Why Does Rick Spielman Keep Trading Picks In the Preseason?

Photo Credit: Harrison Barden (USA TODAY Sports)

“Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Someone at TCO should probably remind the Minnesota Vikings’ general manager of this early 20th-century philosopher’s quote, as history has been repeating itself with our beloved Vikings this time of year. As a consequence of having a prominent starter go down for the year in training camp, Spielman has spent valuable draft capital in an attempt to replace the injured starter with a watered-down version of them.

To refresh your memory, let’s run down Spielman’s track record here:

Sam Bradford
  • Aug. 12th, 2016: Teddy Bridgewater goes down with a serious leg injury and is done for the year.
  • Sept. 3rd, 2016: Spielman trades a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Result: Vikings finish 8-8, third in NFC North, and they miss the playoffs. Injuries forced Bradford out of the league following the 2018 season.

Kaare Vedvik
  • Aug. 11th, 2019: Following yet another perceived kicker problem, Spielman trades a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for kicker Kaare Vedvik.

The Result: The Vikings release Vedvik on Aug. 31st — a whopping 20 days after giving up a fifth-round pick for him.

Yannick Ngakoue
  • Aug. 30th, 2020: Spielman trades a 2021 second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022 to the Jacksonville Jaguars for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
  • Sept. 9th, 2020: Danielle Hunter is placed on IR with a neck injury suffered earlier in the year.

The Result: Vikings start 1-5 before trading Ngakoue to Baltimore for their 2021 third-round pick. Finish 7-9, third in NFC North, and miss playoffs

Which brings us to the latest chapter in Spielman’s short-sighted trades: Following last week’s report that tight end Irv Smith Jr. suffered a torn meniscus — likely ending his 2021 season — Spielman traded Minnesota’s 2022 fourth-round pick to the New York Jets for much-ado-about-nothing tight end Chris Herndon.

Herndon is coming off a 2020 season that saw him amass 31 receptions for 287 yards and three touchdowns, despite playing in all 16 games.

If Santayana’s quote failed to resonate with the ultimate Vikings decisionmaker, maybe someone in the front office should try to see if either of these quotes land instead:

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The fact of the matter is that Spielman’s hasty decisions to part with valuable draft capital has continued to neglect the Vikings’ ability to effectively build their roster through the draft. For example, instead of mortgaging their future in favor of chasing mediocrity in 2016 following Bridgewater’s unfortunate injury, the Vikings would’ve been in prime position to draft a quarterback by the names of Patrick Mahomes II or Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Spielman isn’t alone here. Other GMs across the league have fallen victim to placing unreasonable expectations on their current roster after their starting quarterback went down. When Ben Roethlisberger got sidelined for the 2019 season following a Week 2 loss, bringing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record to 0-2, GM Kevin Colbert traded his 2020 first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, trusting that quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and/or Devlin Hodges could effectively hold down the fort in Roethlisberger’s absence.

The result? Pittsburgh finished 8-8, missed the playoffs, and, more importantly, missed out on selecting either Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, or Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft to succeed the aging Roethlisberger. Swing and a miss.

In contrast, the San Francisco 49ers have demonstrated a tremendous level of discipline when injury misfortune strikes. Instead of trading valuable draft picks in an attempt to barely make the playoffs after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season in the early stages of both 2018 and 2020, GM John Lynch has always prioritized the big picture.

The result? The 49ers drafted All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa with the second-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft — catapulting San Francisco to the NFC crown immediately. And after losing both Bosa and Garoppolo early in the 2020 season, the 49ers stood pat and put themselves in position to trade up for Marshall, Minn. quarterback Trey Lance, who is currently lighting the NFL on fire after three preseason games.

Unlike Minnesota and Pittsburgh, San Francisco would’ve been completely justified last season had they decided to push all their chips into the middle after making it to the NFL mountaintop in 2019. But unlike Spielman and Colbert, Lynch’s discipline has put head coach Kyle Shanahan and the Niners in prime position to be an absolute monster in the NFC for many years to come.

Circling back to Spielman: Following the Bradford trade in September of 2016, Spielman said:

“The one thing that I will not do, and I promise you this, is put our organization in a situation where it’s going to inhibit us or hurt us going into the future. By that, I mean people are asking for some crazy things. People think that you are desperate, and we are not going to do something that in my estimation, and talking with coach Zim and our ownership, that puts us in a situation where we jeopardize the future of this franchise.”

Unfortunately for the Vikings, these four preseason trades over the past six years have undoubtedly jeopardized the future of the franchise — and with little to no immediate results to show for it.

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