Spielman and Vikings staff successfully navigate virtual NFL draft


There was a moment of lightness online last week when the Vikings regrouped but separately on the eve of the first fully virtual NFL draft.

The team’s IT staff members wore assorted t-shirts in a cheerful nod to an NFL ruling last month. To prepare for this most unusual draft, the league viewed IT personnel only as critical employees who may enter the team facilities closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The shirts said, ‘I’m a critical employee,'” said Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. “And then they made a T-shirt for me. I’m sitting there in this big black T-shirt with white letters. He said, “Not essential”. “

Spielman laughs. It was Monday, two days after the draft went off without a hitch. Two days after a three-day whirlwind in which he started with 12 choices, made four trades and ended with 17 choices, including two in 2021.

“In fact,” said Spielman, “things went as well as when we were all together in one room. “

Spielman guessed it had taken Paul Nelson, the team’s director of football information systems; Cheryl Nygaard, Director of Information Technology; and their people well over 100 hours to equip everyone’s homes.

“While also implementing our virtual offseason program, which [started Monday night] with our first team meeting with the players and everyone, “said Spielman. “So these people burned both ends of the candle. “

For 21 consecutive days in April, the Vikings held their usual meeting plans from 12 to 14 hours a day. By the end of this stretch, everyone – coaches, scouts, staff, assistant general manager George Paton, executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and Spielman – were skilled and maneuvering the screens in front of them.

“We have practiced it so much,” said Spielman. “It was pretty perfect at the end of our meeting plans. Everyone knew what to do. “

Human error: Spielman

The only real “problem,” as Spielman put it, was human error. The human name was “Rick Spielman,” according to Spielman.

He came in one of the four trades. Spielman won’t say which one, but says don’t worry because the trade has gone as planned.

Since Spielman, Paton and Brzezinski are the ones doing and requesting exchanges, they had a separate virtual chat room just for them. Brzezinski was the key person in the league, so he was in charge of transforming the trades.

“I was sitting there yelling at Rob because we had two deals going on at the same time,” said Spielman. “I started jumping up and down, and he’s just sitting there looking at his other screen. I say to myself, “Why can’t he hear me? And then I realized that you can reactivate your damn button, Spielman. ”

The homes of Spielman, Paton and Brzezinski required significant in-person work from the IT staff. Everyone has received the equipment and instructions to configure it.

Luke Burson, head of football information systems, created the Spielman house. Nygaard was with Spielman during the draft. Another computer scientist was with Paton during the draft while Brzezinski flew solo “because Rob thinks he’s a computer expert,” joked Spielman.

“I had backups on backups on backups,” said Spielman. “We had two different Internet lines entering the house. I had a generator just outside ready to plug in in case something happened.

“We no longer have landlines in our house, so we had to bring landlines into the house. They drill holes through my walls to bring in the fixed lines. I have four different screens in front of me and our big draw board behind me, which is six screens in one. And my wife said to me, “Just so you know, Sunday after the end, it’s all gone. “

“She wants to recover her house. “

Call the Bucs at 14

In a normal draft, the Vikings have landlines with speed dial numbers that will connect Spielman, Paton and Brzezinski directly to their correspondent staff in all other teams.

“Our homes didn’t have the capacity to do it,” said Spielman. “So Cheryl put this on our cell phones. When I wanted the general manager for a team, I only had to touch the helmet icon. “

Spielman confirmed a line in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column that the Vikings called the Buccaneers looking to trade up to the 14th pick.

So who, please, the Vikings were looking to take. Tackle Tristan Wirfs? One of the best receivers?

“I don’t know,” said Spielman with a laugh. “It could have been anyone. But seriously, we always call teams in front of us and behind us. It’s just a standard procedure. ”

The Bucs quickly dismissed the Vikings because they were actually looking to climb up to get the Wirfs, which they did at 13.

Meanwhile, Spielman said the Vikings are still discussing trading options for Washington dissatisfied Trent Williams. They were also discussing contract figures with Williams’ agent Vincent Taylor.

“We made the best decision for us,” said Spielman. “He ended up in San Francisco, and we ended up with a tackle [second-round pick Ezra Cleveland] we really like in the project. ”

Williams and Taylor both denied an NFL Network report that Williams said he didn’t want to play in Minnesota. Spielman would not deal with the report publicly.

“Cleveland [falling] was ideal for us, “said Spielman. “The draft is always understanding when you have to be patient and what comes to you, what is available, do you think you need to trade or not.

“It’s kind of an impression as the project continues. When you have a guy you really love, those are the most anxious moments until you’re on the clock. As soon as this team in front of you makes that choice and it’s not your guy, it’s an incredible relief. ”

Pick n ° 105 for sale

The Vikings began receiving calls for their second choice in the third round shortly after making Mississippi State halfback Cameron Dantzler their first choice in the third round. Dantzler was the 89th choice. Then the 105th choice.

“We actually had three other offers on the table at the time,” said Spielman. “George was working on an offer. I was working on an offer. Rob was working on the Saints’ offer.

“The Saints have found the best offer. I won’t say what it was, but we had other great offers. ”

To have the right to choose Dayton’s close assistant Adam Trautman at No. 105, the Saints gave the Vikings four choices, in the fourth (130), fifth (169), sixth (203) and seventh (244) rounds . New Orleans ended up making only four choices in total.

Although the Vikings received four choices in return, the Pro Football Reference table of commercial value awarded 84 points for the choice obtained in New Orleans and 77 points for the choices obtained by the Vikings.

“Everyone has different business graphs, and ours is a little different too because we base it a little bit on analytics,” said Spielman. “We have hot spots on our trading charts. For example, we are looking at choice 105 and if you can get the same value at [117]”, Where the Vikings then chose.

“Historically, these players have been almost identical in their success in the NFL based on analysis. Now if there is a specific guy you want, then you stay. But if your board of directors is deep, then why not get the provisional additional capital? “

The Vikings ended up with defensive end D.J. Wonnum at 117. Then, with the Saints’ four picks, they took defensive tackle James Lynch, a guy who had 13½ sacks last year; versatile defensive back Harrison Hand; attack Blake Brandel; and Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley.

“I really don’t care who the Saints ended up taking,” said Spielman.

Timely Internet Drop

Like everyone else in the NFL, Spielman never imagined doing a draft sitting at home. He never imagined having his family around him. Or her son, Ronnie, working alongside him on a hand-drawn board, “just in case the house explodes.”

“I live in a dead end,” said Spielman. “My neighbor was outside. There was a fire and these lines moved 6 feet apart to allow for a small group of drafts. I pick players and I can hear them hissing and yelling outside. ”

Did they boo Spielman’s choices?

“No,” he said. “It would have made my wife mad.” And they love it. ”

Spielman said the experience will forever change some of the things the Vikings do. For example, he said the team would go virtual for its preliminary meetings in December and just before the combine in February.

“We’re going to be a lot more efficient and even more prepared because of the smoothness of everything,” said Spielman. “We will always bring everyone over for the April meetings. But, for example, the February meetings, we normally bring everyone in for 10 days, they go home for a few days and then we all go to the combine.

“Now, because of the way it all worked, these meetings can be virtual now. “

Spielman said the recruits’ mini-camp and virtual offseason program will include two-hour meetings scheduled to take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Twin cities time. Players and coaches can form a virtual team before dividing into offensive / defensive or positional groups.

The Vikings even had a virtual party after the draft after finishing things on Saturday night.

“I found it a bit strange that as soon as we got to our project night, my internet went down,” said Spielman. “It worked very well for three days of the project and a month of meetings. I think someone unplugged the plug. I think someone was tired of hearing me. “

But even in this pre-project moment, Nygaard was able to restart Spielman.

“Well done to the IT department all around,” said Spielman. “They are the MVPs for this project. “

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