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Updated: April 24th, 2012 3:38pm
Zulgad: Guessing finally over when it comes to who runs Vikings draft

Zulgad: Guessing finally over when it comes to who runs Vikings draft

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- One of the biggest frustrations of following the Minnesota Vikings the past 10 years - and there have been many - has been not knowing exactly who was in charge each April during the NFL draft.

The last known person in Winter Park to have final say on that matter was former coach Dennis Green and his final season with the organization was 2001. Since that time, the draft seemingly has been a group effort that has created plenty of confusion as to who was responsible for what pick.

That uncertainty will end Thursday night.

Rick Spielman, promoted from vice president of player personnel to general manager last January after the Vikings completed a 3-13 season, conducted a 26-minute pre-draft press conference Tuesday at Winter Park during which, in the spirit of this time of year, he undoubtedly attempted to spread as much misinformation as possible.

But Spielman was telling the truth on at least one key point.

For better or worse, he will have the final decision on each of the 10 picks the Vikings are scheduled to make during the three-day draft. No more wondering if Fran Foley or Brad Childress has the final say. No more speculating that Childress overruled Spielman on a selection or that Leslie Frazier and Spielman didn't see eye-to-eye on whom to take.

Spielman might receive plenty of suggestions on what to do in the seven-round draft, but ultimately he will be the one making the final call for the first time since he arrived in May 2006.

"I can sit up here in front of you now and say that, yes, I will have the final say on everything," Spielman said.

The Vikings have dipped their toe into free agency this offseason as they go about a rebuilding process that will take some time.

The latest free-agent addition came Tuesday when they agreed to terms on a one-year contract with former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who will be suspended for the first three games of the 2012 season under the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Simpson was arrested last September after about 2 pounds of marijuana were shipped to his northern Kentucky home. He entered a guilty plea to a felony drug charge on March 1 and was sentenced to 15 days in jail and three years' probation.

Given the Vikings have had their share of players with past legal troubles, and the organization came up with a Code of Conduct in 2005 after the Love Boat debacle, Spielman had to answer several questions Tuesday about the Vikings pursuit of Simpson.

If he they thought that was pressure just wait.

Those looking for a list of the most important events in Spielman's first offseason as the Vikings' general manager probably would agree the draft ranks Nos. 1-10.

Spielman can ill afford any missteps in this draft if he wants to get this team on track as soon as possible. And that goes way beyond hitting on the third-overall pick, which the Vikings hold and apparently wouldn't mind trading.

This is a draft in which the Vikings can't make a mistake like taking a cornerback such as Marcus McCauley (2007) or Asher Allen (2009) in the third round. Selecting a linebacker like the quickly jettisoned Nate Triplett in the fifth round (2010) also won't be acceptable.

Nor will going with a quarterback like John David Booty, who was selected in the fifth round in 2008 but never was able to stick in Minnesota. The Vikings swung a trade with arch-rival Green Bay to get the 137th overall pick in order to take Booty.

The Packers got the Vikings' fifth-rounder back and a seventh-rounder in the trade. Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson turned the seventh-round selection into a quarterback by the name of Matt Flynn.

Getting starters with each selection probably isn't realistic. Getting players who will make contributions, and many who will make significant contributions, is realistic. The Vikings don't only hold a high pick in the first round. They hold excellent selections in many rounds.

"I'm very excited about (this draft) because I know that this is my responsibility," said Spielman, who served as the general manager of the Miami Dolphins in 2004 but departed in the 2005 offseason. "My name is on this. But I also think my name has been on all the other drafts in the past. And I have the utmost confidence in the work that's been done. And I have the utmost confidence in the people that get us prepared for this draft."

Spielman is right in that his name has been linked to Vikings drafts in the past. But at some point during his tenure Childress made it clear that he held final authority over the 53-man roster and that meant his opinion carried the most weight.

Spielman could make suggestions to Childress and even debate points with him if he wanted, but he wasn't the general manager and he didn't have final say.

This does not mean Spielman won't listen to input from others. He has brought Frazier and his coaching staff into the process and assistant general manager George Paton and director of college scouting Scott Studwell are sure to have their opinions heard.

But when the picks are made, they are going to be Spielman's.

"I've looked at all these (players) as well, but you have to respect everybody's opinion in there and I'd be the first one up here to say that I'm not always right," he said. "If I'm out on an island, then, OK, tell me why I'm out on an island. That's what this whole process is.

"I can be the one that's going to have this final decision, and I know the picks are going to be on me. But I also know this is a group effort and it has to be a team effort because of what's involved in the process."

A day after the draft - or even as it unfolds - there will be plenty of debate about the Vikings' picks and ultimately they will get a draft grade by Sunday or Monday. But the reality of the situation is that's a bunch of hogwash. It will be impossible to grade Spielman's work for a few years.

In fact, by the time it's really possible to assess a grade there is a good chance the Vikings will either have turned things around or will remain in such a deep funk that Frazier no longer will be around and Spielman will, best case scenario, be on the hot seat himself.

Spielman is a man who loves to look at percentages and crunch numbers.

So how many of his 10 picks does he realistically think he can hit on? And, keep in mind, the number of picks could increase if the Vikings trade down in the first round in order to accumulate more selections.

"I can't predict injury or anything like that, but I expect to hit on all 10," he said. "I honestly feel in my heart. ... Last year, we had nine out of 10 make it. Hopefully, those guys are going to continue. Yeah, I want 10 out of 10 and that's what I'm going to strive for and I'm not going to be satisfied with anything less. Three years from now, we'll probably know the results of that."

If the Vikings are going to have success in the future, the results will have been extremely favorable.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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