Homegrown on 53: 25 (21 draftees, 4 college free agents)
Outside free agents on 53: 20
Trades/waivers on 53: 8
Quarterback acquired: Signed Nick Foles to a 2-year deal on March 13, 2017.
Last five first-round picks: DE Derek Barnett (2017, 14); QB Carson Wentz (2016, 2); WR Nelson Algholor (2015, 20); DE Marcus Smith (2014, 26); OT Lane Johnson (2013, 4).
Top 5 cap figures: WR Alshon Jeffrey, $10.75 million; Johnson, $9.84 million; DT Fletcher Cox, $9.40 million; DE Vinny Curry, $9.00 million; DE Brandon Graham/S Malcolm Jenkins, $7.50 million.
I ran this by a few personnel people and asked a simple question: Anything strike you here? One text came back from an NFC personnel director: “At first glance, it shows that building a championship team isn’t just all building through the draft. Three of four were balanced, when it comes to player acquisition.”
But if you go past the data, and into how the season played out, you’ll see there is a commonality: resiliency. The Patriots got past season-ending injuries to Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. The Jaguars lost their No. 1 receiver, Allen Robinson, to a torn ACL and the left tackle they dealt for, Branden Albert, to retirement, before the season.
The NFC teams took it to another level, undermining what I wrote in this space a year ago, which was that there’s no price too high for a quarterback. Combined, Keenum and Foles cost just over $3.5 million on their teams’ 2017 caps. So how have the Vikings and Eagles done it? With the help of a few well-placed people in each organization, we’ve come up with three key moves to each team’s resilience …
• The Bradford trade. The Eagles took Derek Barnett (more on him in a minute) with the first-rounder they got for Bradford, but the deal’s impact didn’t end there. It also freed the cap room needed to add Alshon Jeffrey to Wentz’s arsenal, which allowed the team to move former first-round pick Nelson Agholor to the slot. That made the environment Foles stepped into stronger.
• Prioritizing the lines.
• Prioritizing the lines.The priority for Roseman when he regained the reins in 2016 was to find a quarterback. A close second? Fortify the line of scrimmage. On offense, he signed Brandon Brooks to a big-ticket deal, but also found bargains at guard in Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack. On defense, he added Chris Long, Timmy Jernigan and Barnett to a group that already had Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. And all these big guys created stability and an identity.
• Adhering to an order of business.
• Adhering to an order of business.Last spring, the Eagles decided to focus on corners in the draft over running backs. Smart, because the 2018 class looked to be deeper on the latter than the former. So they drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, then spun a pick for Ronald Darby. And they were resourceful in the aftermath, acquiring LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi late, and finding Corey Clement after the draft. The end result? A solid future at corner, and flexibility to add running backs this April.
• Fixing the line.
• Fixing the line.One thing that was clearly coming out of the craziness of 2016 in Minnesota was that more than just new talent, the offensive line needed a new identity. So while Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein may not have been incredible talents, the Vikings had solid enough background on each to know they had the character and culture they desired. The result? The line has set the identity for the whole offense. “We’re tougher,” said one team staffer.
• Building depth in the backfield.
• Building depth in the backfield.Jerick McKinnon is a nice piece, but to further the cultural shift the brass wanted, getting a tough, downhill runner to replace Adrian Peterson was a high priority. Without Peterson, the Vikings were horrific in short yardage and on the goal line in 2016, a year in which Latavius Murray scored 12 touchdowns. So they signed Murray, who wound up becoming even more valuable when Dalvin Cook went down.
• Establishing a meritocracy.
• Establishing a meritocracy.The defense is filled with big, fast high draft picks. But there are also players who came via a different path. The Vikings found Andrew Sendejo when he was a Sacramento Mountain Lion in the UFL, lost him to the Cowboys, then the Jets, then finally signed him as a special teamer and developed him into a starter. Likewise, the brass liked defensive tackle Tom Johnson as he came out of the CFL, but lost him to the Saints. When the Saints switched schemes, Johnson’s fit was no longer there, he was cut, and the Vikings pounced. Johnson, a few years later, wound up replacing former first-round pick Sharrif Floyd.
Looking at this, I recall a conversation I had with Spielman in the immediate aftermath of the Bradford trade. I asked if it should jolt his players and give them a sense of urgency. It was based on the premise that only a team that felt like it could win at the highest level would make this kind of move. Spielman didn’t shy away from that.
“We’re in a situation where the team has an opportunity to have a really good year,” Spielman said. “I’m not sure you’d do this if it’s the first year in a program. But because of everything we’ve done, Zim being in his third year, we have a good team, it made so much sense.”
A year later, Bradford’s down, but the belief that the Vikings were close is still very much there. Can you believe it? At this point, they’ve got every reason.