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Vikings make trades to select Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith and get more picks

This news story was published on April 27, 2012.
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By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Perhaps one day, way up the road, Rick Spielman will reveal the true secrets of his first draft as Vikings general manager.

Maybe one day in the distant future, we’ll all learn more about the poker game he played from January through mid-April, hiding his hand and never letting down his guard.

At some point, conceivably, the details might surface to explain how Spielman strategically attacked the first round of his first full draft as GM with such skill.

Yet all that really mattered Thursday night was that the Vikings dived headfirst into the first round of the 2012 NFL draft and emerged not only with a prospect they badly wanted — Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil — but also with a trade that brought them three additional draft picks.

Those picks then enabled them to move into the end of Round 1, where they took Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with the 29th pick.

No wonder Spielman seemed to be glowing when he stepped to a lectern in the Winter Park fieldhouse after finalizing the Kalil pick as well as that something-for-nothing trade with the Cleveland Browns.

As it turns out, Spielman scared the Browns into a draft night do-si-do, fleecing them of fourth-round, fifth-round and seventh-round picks as the teams swapped places — the Browns up to No. 3, the Vikings down to No. 4 in Round 1.

“Before we got on the clock, there was a lot of activity,” Spielman said. “Around 5 o’clock, multiple teams had started to call. So you felt that that jockeying and that positioning was going to take place. And once we talked to Cleveland and got the deal in place that we got, we were very excited about that.”

Coach Leslie Frazier’s reaction to the deal?

“I was like, ‘Wow!’” Frazier said. “That’s pretty good. I think Rick did a great job of setting the table leading up to the draft, just making people aware that we were willing to move and that we had three different guys we were talking about and discussing. So it worked out like a charm for us.”

In one fell swoop, with a new power structure in place, the Vikings catalyzed their rebuilding efforts by adding a standout left tackle and a safety.

To get Smith, the Vikings relinquished their Round 2 pick and one of the four fourth-rounders they had stockpiled.

As far as the idea that the Vikings were torn with their Round 1 decision, hinting all the way up until Thursday that they would consider Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon with their top pick, much of that might have been strategic pre-draft subterfuge.

To hear Spielman and Frazier explain things, Kalil proved too good to pass up, especially as the Vikings try to do everything in their power to accelerate the growth of last year’s top pick, quarterback Christian Ponder.

“We saw (Kalil) as a guy who could be a Pro Bowler for a long time,” Frazier said. “That was obvious from our standpoint. Along with what we’re trying to do with our quarterback. We wanted to make sure we do the things that are necessary to ensure that he has success. This gives us a chance to take that step in that direction.”

So just like that, with the highest pick they’ve had in years, the Vikings upgraded their offensive front with the notion that Kalil will be their starter at left tackle — not only in 2012 but long into the future. Spielman raved about Kalil’s 34.5-inch arms, his overall athleticism and his elite footwork.

But the USC star’s positive energy was also a selling point, obvious during a recent visit to the Twin Cities.

“The one thing that he does have is a passion for what he’s doing,” Spielman said. “He fit that bill for us.”

After allowing 49 sacks in 2011, the Vikings hope to benefit greatly from Kalil’s arrival. The grand vision is that projected line sturdiness will catalyze Ponder’s development. Yet if Ponder doesn’t hit stride, suddenly the risk is that Kalil becomes the next Joe Thomas or Jake Long, a fantastic left tackle on a team that continues to cycle through mediocre quarterbacks while losing far too often.

Still, Thursday was no time to worry about worst-case scenarios. Ultimately, the belief at Winter Park is that a high-powered offense can soon emerge, filled with young standouts who can all grow together. As if that wasn’t enough, the new GM also pulled off a valuable deal that gave the Vikings ammunition and leverage to consider other draft weekend deals.

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