How Would Spielman Have Handled the Rodgers Situation?

Photo credit: Bo Mitchell

Rick Spielman’s chuckle said it all. There he sat with oversized headphones, processing a question about whether he had called incumbent quarterback Kirk Cousins before taking Kellen Mond with the 66th overall pick in this year’s draft. The question had to have been a passing reference to the events that had unfolded the day before.

On Day 1 of the draft, Adam Schefter led off NFL Live with a report that Aaron Rodgers was disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers front office and wanted out. The genesis of Rodgers’ discontent with Packers president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst began when they moved up to take Utah State QB Jordan Love without informing him when he wanted them to draft a receiver to complement Davante Adams.

He cut off the reporter slightly once he realized the crux of what was being asked. “Kirk’s our starting quarterback,” he said. “There’s no competition there. It’s just taking another player, it’s like, regardless of position, if we take a player in the third round or first round, I’m not calling the player and saying, ‘Hey, we may take this guy here.’ Our job is to try to get as many good players in here, and let them all come in and compete.”

Spielman didn’t call Cousins to tell him he was taking Mond, specifically. But he did alert his camp that they were looking to draft a quarterback. Whether he specified that they might move up to take Justin Fields if he dropped, that they were looking at a developmental quarterback like Mond, or they were taking a seventh-rounder a la Nate Stanley, we can’t be sure.

But know that Cousins didn’t have an adverse reaction to the move. At least not publicly. He tweeted at Wyatt Davis, Chazz Surratt, Patrick Jones II, and Mond after Day 2, saying, “Excited to get to work fellas.” He also has been realistic about his situation, telling Pro Football Talk in early February that he wants to retire a Viking but that he’s got to play well enough to make that happen.

Cousins and Rodgers are different people temperamentally, and Cousins is less likely to lash out at the organization for perceived transgressions. But he also has less reason to. Rodgers is a more accomplished player who’s in his late 30s and watched his team draft a quarterback and running back in the first two rounds last year. Not only did the Vikings take Justin Jefferson in the first round a year ago, but they prioritized the offensive line, taking Christian Darrisaw in the first round and Davis in the third.

If Cousins loses the starting position to Mond, it means that either he failed to live up to his contract, or Mond outplays him in a year or two. Cousins’ annual salary raises to above $30 million for the first time this year, and he’s due $45 million next season. It’s unlikely the Vikings will pay him Patrick Mahomes money, but an extension could be in the works if Mond doesn’t look game-ready after his first season. And given his accuracy issues at Texas A&M, that could be the case.

It’s disingenuous for Spielman to say that Mond is just another player. The Vikings haven’t taken a quarterback as high as Mond since drafting Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 draft, and Mond could take over for Cousins as soon as next season. But it’s not out of line for Spielman to take a chance on Mond, nor would it have been for him to trade up for Fields if he continued to fall. Cousins is entering his age-33 season and has one playoff win under his belt. According to pro-football-reference, his career is most similar to players like Chad Pennington, Jake Delhomme, and Mark Rypien. Rodgers? We’re talking Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, and, ahem, Fran Tarkenton.

So what if Spielman had a player of Rodgers’ caliber? What would he do if he wanted out?

There are a few merits in his favor. Anthony Barr turned down a more lucrative contract from the New York Jets in the 11th hour to stay in the Twin Cities. Kyle Rudolph repeatedly praised the Vikings organization when he re-signed, and both sides parted ways amicably when he was a cap casualty this offseason. Players like Mackensie Alexander and Stephen Weatherly have had one-year excursions elsewhere and returned to Minnesota.

Spielman and his staff have to be doing something right.

But we can’t have a conversation about disgruntled superstars without mentioning Stefon Diggs. A self-made superstar who ascended from a fifth-round pick out of Maryland to the protagonist of the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017, Diggs was only two years removed from his game-winning catch against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs when he demanded out. He got his way, had a career season with the Buffalo Bills, and still has resentment towards the Vikings organization.

Worse-yet? He has the most reasonable gripe with the organization. Despite having Diggs, Adam Thielen, and an expensive quarterback, they chose to build a run-first offense in a pass-happy league. Diggs received fewer targets here than he did in Buffalo, and there were multiple passing plays where Diggs was open deep, and Cousins did not find him.

He was never going to be the star receiver because Thielen is from Detriot Lakes, went to college in Mankato, and was beloved as a special-teams player before becoming an elite wideout. He was never going to be the focal point of the offense because of Minnesota’s run-first philosophy. And he’d never be the best receiver in franchise history because Randy Moss played in purple.

However, it’s hard to use the Diggs situation to understand how Spielman would handle the demands of a generational quarterback. It’s a different position. Most teams want two or three good wideouts on the field simultaneously (hint, hint). There’s only one quarterback. Teams will be more inclined to trade a star receiver than a franchise quarterback because signal-callers are harder to replace.

By the way, the Diggs situation worked out. He went to a team with a young, gunslinging QB, and the Vikings landed Jefferson. But trading a franchise quarterback for a high first-round pick is much riskier. How many Packers fans would be okay with Green Bay trading Rodgers to the San Francisco 49ers for the third pick and a load of draft capital? It depends on how much they trust Trey Lance, I suppose.

I’m inclined to believe that Spielman could handle a star QB who becomes disenchanted with the organization. But I’m also a Spielman guy. I like his approach with the draft and his calm, steady demeanor. I like that he can chuckle when asked about how he handled drafting a third-round quarterback when he has a guy due $76 million over the next two years sitting on his books. I think he’s treated his players fairly, in some cases to a fault. But I guess we won’t ever know until he has the next Tarkenton.

Ironically, his best shot might be sitting behind a quarterback who doesn’t seem threatened at all.

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