The More the Vikings Change, The More They Stay the Same

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Spielman sat in an undisclosed location. With storage boxes behind him, he was preparing to film his latest Tik Tok. After struggling with the app for several minutes, he looked into the camera and was ready to go.

“Hey, everybody!” Spielman exclaimed. “It’s me, Rick Spielman! I want to talk to you about one of my favorite prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, Spencer Rattler!”

Just as Spielman was about to tell a story about how Rattler won a pulled-pork eating contest during a trip to Norman, his phone rang. On the other line was Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

“Hey, Rick,” Adofo-Mensah began. “I know you said I could call whenever I needed advice, so here I am.”

“Kwesi!” Spielman beamed. “I’m your friend! You can always talk to me!”

While Spielman was in a jovial mood, Adofo-Mensah was tense. He was in the middle of his first NFL draft, and the Vikings were about to be on the clock. With Ahmad Gardner, Derek Stingley Jr., and Travon Walker off the board, Adofo-Mensah didn’t know what to do.

“Kwesi, you know exactly what to do,” Spielman said. “Trade down, collect picks, and take some shots later in the draft. Trade down, and you will keep this job for a long time.”

Adofo-Mensah turned to the rest of the draft room and asked what they thought about trading down. Everybody in the room gave a thumbs down, except for owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who shot two thumbs up.

“It looks like we’re in agreement,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We’re trading down!”

The Wilfs beamed in excitement while Kevin O’Connell screamed internally. It was a scene that had played out in the draft room for several years. But it was also one that was supposed to change with a new regime.

The Vikings introduced Adofo-Mensah as general manager only a few months ago. He was going to forgo the old school ways that were a trademark of the Spielman era and bring an analytical approach that would take the Vikings to the next level. But when the offseason started, Adofo-Mensah reverted to his predecessor’s tendencies.

It started when the Vikings extended Kirk Cousins. Having Cousins play out the final year of a deal was never an option because of his $45 million cap hit. But it also limited their options – even with a quarterback class that the league passed on.

Some financial gymnastics followed the move. Cousins’ contract contained two void years that pushed $18.75 million down the road. Harrison Smith restructured his contract and raised his cap number to $19 million next season. Danielle Hunter got a bonus. Adam Thielen got a raise.

Certainly, something would change in free agency.

But it was more of the same.

The Vikings opened free agency by signing Harrison Phillips, their third free-agent nose tackle in the past three offseasons. Johnny Mundt and Austin Schlottmann followed, and Vikings fans were left saying, Here we go again.

There was a reprieve when the Vikings signed Za’Darius Smith, but more low-level moves followed. It was disappointing, but Adofo-Mensah was going to make his mark in the draft.

Between Jameson Williams and Kyle Hamilton, the Vikings had a chance to add an elite prospect. Instead, Adofo-Mensah dusted off Spielman’s trade machine and went down 20 spots. On the following day, Adofo-Mensah used it again to move down with the Green Bay Packers.

On top of this, Adofo-Mensah made picks that made it feel like Spielman was in charge.

The Vikings took safety Lewis Cine in the first round. They took cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. in the second. The annual Can he play guard? pick was Ed Ingram, and Brian Asamoah might as well have been Chazz Surratt. By the end of Day 2, the Vikings made four selections in the first 66 picks of the draft, but none before the 32nd-overall pick.

The trades continued on Day 3. Adofo-Mensah traded down twice and traded back up before selecting Akayleb Evans. At one point, he acquired the 126th-overall pick from the Las Vegas Raiders just to give it back to them moments later.

When the draft ended, the Vikings had made six trades and wound up with 10 picks. The only thing missing was a trade up into the fourth round when two punters and a kicker went flying off the board.

All of this feels like more of the same. But there’s a chance that it could pay off.

The Vikings hired O’Connell to be the anti-Zimmer. Where Zimmer preached defense, O’Connell was going to emphasize offense. Where Zimmer only trusted half his roster, O’Connell wants everyone on the team to have a role. And where Zimmer was reluctant to meet with Cousins for 45 minutes every week, O’Connell wants to bring the best out of him.

The contrast between O’Connell and Zimmer brings back a theory that many had about the 2021 Vikings. With some good luck and better clock management, this is a team that can be one of the best in the NFC. It’s up to O’Connell to put it together.

That is the thought process that Spielman had when constructing this roster. At this point, the Vikings have to hope a few small changes will result in a big outcome.

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