Within a few short weeks, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has established himself as the perfect counter to Rick Spielman.
The Minnesota Vikings general manager is a smooth-talking, charismatic, analytical fellow. His approach is much different from the FOOTBALL-oriented (yes, in all caps) tactics Spielman used. And his head coach seems more willing to give a masterclass on “the illusion of complexity” rather than grumble over a reporter’s job security.
It’s a new era in Minnesota.
But with any era, there are important decisions to be made, decisions that determine whether the Vikings turn out to be the next great dynasty or the second coming of the Detroit Lions. It’s why we have already reached the most important week of Adofo-Mensah’s tenure in Minnesota.
Don’t get me wrong. This week is crucial for every team in the NFL. The legal tampering window for free agency opens on Monday. A few days later, the new league year begins. The Vikings won’t be popping bottles of champagne and vowing to go to the gym. They will be wondering which guys they’re going to cut and where to spend their money in free agency.
Adofo-Mensah already made his first decision by signing Kirk Cousins to a one-year extension. The Cousins situation had the NFL’s quarterback carousel on tilt. Many teams have gone out to the metaphorical bar to look for a new quarterback, but someone had already taken Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Wentz home. 2 a.m. was approaching quickly. And at this point, Cousins looked like the belle of the ball.
Time will tell if this was the beginning of a long-term relationship or just a case of beer goggles. Cousins’ play offers stability at the position but it also has moments where it could get everyone fired.
That situation played out in Chicago when Ryan Pace opted to take Mitchell Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, and the Chicago Bears floundered as a result. Brandon Beane got rid of Tyrod Taylor, and Josh Allen has led the Buffalo Bills to new heights.
While Cousins’ contract is only through the 2023 season, the move doesn’t have many long-term implications. But even if the Vikings stay “super competitive,” signing Cousins is the first move that Adofo-Mensah will be connected with.
It’s not the only decision that Adofo-Mensah will have to make this week. Danielle Hunter owns a $26.1 million cap hit and an $18 million roster bonus due on March 20. However, the numbers are irrelevant because the Vikings built them into the contract to retain Hunter’s rights and begin negotiations on a new deal.
Obviously, the Vikings’ defense would be better with Hunter rushing the passer. His 60.5 career sacks rank fifth for the franchise since they became an official statistic in 1982. He recorded six sacks in seven games last season before tearing his pectoral muscle. At age 27, there’s a good chance he has some productive years left.
But this year’s free-agent crop and draft class are filled with suitable pass-rushers. Trading Hunter and making a “sum of all parts” situation could give the Vikings the depth they haven’t had in years. It would also create $18.6 million in cap space.
Because Ed Donatell is switching the Vikings defense to a 3-4 scheme, it makes some sense for them to get rid of Hunter. But releasing him could also backfire.
In 1995, the Vikings traded Chris Doleman to the Atlanta Falcons. The future Hall of Famer was 32 and heading into the twilight of his career. Minnesota believed they could get ahead of the curve by trading him for a first-round pick and a swap of second-round picks.
The Vikings selected Derrick Alexander with the first-rounder they acquired in that trade and David Palmer after the pick swap. Alexander lasted only four seasons in Minnesota, recording 17.5 sacks. Doleman recorded 54 sacks over those four seasons, including 10 or more in three consecutive seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
Not even Palmer, who turned out to be a third-down specialist and punt returner, could salvage that deal. Doleman returned for a farewell tour in 1999. But after one season at age 38, it was time to hang up the cleats.
Hunter is six years younger than Doleman was when the Vikings traded him, but it’s still a cautionary tale. Fellow veterans Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and Harrison Smith could all find themselves in this situation. Adofo-Mensah needs to address the cap situation and decide which moves can make the Vikings better.
The same goes for free agency. Despite ownership’s idea of being “super competitive,” the Vikings have many positions that need an upgrade. Which ones they choose to address could also determine the legacy of the Adofo-Mensah era.
Look back to 2014 when Mike Zimmer took over as head coach. While Spielman was still in charge, Zimmer had a vision of what he wanted to add to his defense. The Vikings acquired Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, and Tom Johnson, and they all played a pivotal role in turning one of the league’s worst defenses around.
The opposite effect happened last offseason. The Vikings hit the market by adding a second nose tackle before signing several veterans to one-year deals. The defense fell apart again and paved the way for Adofo-Mensah’s arrival in Minnesota.
Depending on the amount of money they have, the Vikings could prioritize fixing their offensive line. They could also add help in the secondary or an edge-rushing linebacker that would fit in Donatell’s scheme.
Signing an under-the-radar cornerback isn’t solely going to determine Adofo-Mensah’s fate in Minnesota. But with so many important decisions, we have arrived at the most important week of his tenure.