If Vikings must do damage control, they should have aimed higher
Here's what I don't get: If you're going to have to spend time selling the public on the notion that your top draft pick, a running back, isn't a criminal, why not just take Joe Mixon?
Yes, I understand that Rick Spielman had a pre-draft, 45-minute phone conversation with Dalvin Cook during which the Vikings boss saw Jesus, George Halas and the ghost of Mel Kiper, all of whom apparently signed off on the selection. Yet here are the Vikings replying to questions about character when they easily could have applied those very same answers to queries about Joe Mixon, a superior running back by most accounts.
Don't misunderstand, I'm not questioning Cook's character. He might be a terrific fellow. It's just that if a team has to go into damage control immediately after making a draft pick, why not just aim the spin at a better player?
We all know that part of the problem is that Mixon's transgression was captured on video. It's different when you actually see something awful, such as a football player punching a young woman. If there had been a video of Cook mistreating puppies, however, the way the world is today it likely would have kept Cook out of the NFL altogether. All of Hollywood would have been up in arms over the mistreatment of an animal. (Humans not so much.)
No one could have stomached such an image, although Michael Vick might have drafted Cook for his fantasy team. Even the Oakland/L.A./Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders likely would have passed on a documented puppy abuser. And ownership of that team has zero moral fiber, as demonstrated by the way it has mistreated its loyal Oakland fans over the years.
Perhaps Spielman thought Cook would be an easier sell to the public, since there was no social media involved in any of his alleged transgressions. And it may be possible he truly thinks Cook is a better back, although he would be in the minority there. In any event, the selection will provide fodder for a fan base with extensive experience in dealing with anti-social behavior by running backs. Most likely, any moral reservations about Cook will be dispelled by a 100-yard rushing game. Just as they were with Adrian Peterson after his suspension.
I'm not sure where we are right now in terms of public sentiment. Vikings boosters have been whiplashed — from Blair Walsh's missed 27-yarder, to the 5-0 start, to the final collapse. The genius veneer of Mike Zimmer has been chipped and nicked. And I thought I detected a lot of 8-8 pessimism about next season heading into the draft.
Yet the prospect of fresh meat being delivered via refrigerated truck always seems to perk things up. The Vikings drafted a well-regarded offensive lineman, Pat Elflein, with their next pick. Even though they've sunk a fortune into free-agent offensive linemen this off-season, this pick creates excitement. The porous line was responsible for a lot of problems last season. The team seems determined to try to repair that unit, one way or another.
After that, the Vikings applied live bodies (we think) to various undermanned positions. All of their picks will generate intrigue. Some of these guys will wind up on the practice squad and then eventually fade into oblivion. Others will make an impact. Right now, it's all peaches and cream until someone runs onto the field and trips over his shoelace.
So we likely have an emotional peek during what has been a rather dreary offseason. Adrian Peterson is gone. Teddy Bridgewater is in limbo, as is, I might add, Sam Bradford. The organization appears reluctant to commit to either. Chad Greenway has retired. It's all gloomy stuff. Now we have Spielman and Zimmer saying fine things about all these young draftees coming in.
Still, I'm puzzled by the whole Joe Mixon thing. As long as they were dealing in players with character questions, the Vikings easily could have said lovely things about a new and mature Joe Mixon, now an employee of the Cincinnati Bengals. I mean, as long as you're taking the "troubled youth" path anyway, right?
In an ironic twist, the Vikings traded up seven slots with Cincinnati to draft Cook. Then the Bengals took Mixon seven picks later in the spot they got from Minnesota. And then both sides began to spin and massage their actions.
One of these organizations could wind up looking much smarter than the other. But I wouldn't worry about it right now. Just envision that big refrigerated truck delivering all those fresh newcomers to the practice field. Savor the afterglow of the 2017 draft.