MINNEAPOLIS -- Following the catastrophic 2010 season, in which their dreams of taking the final step toward a Super Bowl were engulfed in flames, the Minnesota Vikings started fresh. Adhering to a plan they believed would return them to contention, they restocked their roster with foundational young players.
The Vikings drafted 29 players from 2011-13 -- up from 18 in their previous three drafts -- and dealt aggressively for first-round picks, trading back into the top round twice and dealing Percy Harvin for another first-rounder. They selected six players in the first round of those three drafts, when no other team drafted more than four. And to some degree, the strategy delivered results. The Vikings made playoff appearances in 2012 and 2015, and still played 12 of their 2011-13 draft picks in a game last season, tying the Cincinnati Bengals for the most in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But in the months after a 2016 season that delivered enough haymakers to trigger flashbacks of 2010, the Vikings said goodbye to seven of the 2011-13 draft picks who were still on their roster. Just five of the 29 picks from those drafts remain with the team.
In that regard, the Vikings are far from alone.
Just 129 of the 761 players taken in the 2011-13 drafts (an average of 16.9 percent) remain with the teams that drafted them, according to a survey of ESPN NFL Nation reporters. Cincinnati still retains 10 of its picks from those three classes, but just a quarter of the teams in the league -- the Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks -- have six or more players from those drafts still on their rosters. Six teams have only one, including the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, whose lone remnants are suspended receivers Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon.
Roster churn might be a fact of life in the NFL after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which capped rookie contracts and effectively incentivized teams to pursue cheap labor and sign only a few key players to second contracts. It might also be a reminder of how difficult gems are to find in the NFL.
The Vikings' group of six first-rounders, for example, includes a quarterback bust (Christian Ponder), a left tackle who departed after five seasons (Matt Kalil), a defensive tackle dealing with a career-threatening injury (Sharrif Floyd) and a promising talent who made Pro Bowls as a kick returner but fizzled as a receiver after the team spent four picks to trade up for him (Cordarrelle Patterson). It also includes two Pro Bowlers: do-everything safety Harrison Smith, who's now one of the league's highest-paid players at his position, and shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who could cash in as soon as this summer once the team works out a long-expected contract extension.
To suggest the draft is a panacea for rebuilding teams, though, is overstating the case. It's why clubs scour the undrafted free agent market so aggressively (Tony Romo retired as one of the most prolific passers in Cowboys history, and Kurt Warner will enter the Hall of Fame this summer), and why it might be better to judge drafts on short-term and intermediate success, rather than long-term sustainability.
Quite often, the fanciful idea of not needing to worry about a position for a decade doesn't work out. The ability to cheaply stock a position for four or five years might be a more realistic goal. Even though players like Byron Maxwell and Bruce Irvin (and possibly Richard Sherman) are gone from the 2011-13 Seahawks drafts that produced two Super Bowl teams, it's doubtful GM John Schneider would regret what his teams received from those players.
There simply aren't many teams that keep more than a select few of their draft picks around for second contracts, no matter how grand their plans may be after making the pick. In an ecosystem that churns through talent as quickly as the NFL does, drafts aren't usually aquifers that will last for decades.