MINNEAPOLIS - Rick Spielman went out of his way on Tuesday to give credit to the Minnesota Vikings IT department, about 72 hours out from the first round of the fully-virtual NFL Draft.
With 12 players who either started or were regular contributors last year gone for various reasons, Spielman has several needs and holes to fill over three days and 12 total draft picks. But his biggest needs heading into Thursday night’s first round? A strong WiFi signal, plenty of bandwidth and constantly open phone lines between his staff and the NFL.
Spielman, like every other NFL executive on Thursday, will be working entirely remotely from home as the Vikings start what he labeled as an evolution of the roster. The IT staff has been working through setting up the virtual draft process since the NFL announced public events in Las Vegas would be canceled. If that’s not enough, they’re also putting together the Vikings’ virtual off-season training program, which starts April 27.
“The IT people have more pressure on them than I do on this draft right now,” Spielman said Tuesday via Zoom. “What they’ve been able to accomplish as we’ve been through a month of virtual draft meetings, and to replicate what we actually do when we’re in the building together, we haven’t missed a beat on how we operate. It’s been almost identical except that we’re doing it virtually now.”
Spielman is expecting to be a busy man Thursday night. After trading Stefon Diggs for four draft picks in what he labeled “a good business decision,” the Vikings have the No. 22 and No. 25 picks in the first round. It may not stay that way.
Each team will have 10 minutes on the clock, but Spielman has already fielded trade calls. He said Tuesday alone he got three calls and has teams ahead of Minnesota wanting to move back, and teams behind the Vikings wanting to move up.
“I think you’re going to see trades locked in earlier just because I think everybody is going to be a little nervous about when they’re on the clock and if a glitch happens or not,” Spielman said.
The NFL held a mock draft on Monday to test out its systems. Spielman said other than a minor hiccup early on a conference call, the process went smooth. It started with the first 16 picks all being traded, then 16 straight selections and a second round of straight picks.
The Vikings will have two others in addition to Spielman that can make picks, if there’s a technical problem. In that event, the NFL can also stop the clock until the issue is fixed and the team can make its pick. The Vikings showed Spielman’s draft set up on social media on Monday, which includes as many as four TVs, a laptop and a fax machine.
A big board serves as a replica of the draft room he typically has at the Vikings’ facility during the NFL Draft. The Vikings finalized their draft board Tuesday night.
“We’re doing a lot of things from a rehearsal standpoint so on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when it actually counts, we want to make sure we’re as fluid as we are when we’re in that draft room,” Spielman said. “We couldn’t do it without the incredible job that our IT department has given us.”
The Vikings did everything they could to meet with draft prospects before the Coronavirus pandemic put everyone in their homes on quarantine. With prospects not being able to have pro days, Spielman is getting workout video of everybody they have on their radar.
The Vikings video team has also put out a recruiting video to as many as 300 prospects, and players unlikely to be taken that could sign as free agents. It shows off U.S. Bank Stadium, TCO Performance Center and the Twin Cities.
The reality for Spielman is it’s one of the most important drafts for him since he became general manager. With the off-season departures, he has to select players with the intention that they’ll make an impact as rookies on the field whenever the regular season kicks off.
“The difference is that a lot of these guys that we’re bringing in are going to have to probably contribute and play for us next year as we fill some holes on our roster,” Spielman said.
Given the circumstances, Spielman says he and his staff are as ready as they can be for Thursday night.
“Everybody is very comfortable because we’ve been doing this for a month. I anticipate it going smoothly,” Spielman said. “One thing I know, everybody’s cell phones do work.”