special. He put in his mind that he was gong to come back, not only come back but be better than he was before the injury. As we go through this last part of the season and how he's performed so far, he seems to be getting better and better each week. I think over the last 2-3 weeks he is a better player than he was before the injury."
Do you think his comeback has raised level of teammates?
"I think he sets a great example of what he did this offseason and how determined he was. I think that filters down. But I also know physically he's probably unique in how he was able to come back as quickly as he did and perform as quickly because there have been some very good players that have taken maybe a year before they got back, especially at a skill position, too. People don't talk about about ACLs, but it's maybe a bigger affect on skill-position guys because of what they're required to do."
Given the rehabilitation time associated with the injury, how much were you counting on Adrian this season?
"We kind of knew where he was from a rehab stand point, I can't emphasize the job that (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and our training staff did, and they've had tremendous success with bringing guys back from ACL surgeries from Chad Greenway to Heath Farwell. So, we've had a lot of success with our training staff and guys recovering and playing at the level they were at. But knowing the way Adrian was approaching this and how hard he was working and knowing not only his mental makeup but his physical makeup, we had a pretty good idea that he was going to be ready by that first game."
You're 6-4 at the bye. What factors got you into playoff picture?
"I think coming into this season, no one had high expectations on this football team. I know internally we had very high expectations for ourselves. I think every year you go into training camp you better have high expectations for your football team or why are you in this? Why do you want to play the games? But I think the one thing you've got to credit, I think you have to credit the coaching staff, because we knew we were going to have a young team. We knew we were going to have a lot of first- and second-year players playing for us. I think you have to credit the veteran leadership on this team -- the Jared Allens, the Antoine Winfields, the Kevin Williams of the world -- knowing they are going to bring these young guys along as well.
"So, I think it's a combination of things, and we've done some good things this season, but I know there's some room that we still -- and Leslie has talked about it -- we still need to improve and we still need to get better. And I still think, what I said in the beginning of the season was you want to see and evaluate each week kind of where you are at. And you are going to have some setbacks. You are going to have some growing pains.
"We're going through some of that, but are the guys continuing to progress? Are we a better team Week 1? Are we a better team Week 5? Are we a better team Week 10? Are we going to be even a better team at the end of the season? And that's kind of what you are hoping to see as we go through this thing. But we still have a ways to go to get better. We still need to get improvement. That's the attitude you have to have, I think. Just like on the personnel side, my philosophy is I don't think you ever arrive. I think you always have to strive to keep continuing to get better and to work hard and continuing to improve."
Is a playoff berth the standard at this point?
"I think we're worried about Chicago (the Vikings' next opponent on Nov. 25), because you can't focus too far ahead on that. I think you are glad you are in a position to be relevant at this point, but our focus -- and Leslie has done a great job with this team and focused on one game at a time and right now, our main game coming up, which is going to be a very tough game in Chicago with the Bears, who are playing extremely well.
Given the two-game losing streak and the bye coming up, were you relieved to beat Detroit?
"I am relieved every week we win. You know every game is important. One game is not any more important than another game. I think each week every game counts and so ..."
But is the metric on this team your ability to get out of that kind of skid?
"It was great to see our team after not playing probably as well during that two-week skid and have our QB come back play the way he did. Adrian, you know what you are going to get week in and week out with Adrian, but us continuing to grow as a team. And I thought Leslie and our coaching staff did an outstanding job getting our team ready for that game."
How satisfying is this, based on where you were a year ago (when the Vikings finished 3-13)?
"I just think you are always continuing to look to build always continuing to look to get better and that's the focus we have to have. Where can we improve, where can we get better, where can we get better in personnel and continue to go down that road."
Were you tempted to make a move before the trade deadline?
"No, I think our philosophy and my philosophy that I believe in is that you continue to build this through the draft. We're looking forward -- I know our scouts are coming down to our final couple weeks here on the fall scouting. Our scouts are coming in in December, we're getting ready to start our meetings for the draft.
"Every year, this is the time of year your stomach starts to get excited because you know what's coming up here -- not only during the season, but what's coming up this offseason. With the systems that we have in place and some of the stuff we implemented over the last two years and last year, I'm very excited about continuing and getting ready to improve this roster."
How much do you look at these last two drafts as setting the foundation going forward?
"I think we had to, because of the age of our team. I know we were one of the oldest teams in the league. I think we're the fourth-youngest team right now in the league, and I think you have to continually build, because if you can build that foundation through the draft and continue to have successful drafts or guys that can come in and contribute and play, you're always going to have a competitive football team. It doesn't force you then to go out and spend tons of money out in free agency.
"If you can build through the draft and get your players through the draft and then, when their time comes up, you can extend those guys -- because those are the guys you're going to know the best -- that you have a better chance of success doing it that way than always going out and trying to spend a lot of money in free agency, although there are times there's exceptions to the rules or the trade, when we did the Jared Allen trade (with Kansas City in 2008) and things like that. There's always going to be some unique things that maybe you do. But from a general philosophy, I think that's how you build this."
What's the challenge for the team or organization to retain patience with a quarterback such as Christian Ponder, who you know is young and needs to go through a process and let it all play out before making a judgment?
"I always have followed the three-year rule. The quarterback position -- you've got to remember, our guy's only in his second year. You look at the history of development of quarterbacks and I've talked to you guys a lot about that and where they come. I know they're getting measured regardless if they're a rookie or second-year (player). They're going to get evaluated from the outside and from the media on their performance that week. But you have to be, from an internal standpoint, looking at the whole picture and looking at a length of time.
"It was funny -- I predicted what Ponder's stats would be this year. I had written it down before the season, and it's pretty phenomenal how history repeats itself as guys go through the development of a young quarterback. I know everybody in this organization believes Christian Ponder is our guy, and I have full, 100 percent belief that Christian Ponder's going to be our quarterback heading into the future. You also know that, as young guys develop, they're going to have hiccups. But you've got to be patient, and I thought last week (offensive coordinator) Bill Musgrave did a great job without Percy Harvin and what Christian was able to do last week, too.
"So, those are things that you look at when you're developing a young quarterback, is OK, he had a hiccup for a couple weeks -- how does he respond? Well, he came out of that and responded pretty well last week. I think he ended up with a 114 quarterback rating and was very productive and probably would have been more productive, but we had a few dropped balls here and there, too. So, those are the signs that you're looking at, not only from his physical ability, but how he handles the pressure at that position from the mental standpoint, too."
Do you like a guy who goes up and says things like that joke about his girlfriend, because it seems like he is able to let some things roll off his back?
"You have to have stuff roll off your back at that position, just like a head coach or general manager. You know there's going to be -- the praises come with that position, but the heavy criticisms come with that position, too. But you have to have the mental makeup to be able to handle all of that."
You predicted his stats accurately?
"I'll let you know at the end of the season."
No, you won't.
"I can just say you can look, you guys do that. It's easy. Just look at guys in their second year. And where he is right now to where he was last year and just look at some of the quarterbacks I have mentioned. And what their progress was. And they're almost identical wherein that realm where they all ended up."
Are the guys you're basing that projection off of the top quarterbacks in the league? Or what do you base that on?
"A lot of the things I think you look at when you're measuring that position, too, is -- and I've looked at this, not to mention the quarterbacks -- but quarterbacks and how they sometimes perform in the clutch situations, because I think that defines a quarterback. Or in situations where they have struggled, but again, the mental part of it, were they able to get out of that? And there are quarterbacks who have that high quarterback rating, but if you look at pressure situations in the games, sometimes their ratings go down. And guys who have a lower quarterback rating, their rating rises in those pressure situations. So, those are the things you're trying to look at when you're measuring a quarterback."
Which quarterbacks are you basing that off of?
"You guys can do your statistical analysis."
How do you define those clutch situations?
"Just the situations where -- there are seven different categories that I kind of looked at measuring that. So, we do it for third-down situations, you do it in some of the stuff (Ponder) showed in the Jacksonville game in 2-minute at the end of the game, what he did in Indy to bring us back and get us in the situation to tie the ballgame at the end. There are a lot of different categories, as you guys -- if you ever pull up the stats or Stats Inc., or anything, you guys know football enough where you know what pressure situations are during the game."
Are you trying to develop Joe Webb into a dropback passer?
"The coaches really focused and honed in on Joe Webb being a quarterback. I know they spend a lot of time this offseason developing Joe as a quarterback. And I know in this league -- and you saw last week, you have to have a couple quarterbacks (leave games). Because if your guy -- knock on wood -- does go down, you have to have a replacement. We saw with the guys (Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and Michael Vick) leaving out with concussions this week. So, Joe has enough ability to be a quarterback in this league, whether it's in a backup role or whether he had to come in and start. So, we felt very strong about the depth of our quarterbacks here. Even what (McLeod Bethel-Thompson) has shown in the flashes he's shown since he's been here."
What sort of improvement have you seen from Leslie Frazier?
"Leslie's been doing an outstanding job. Knowing the situation, that we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, and I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job. Again, we can bring in guys that are talented, but it's our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow, because you know you're going to have some ups and downs, especially when you have a young roster. But our coaches and Leslie do an extremely, very good job of working with these kids. And any chance they have, to get these guys ready to play. And I think that has shown so far this year."
How involved are you during the season with discussions about who plays and who doesn't, given that you've seen these guys since college and know their strengths?
"We talk personnel all the time and I'm out at practice every day. I get an opportunity to watch the practice tapes. And it's not my job, the Xs and Os. But I'm sitting there watching, evaluating our practice squad guys and whoever we turn over. We've been turning over practice squad guys week-in and week-out. We brought another one in this week.
"But I want to see, because we have some young guys who are currently on the practice squad that we're very excited about that may not get an opportunity this year. But as you go into your offseason planning and you start identifying your needs and what you can potentially get in the draft or what you could potentially get in free agency, I look at it, too, as, look at this player and this player currently on the practice squad. Do we think he's developed enough that he may be a factor going into it next year as well?"
Do you have to have patience with the coaches as well, knowing they're working with such a young roster?
"I think it's patience, but it's also a sense of urgency, too, because you want to win and when we went into the season, we wanted to win. We want to win every game. That's why you're in this business. Patience is a fact, that you know you have a lot of new faces, you have a lot of first- and second-year guys that are contributing. But also know that you have to go out there and win ballgames, too."
At what point would you address Leslie Frazier's contract?
"We keep everything internally. I won't discuss anything on contracts."
Would you ever discuss something like that during a season?
"Just keep everything internally."
How much do you value having a cooperative working relationship with Frazier?
"The biggest thing is that the open communication that we have with each other, and I'm by no means an ego guy. I like to kid myself. I make fun of myself more than anyone else makes fun of me. But Leslie is the same way where it's not about him or me, it's about us, it's about the Vikings, what's best for this team. And you can have very open and candid discussion.
"I think that was huge for us last year when I had some discussions with Leslie and then we got all the coaches and personnel people in one room and -- 'Nothing personal, let's get this all aired out so we can move forward.' I think that did wonders for everybody. But everybody is on the same page. Everybody understands what our scheme is, what we're looking for in players, and its our job to go out there and identify those players and it works hand-in-hand with the coaches.
"To me, once the personnel side and coaching side gets divided, then you have no chance. To me, they have to work hand-in-hand and they have to work together every day."
What do you need to see at the end of season to say this was a satisfying season in terms of growth?
"I kind of look at it every week. So, we won't do that until the end of the year. Right now I know our main focus is on getting some of our guys that are banged up healthy this week and getting ready for the Chicago Bears, and that's the only thing that's our focus right now."
How many college visits did you make this year, and how was the structure of the scouting operation with you and George Paton (the assistant GM) in different roles?
"A lot different from the fact that I used to go out Thursdays for the Thursday night games or the Friday night games. I put George in that role this year, and he'll be even more active in the college side of it and be involved more in the draft. What I did, that enabled me to stay in the office more. To be closer with the team, to be there with coach Frazier, to handle a lot of the other deals that come with this job besides just personnel.
"But I've been able to get out most Saturdays and a lot of times when we're on the road, I would leave on Saturday morning and go to a college game and then I'd meet the team on the road that night. So, I've done pretty much the same amount. In fact, a little bit more, just because we get all the tape that comes in during the fall from the colleges. Thursday and Friday are when I designate my college days, and usually everything is taken care of by Wednesday where Thursday and Friday I can really hone in and focus on the fact that I'm finishing up Alabama this week, is my goal to get done."
What are you looking for on your college visits that you can't get just from watching the tape?
"To me, I think you have to get out there and talk to people. I get an opportunity to talk to the coaches before the games. I know our scouts are out pounding the bushes and visiting with these coaches and doing everything. You see everything and can evaluate everything on tape, but I like to see them in person. I like to see what their body type looks like. I like to see how they're interacting on the sideline. Things that you can't see on tape. How they compete, the sense of urgency.
"You just get a better feel when you're out there and seeing things with your own eyes. And there are a lot of things that I'll look at on tape, and then, once I go out there and see them live -- and if I don't see them I'll probably see them at the East-West game or at the Senior Bowl or see them at the (scouting) combine -- you get a much better feel for a player if you can get your hands on them, especially the process we go through when we start the interview process, which is a huge part of our evaluation."
How do you grade this rookie class so far?
"I put expectations on myself and our staff that every one of our draft picks should be successful. Our goal is to be 100 percent right. Every year, when they're coming into December, we'll give an evaluation and our pro guys will write up evaluations of rookies on other teams. But we do -- just like coaches do -- we self-scout ourselves on, what is our success rate individually when we're grading these guys? What is our success rate broken down to position?
"If we miss a guy, we spend a lot of time on why we missed. What was the reason we missed this player? Even if it's not one of our players and we had graded someone wrong and he's either successful or he failed (with another team), depending on the kind of grade, we go back and evaluate that and we talk about that.
"To me, you have to do that in order to get better yourself and so you don't make a similar mistake. I put a huge point of emphasis on that, especially coming up now that you've got a pretty good feel for this rookie class. We'll have a half-a-day meeting on that."
This class has performed well, though, hasn't it?
"Yeah. It was nice to see Jarius (Wright) get out there and do some things (last week). I'll judge it three years down the road. Some guys can be flash in the pans, but you want to make sure you see where they're at three years down the road from now."
Your kicker, Blair Walsh, doesn't look like a flash in the pan. Did you see that coming?
"You knew the talent Blair had. But that's the fun part of (scouting). When Blair had his struggles as a senior, why did he have those struggles? And are those struggles correctable? That's the part of really honing in and digging in.
"(Special teams coordinator) Mike Priefer was a big part of that. He's going to be the expert in that area. I rely on people that are experts in their area. Can you get this corrected or is this something that you don't think is correctable? And (Priefer) was very adamant. We can identify the struggles. We can talk to a scout who is an expert in that area, a coach who is an expert in that area. Can we get this fixed? And can be successful?
"That's why it's such a big team effort to identify those guys. There's always going to be -- no matter who you pick -- you're going to poke holes like hell in them and identify those holes. Then you talk about can we get this fixed? Is this something he'll come out of? Is this something he'll improve in? That's all part of the decision process. "
How did you see Wright and Percy Harvin coexisting when you drafted Wright?
"Jarius was an extremely talented player. We were in that fourth round, and Jarius has a unique skill set. He has speed and has some run-after-catch ability. And sometimes when you take a guy like Rhett Ellison, I knew what kind of football player he was. I knew what kind of person and those are the type of building blocks you want to have. I knew that he had the potential to fill a Jim Kleinsasser-type role and I knew what kind of special teams player he was.
"Jarius, we had a lot of similar discussions with him. He was too good of a football player on our board to pass up, regardless of if you have a Percy Harvin here, because you're going to find ways to get him on the field or he's going to eventually be able to help you win ballgames. Some have immediate impact. Some don't have an immediate impact, but will have an impact sometime down the road."
Did you envision a scenario where both those guys could be on the field together?
"That's more of a coaching decision on how they can utilize those guys talents."
Do you have a more complete picture now on Percy Harvin on and off the field, or is that an evaluation that is ongoing?
"I think what we'll do at the end of this season, just like our normal procedure we go through. I takes about 3½ days to go through an evaluation on each one of our players. We talk about each player -- not only what they do on the field, from A to Z. We have (vice president of football operations) Rob Brzezinski will come in we'll talk. I'll sit with him and Leslie and George and just understand where we're at from the financial standpoint and the decisions we have to make.
"We're going to have decisions this offseason, too, on guys that are going to be unrestricted free agents, guys that you want to try to extend, guys that are going into the last year of a contract. All that stuff is coming up. But we will wait until the end of the season, whenever our season ends, before we get into our planning process. But that's a process that we go through every year."
Is there talk about extending Harvin's contract now?
"Again, in general, I'm talking about we discuss every single player and every single practice squad guy on our roster and where they're at and where we go with them from there."
Is it imperative you get something resolved with Harvin before training camp next year?
"Again, I'm not going to discuss anything until the offseason on any of our players. Right now, our focus is on getting ready for Chicago and see where we go through this season and then all those other issues we'll address in the offseason."
Are you saying you don't do any contracts before the season is over?
"Again, I'm not going to discuss anything that's going on internally. We will keep all that in-house. I don't want to say anything about where we're at with any of our players right now. Right now, the whole focus is for coming back out of the bye."
So, to be clear, you're not saying you won't do any deals before the season is over?
"I'm not saying anything. No comment on any player contracts or extensions."
How do you assess what Harvin has done this season, both in terms of production and as a leader?
"Percy Harvin is unique, unique football player, and he brings so much value to this football team, and Percy has developed into one of our core players and a leader for us on this football team."
You were promoted to general manager in January. Has this job been what you thought it'd be?
"I was very, as you know when I got named the GM, very emotional and very excited about the opportunity. I come into work every day. I get up at the same, 5 o'clock every morning. I walk my dogs every morning and I can't wait to get to work. To me, it's tough on the losses. If there's anything I just can't stand, I can't standing losing. I just hate that. You enjoy the wins, but every day you look at the unique challenges ahead. To me, that's the fun part of the job - the good and the bad."
So, as you reflect back on the past 10 months -- free agency, the draft, everything on the personnel side -- are there any things you'd do differently?
"What I do, too, is when we bring, coming into those meetings (with scouts) in December, everybody gets to speak up. I'll give my (overview) -- as the guys kid me, the state of the union. But I'll ask everybody's opinion, because I'll be the first to admit, no one is smart enough to do this all by theirself.
"The biggest things, and we've emphasized it, is the communication part and that's why it has been working so well with the personnel and the coaches. That open line of communication is invaluable. If there is something that's a hiccup, let me know about it. I want to get it fixed if I'm not seeing it. Leslie is the same way. If you have something that you don't see or you don't agree with, you can walk right into Leslie's office, whoever you are, and talk to him about it. To me, that's a huge part of having success.
"I ask each one of our personnel guys -- give me criticism. Is there anything I can do better? Because I always want to get better. I'm always looking to learn. I've made a couple calls to different people during the season on some things that they're doing different, idea-wise. I'm always looking to add things every year into how we do things and how we can get better because once you've -- like I've said, think you're set or know all the answers, that's when it's going to catch you. And you've always got to be getting better and you've always got to be on the move and looking for different ways to do things.
"So, we're going to implement some new things. We did implement some things last year and I've already got some ideas on how to implement some new things that year as well."