AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has earned a reputation as a wheeler and a dealer on draft day.
Trader Rick was at it again in the first round on Thursday night, moving down to get a pass-rushing linebacker and then up to grab what they hope is the quarterback of the future.
The Vikings took UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9, then traded back into the first round to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd and final pick of the night.
“This is what this day is,” Spielman said. “This is what the draft is all about. It’s a thrill to watch our team play, but this is a chance every year to put the final pieces together to make significant moves to improve your ball club.”
It’s the third straight year Spielman has made a trade in the first round of the draft, and he missed out on what could have been an even bigger move when we was outbid by the Cleveland Browns to move up from No. 40 in the second round to No. 22 with designs on taking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the team’s draft plans.
“That’s all speculation,” Spielman said about the attempt to get Manziel, which was first reported by FoxSports. “Anything we do I’m going to keep internal.”
Spielman had his shot at Manziel earlier in the draft when the Vikings went on the clock at No. 8, and then again when they traded down one spot to No. 9 and the Browns took defensive back Justin Gilbert. But Spielman passed both times, prioritizing an upgrade of the league’s 31st-ranked defense over a quarterback.
Barr had 23½ sacks in two seasons with the Bruins after making the transition from running back to linebacker.
“You just don’t pass up these athletic-type players because they’re too rare and too hard to find,” Spielman said.
After the Browns outbid the Vikings for the Eagles pick at No. 22 and took Manziel, Spielman went to work looking for a deal to get Bridgewater, who threw for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions last season for the Cardinals. Bridgewater started the season projected to be the first quarterback taken, but a poor pro day workout helped push him down the draft board.
Bridgewater attributed the poor showing to not wearing a glove, which he normally wears in games to help him grip the ball. He later had a private workout with the Vikings, and Spielman said he performed much better with the glove on.
Bridgewater said he felt a real connection with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner during the workouts, and he told Zimmer in a meeting he felt Minnesota was the best place for him.
“I felt very confident tonight that I was going to end up in Minnesota some way, somehow,” Bridgewater said on NFL Network.
The Vikings have been searching for a young franchise quarterback ever since Daunte Culpepper went down with an injury in 2005. The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Blake Bortles at No. 3 and Spielman apparently envisioned pulling off a similar deal to last year, when he traded back into the first round to grab receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
He wanted to get back into the first round for two reasons — to get ahead of quarterback-needy Houston at the top of Round 2 and to get the fifth-year option on Bridgewater’s contract that keeps him under team control for a year longer than had they taken one in the second round.
With veteran Matt Cassel re-signed for another two years in the offseason, Bridgewater doesn’t necessarily need to start right away.
“There is no pressure on this kid to come in and play,” Spielman said. “We’re very comfortable with Matt Cassel right now. We’re very comfortable with Christian Ponder. He’ll come in and compete and then the coaches will determine if he’s even ready to play this year.”
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Barr ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.44 seconds and the Vikings hope he can bring some much-needed athleticism and playmaking to an undistinguished linebacker corps. Spielman evaluated Barr as the best edge pass rusher in the draft after No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
“I’ve never had a linebacker, even thinking back to my Dallas days, that has the size and speed and all the things that this guy has,” said Zimmer, who was participating in his first draft as a head coach.
With long-time leaders Jared Allen and Kevin Williams departing, the Vikings saw upgrading the pass rush as imperative in a division where they face star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.
“I’m looking forward to learning from coach Zimmer,” Barr said. “I know he’s a very smart defensive coach so I’m looking forward to pick his brain, meeting my teammates and getting to work.”
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