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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — If the Minnesota Vikings were ever tempted to ignore the old take-the-best-player-available strategy and focus on a particular position in the first round of the draft, this would surely be the year.
After their dramatic fall last season to 6-10, the Vikings have several areas to address. None are more pressing or prominent than a certain spot on the field directly behind the center. The guy with his hand on the ball for every single offensive snap.
Asked if the need for a quarterback might trump the traditional draft philosophy, Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman quickly shook his head.
“I understand the quarterback is something that you definitely have to look at, but if there’s a guy up there who’s a potential MVP in the league at some other position, knowing that you have some depth behind you, we’re still going to stick with the best player available at that slot,” Spielman said.
The Vikings have a middle-of-the-pack second-round pick, too, but they lack a third-round selection after trading it for Randy Moss. Spielman told reporters Tuesday that the team will try to trade and get a pick back in that round.
No. 12 is a relatively high spot — the Vikings took Daunte Culpepper at No. 11 in 1999 — but given the multiple franchise-quarterback-seeking teams ahead of them there are no guarantees. Blaine Gabbert of Missouri, Cam Newton of Auburn, Jake Locker of Washington, Ryan Mallet of Arkansas and Christian Ponder of Florida State are considered the top prospects at this point.
To get the guy they want, they might have to trade up. Or they could trade down after determining that a desired pick isn’t worth the No. 12 slot. Or they could wait for a middle-round sleeper instead.
“I think this is a lot deeper draft class than it has been the past couple years. There’s so many different avenues you can go in,” Spielman said.
That includes free agency and trading. With Joe Webb the only quarterback who’s certain to return for 2011 with Brett Favre retiring and Tarvaris Jackson not expected back, it’s likely the draft isn’t the only way the Vikings will acquire a quarterback this spring.
Spielman said the athletic Webb, who worked at wide receiver briefly before switching positions in offseason workouts, will be used strictly as a quarterback for now. He also raised the possibility of Webb as a shorter-term option there, depending on how he develops, to allow another young guy more time.
It’s clear that Green Bay’s model is the most ideal, but the Vikings don’t have the luxury of drafting the next Aaron Rodgers and giving him three years to watch and learn under Favre.
With the 41-year-old Favre having declared his retirement, presumably for good, the Vikings will obviously be much younger at quarterback regardless of who comes in.
That goes for a lot of positions.
“We’re going to be a younger team for sure going into next season. Rookies are going to get forced into action. They are going to have to step up and play,” Spielman said. “I also have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and their history of developing young guys and getting them ready to play.”
The West Coast system that head coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell installed is essentially gone, with Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave now in place. The Vikings plan to tailor their scheme around their best players to fit their skills, rather than the other way around.
“It makes it an easy and smooth working relationship with Leslie and the new staff as far as, ‘OK, I know what you’re telling me what his strengths and weaknesses are.’ Now they’re going to say, ‘Hey, this is how it’s going to work for us,”‘ Spielman said.
Spielman declined to talk about the past or compare Frazier to Childress.
“When we come up with our final decisions it’s going to be what’s best for this organization. I don’t think there’s one person that puts their self ahead of the other,” Spielman said. “We need to sit down and collaboratively do this as you listen to all your coaches, as you listen to all your scouts.”
The Vikings have a lot of potential free agents, with linebacker Chad Greenway and wide receiver Sidney Rice the most valuable players with expiring contracts. Spielman said the Vikings want both players back. He also said they’re still determining whether to use their franchise or transition player designations as a way to ensure the return of one or both of them.
This is a crucial offseason for the Vikings in their attempt to rebuild, but Spielman offered an optimistic take.
“Last year, we didn’t do a lot again because you brought back almost everybody from that team the year before,” he said. “This year, you’re going to have to bring in new players and younger talent. It’s exciting. It’s a challenge.”
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