Vikings

What If the Vikings Had Just Let Spielman Choose A New Coach?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

The most common complaint about the Minnesota Vikings’ new front office is that they’ve acted like the old front office. They’ve extended Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, and Danielle Hunter. They traded down and prioritized the secondary in the draft. It almost feels as though Rick Spielman is operating the Vikings from the shadows.

It’s worth parsing through some notable differences. While Kwesi Adofo-Mensah traded down from the 12th-overall pick, he moved back up to No. 42 to take Andrew Booth Jr. He also traded within the division and used a different approach to late-round picks. And the new regime took Ed Ingram, a player with character concerns, who Spielman’s Vikings may have passed on. But most of the differences were in the draft, and Adofo-Mensah’s approach was different but hardly an overhaul.

The best and most obvious defense of Adofo-Mensah’s approach is that he’s doing what anyone else would in his position. Given the roster he inherited, most general managers would do what he did. The Vikings were the best job available, and few front offices would burn down a roster full of Pro Bowlers. Furthermore, 2022 was a weak quarterback draft. Kenny Pickett (first round, 20th overall), Desmond Ridder (third round, 74th overall), and Malik Willis (third round, 86th overall) aren’t Trevor Lawrence or Andrew Luck. They’re not worth burning down a competitive roster for.

We’ll probably see Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell differentiate themselves over time. Kirk Cousins may be a placeholder until they can take a quarterback in a deeper draft. Perhaps they become more of an offensively focused team than Spielman ever would have constructed. Ultimately, Adofo-Mensah is Minnesota’s CEO. He has a Wall St. background. Spielman essentially was a super scout, like many GMs before him. That difference should manifest in a meaningful way the longer Adofo-Mensah is in charge.

Still, it’s hard not to believe that Spielman would have hired an offensive-minded coach if the Vikings had retained him. The game had changed since Spielman hired Zimmer. The NFL’s rules favor the offense, and fans expect high-flying air-raid attacks. They don’t celebrate the run the ball and stop the run axiom like they used to. Many of the best teams in today’s game have unstoppable offenses. They ask their defenses to do just enough to keep opponents from putting the game out of reach.

Aside from Adofo-Mensah and Spielman’s backgrounds, collaboration is the primary difference KAM and KOC have pushed ever since the Vikings hired them. They act like a pair of old friends who are fortunate enough to run a football team. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have emphasized that they are working together on personnel decisions and trust the staff around them to do their jobs. That’s a stark contrast from the final days of the Spielman-Zimmer regime, where tension mounted, and Spielman reportedly went rogue on draft picks.

But Spielman was arguably overly collaborative before things started to fall apart. Zimmer came up as a cornerbacks coach, and Spielman probably drafted Trae Waynes (11th overall, 2015), Mike Hughes (18th overall, 2018), and Jeff Gladney (31st overall, 2020) at Zimmer’s direction. If he hired an offensive coach to take over for Zimmer, Spielman would probably draft more offensive players in the first round. He also may be more inclined to work with a new coach and a revamped staff. Familiarity breeds contempt. A new hire would allow Spielman to have a reset with his coaching staff.

Football is changing. Adofo-Mensah worked in analytically focused front offices in San Francisco and Cleveland. O’Connell’s Los Angeles Rams used a passing attack to dismantle the league’s best defenses en route to the Super Bowl last year. Spielman’s scouting proclivities may have become retrograde. Teams probably need their GMs to be more like CEOs, given how tight the best ones are against the cap. They can’t have former scouts falling in love with their running backs.

Adofo-Mensah likely won’t make knee-jerk trades for Yannick Ngakoue and Chris Herndon before the season. He probably won’t overpay a running back or compile a borderline illegal amount of seventh-round picks. He might be able to assemble a competent offensive line. But teams as talented as the Vikings rarely turn things over to new management. They also rarely have the same GM for 16 years and the same coach for eight.

The Vikings had to move on from Zimmer because the league changed. But Spielman gambled on Cousins, drafted Justin Jefferson, and extended Brian O’Neill. He didn’t neglect the offense. Still, he allowed a negative culture to fester and didn’t fully trust his staff. Spielman may have done a lot right, but he lost control of the culture. That’s important to remember as we continue to ask why Adofo-Mensah appears to be mirroring Spielman’s moves. Sometimes it’s not about what the front office does so much as it’s about how they go about it.

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