By the end of last week, the Minnesota Vikings had narrowed down their GM search to eight named candidates. That gives us a manageable number of people to evaluate. There’s also a possibility that internal candidate Ryan Monnes is in play (and not Rob Brzezinski), but since that hasn’t been confirmed by reporters yet, we can stick with these eight.
If you were intimately familiar with all of these names before they showed up in GM-based research, congratulations. For the other 99% of humanity, we have some familiarizing to do. To get to know a front office executive is a difficult task, however. You may look at that list and immediately start crossing off aides from lesser teams. The Browns didn’t make the playoffs. The Eagles picked Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson. But these candidates aren’t just clones of the front offices they come from. Most of them aren’t, anyway.
Instead, each of these candidates represents a different philosophy. Some will be more aggressive, some more pragmatic. They’re all fairly young for NFL general manager jobs, but some boast more experience than others. And they all come from vastly different backgrounds, from a born-and-bred NFL lifer to a lawyer from Quebec whose pipe dream turned to reality. There are a lot of problems in Minnesota right now. These candidates each seem suited to solve a different one.
So let’s try our best to glean what sort of philosophies these candidates hold. Yes, that’ll take some guesswork. Short of interviewing them ourselves, there isn’t much we can do about that. But by listening to them in interviews and examining the moves they were a part of, we can at least make an educated guess as to what these candidates stand for. From there, we can decide who we want or don’t want. What kind of team do you want the Vikings to be?
One of the hottest GM candidates in this year’s cycle, Adofo-Mensa comes from an unorthodox background. He was a commodities broker out of Princeton before he came to the NFL. Most of his experience came with the San Francisco 49ers, where he watched the Niners suffer through Jimmy Garoppolo injuries and a pseudo-rebuild before their magical 2019 run. He respected John Lynch‘s steady hand in avoiding an ill-advised panic. He prides himself on “decision-making under uncertainty,” as he puts it. The Wall Street background comes in handy in a job that’s all about choosing the right bets.
That 49ers experience taught him not to blink. That bad things happen and are unavoidable. In Cleveland, he honed his philosophy on analytics. Cleveland is a famously analytics-forward organization, but Adofo-Mensa doesn’t like to use that word.
“It is so funny, before I came into the NFL, I never heard that word and never used that word, and now that I am in the NFL, I still do not. … These are uncertain things that we are trying to figure out so we try to be evidence-based, I would more say.”
Call it whatever you want to call it, Adofo-Mensa seems to have a very pragmatic, evidentiary approach. This would be a hire focused on patience and pragmatism. Rick Spielman was also patient and pragmatic, and he just got fired over problems related to that. The hope would be to steady the ship without overcorrecting to one problem or another. No panic.
Brandon Brown started his career with the Indianapolis Colts but has been with the Philadelphia Eagles since their 2017 Super Bowl run. He mostly worked on the pro scouting side, compiling reports about possible free-agent signings. In 2019, the Eagles promoted him to director of that department. In the years since, the Eagles have been slightly less aggressive but by no means quiet in free agency. Since he works in Philadelphia, we can assume he has experience working with analytics as well.
Brown talks a lot about resiliency, similarly to Adofo-Mensa. He understands that no plan survives first contact, so he strives to be adaptable. He seems to have a responsible hold on his free-agency strategy and a healthy relationship to unforeseen challenges. His approach seems similar to Adofo-Mensa’s, but from a different angle. He doesn’t want to stubbornly stick to the same strategy when things change.
If you think the Vikings got too stuck in their own ways and want them to be more adaptable, your favorite candidate might be Brandon Brown.
Ryan Poles has been with the Kansas City Chiefs since 2009, mostly in the college scouting department. He’s slowly worked his way up the ranks in that organization despite multiple front office overhauls in that time. That’s always a good sign — a new GM with no loyalty decides to keep you over bringing in “his own guy.” Poles reads as an even-keel presence who wants to pick his spot to take risks wisely.
Poles was an offensive lineman in his playing days, and still has an offensive line focus. After the protection breakdowns in Super Bowl LIV, Brett Veach tasked Poles with their offensive line rebuild. They signed Joe Thuney, traded for Orlando Brown, and snatched center Austin Blythe in the cheap months of free agency. When healthy, the unit is much-improved.
If you think the Vikings’ most important action item is to fix the offensive line, Ryan Poles would be the hire for you.
Unfortunately, most of the attention on the Vikings’ request to interview Raîche is on her gender. It’s certainly a milestone for progress in the NFL, but Raîche is unique as a candidate. She only has two years of NFL experience, starting her career as a lawyer who transitioned to football in the CFL. Like Adofo-Mensa, this gives her a unique perspective inside a football front office. She has a uniquely versatile experience coming from the Canadian league, where the operation is a little smaller.
“She is a task master. … You give her a task … she is going to get it done. She is a no-excuses person and I love that.” –Kavis Reed, former Montreal Alouettes GM
While she mostly handled player contracts and salaries in the CFL and in Philadelphia, she still had both pro and college scouting responsibilities. That’s pretty rare, as most front office executives get there via promotion from a more specialized role. In her work with contracts, she has built plenty of strong relationships. In scouting, she knows the value of understanding a player inside and out. That sort of relationship-building skill is sorely needed in the currently broken Vikings culture.
If all of those recent details surrounding Mike Zimmer’s exit disturb you, or if you just want a more all-around candidate, you might want to root for Catherine Raîche to be the next Vikings GM.
Ossenfort currently works for the Tennessee Titans but was a draft aide for the Patriots from 2003 through 2019. That’s a strange job, since Bill Belichick famously operates on instinct in the draft, but Ossenfort’s job wasn’t so much in scouting. Instead, Ossenfort’s job has been in draft preparation. That means building out draft boards and overall strategy. The Tennessee Titans enjoyed a wild-card bye, thanks in no small part to Ossenfort’s draft influence over the last two years.
Looking at the way the Patriots have drafted in the last few years of Ossenfort’s tenure, it’s easy to see why he is rising up the ranks. Belichick had famously thin draft boards, which Ossenfort no doubt had a hand in. That extra selectivity would be a stark contrast to the last 16 years of Spielman’s influence, whose regard for draft depth led to a lot of trading down.
If you came to loathe Spielman’s volume-based draft approach, Monti Ossenfort might be the candidate for you.
Spytek has more experience than most of the Vikings’ GM candidates, but it’s not all positive. From 2010 through 2012, he was director of college scouting for the Cleveland Browns. Those same Browns traded up with Spielman in the first round to draft Trent Richardson and, later, Brandon Weeden. He licked his wounds in Denver as a pro scout before Jason Licht made him his right-hand man.
Like Raîche, Spytek has a uniquely diverse experience. However, he’s had much more success on the pro side than the college side. In Tampa, he saw the Buccaneers build a true contender, a nationally feared defense and of course had a hand in bringing Tom Brady into the sunshine state. It’s been a long time since the Browns missed on Richardson with Spytek in the room. The Bucs built a steady contender and struck while the iron was hot. They’ve built a deep wide receiver corps and developed a dominant defense.
If you want the Vikings to follow that Buccaneers model, you want the Vikings to hire John Spytek.
Cook comes from Cleveland, but he started as a pro scout for Ted Thompson. Thompson was famously stingy about free-agent signings, so it’s hard to know if Cook’s evaluations were correct or not. As director of pro scouting for Cleveland, he oversaw some aggressive offseasons. That got him promoted to vice president of player personnel, where the Browns got even more aggressive in free agency.
Cleveland’s signings over that period (Jadeveon Clowney, Austin Hooper, Jack Conklin) have worked pretty well on the whole. Even though the Browns didn’t make the playoffs this year, their aggressive style in free agency has done much more good than harm. The Los Angeles Rams take this to the extreme, and who knows how far Cook would take it if he had the blanket power of a GM role.
If you couldn’t stand the Vikings sitting out the most explosive days of free agency, Glenn Cook might be your favorite GM candidate.
By far the most experienced candidate under consideration is Eliot Wolf. At 39, he isn’t the oldest, but as the son of Green Bay Packers legendary GM Ron Wolf, he has been practicing his scouting reports since he was 10 years old. Once he was working age, he got into the Packers’ front office and worked there for 15 years in an official capacity. He was Ted Thompson’s right hand man for years until his reassignment in 2018.
Wolf was the odds-on favorite to take over for Thomspon as GM, but the Packers passed him over for Brian Gutekunst. Seeking a bigger opportunity, Wolf left for the Cleveland Browns and contributed to some very successful John Dorsey drafts. After the Browns fired Dorsey, they picked Andrew Berry over Wolf, passing him over again. It’s worth investigating why two teams picked lower-ranking executives over Wolf.
If all of these young, green GM candidates scare you, you may be able to take solace in Eliot Wolf, who has been on the precipice of a GM job for almost a half-decade.
Of course, none of these candidates are solely focused on the problems mentioned. Catherine Raîche has a similar evidentiary approach to to Adofo-Mensa. John Spytek clearly values offensive line play, even though Ryan Poles may specialize there. But think about which problems matter to you and which ones don’t. Everyone won’t have the same answers, but this guide can hopefully help you decide who you want.
So ask yourself what is important to you. Do you want a steady hand that won’t panic in a crisis? Do you want an analytically focused mind? Or is all that background noise while the Vikings should focus on fixing the offensive line? The Vikings themselves are probably trying to answer similar questions. You may not get the same answer as the reader next to you, but that’s all in the fun of following a team during a general manager search.