There were questions about Rick Spielman’s future this offseason and if the Vikings general manager might be in trouble if his team again struggled following a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2016.
But if Spielman was on the hot seat then, he certainly isn’t now.
After making what proved to be several savvy moves that helped the Vikings finish 13-3 this season, Spielman is being recognized as one of the NFL’s best. On Wednesday, he was named Pro Football Weekly’s 2017 Executive of the Year. The award was voted on by an 18-person panel.
Spielman made many moves last spring and summer following a season in which the Vikings started 5-0 but then only won three of their final 11 games and missed the playoffs. That followed a season in which coach Mike Zimmer had led the Vikings to the NFC North title.
Spielman’s moves after 2016 included releasing future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson and letting left tackle Matt Kalil and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson walk in free agency.
Spielman went about rebuilding an offensive line that had been a major weakness, signing free-agent tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and drafting Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round. Spielman, who traded the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2017 to Philadelphia for quarterback Sam Bradford just before the 2016 season, selected Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in the second round. Cook was outstanding before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth game of the season.
It helped that Spielman had earlier signed Oakland running back Latavius Murray as a free agent. Murray did not see a lot of time early when Cook was healthy but he has played a key role in the Vikings’ backfield since Cook was lost.
Spielman’s most important move was signing backup quarterback Case Keenum to a one-year, $2 million contract in April. The Vikings were planning to have Bradford serve as their starter — as Teddy Bridgewater continued his recovery from knee surgery — but that plan lasted for only one game. Bradford ended up starting only two games this season because of a knee injury, opening the door for Keenum to take over and put together a year that is sure to earn him a big payday.
Keenum will get the start on Sunday when the Vikings play host to New Orleans in an NFC Divisional playoff game.
“We did a lot of film study on Case and felt like he might not have all the top physical traits as some of the top NFL quarterbacks, but he had the leadership, the competitiveness and the athleticism to fit in well for us,” Spielman told Pro Football Weekly, before adding, “I wish I could say I personally knew he’d be as good as he has been. Some guys get into their late 20s and just blossom, and he’s done just that.”