The Minnesota Vikings are 0-2, and this week they decided to do something about it.
They started by signing Dalton Risner to a one-year deal to add depth (and likely starter) to the offensive line. The Vikings took another step further when they traded for running back Cam Akers on Wednesday night.
Both moves can be chalked up to general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s philosophy to assess the roster midseason and make upgrades if an avenue presents itself. But just under 19 months on the job, Adofo-Mensah’s tenure is starting to look a lot like that of his predecessor, Rick Spielman.
It begins with a look at how Spielman’s tenure ended in Minnesota. After taking over as general manager in 2012, Spielman oversaw an overachieving group that made the playoffs and went 5-10-1 in 2013. The lost season prompted a full-blown rebuild, allowing Spielman to construct a roster through the draft and shrewd free-agent signings. That led to the greatest draft class in franchise history, which included Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs, and Danielle Hunter in 2015.
Spielman’s early decisions led to a run of success, and the Vikings made the NFC Championship Game in 2017. But that success raised expectations, and Spielman was chased them to no avail until Minnesota fired him in 2022.
Every move Spielman made over the final five years was to squeeze the final drops out of an aging core. He handed out long-term contracts to aging players like they were Snickers on Halloween. He hoarded Day 3 draft picks like, well, a trick-or-treater with Snickers bars on Halloween. Even the slew of one-year prove-it deals couldn’t save the Vikings, and Spielman hit the trade market out of desperation.
On the one hand, Spielman had the right idea. Trading for proven commodities over draft picks is one way to remain a contender. The “F*** them picks” philosophy helped net Kevin O’Connell a Super Bowl ring when he was offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams. But Spielman wasn’t trading for Pro Bowlers as much as he was trying to fill holes.
- A 2016 trade for Sam Bradford coughed up a first-round pick that gave the Philadelphia Eagles Derek Barnett, who strip-sacked Case Keenum to effectively bury the Vikings in the 2017 NFC Championship game.
- A fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik was supposed to solve the Vikings’ kicking woes in 2018. However, it turned out that the special teams phenom could neither punt or kick field goals, they released him a few weeks later.
- The Vikings traded for Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue in 2020, but only after Danielle Hunter suffered a season-ending neck injury. Ngakoue wound up leading the team in sacks but they traded him after only six games.
- Then there’s Chris Herndon, who they acquired for a fourth-round pick after Irv Smith Jr. tore his meniscus during Mike Zimmer’s crusade for a touchdown in the 2021 preseason finale.
Outside of the 2016 first- and 2020 second-round picks, there wasn’t a staggering amount of draft capital exchanged in most of these moves. However, they all were knee-jerk reactions to fill gaps in the roster, which is why Adofo-Mensah’s moves are falling into the same category.
Adofo-Mensah made a pair of similar deals right before final cuts in 2022. He acquired Jalen Reagor from the Eagles and Ross Blacklock from the Houston Texans. Neither player is currently with the Vikings.
Minnesota struck gold by acquiring T.J. Hockenson. Still, even that required a messy contract negotiation and hold-in as he successfully sought to become the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.
Then there are the moves that came down this week. On the surface, Adofo-Mensah didn’t give up much to complete the roster. Risner signed a one-year, $4 million contract that required nothing but $5 million in 2023 cap space. And they made the Akers deal for a swap of late-round 2026 draft picks.
But it’s the thesis of these moves that are concerning. Anyone who watched the Vikings last year or watched Kirk Cousins get pounded during Netflix’s Quarterback documentary could see that Minnesota needed to upgrade the offensive line, but it took a bad preseason and two losses for Adofo-Mensah to find a potential replacement for Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland.
The Vikings also acted like Alexander Mattison was a lead running back and didn’t make any moves after Ty Chandler’s inconsistent preseason performance before deciding they needed an upgrade at running back. While seventh-round rookie DeWayne McBride may have been their “Plan A” to eventually take over the RB1 role, the Vikings will now rely on Akers, who had 29 yards on 22 carries in a Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Perhaps Risner and Akers will turn out to be fine additions to the Vikings. Still, they reek of a team desperate to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole.
That’s is what makes Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers so interesting. If the Vikings simply lost with the same roster, they could have been 0-3 in a year that pays to be bad.
A team like the Arizona Cardinals, which has several holes on their roster, may not rebound quickly with a young franchise QB. However, the Vikings are in a different situation. They already have a top target in Justin Jefferson. They have secondary targets in Hockenson and Jordan Addison. And they have two cornerstone offensive tackles and $55 million in cap space to fix holes across the offensive line and on defense.
In a lot of ways, this team is similar to the 2020 Vikings, who started 1-5 only to rally back into playoff contention and finish 7-9. (Granted this would likely mean that Trey Lance or Justin Fields would be the Vikings’ quarterback by now.)
But this front office doesn’t think that way. They’re geared towards being “super competitive.” They have more timelines than Mortal Kombat. They refuse to accept they may be bad, and they’re willing to bleed more assets to fight off a five-win season.
It makes Sunday a chance for Adofo-Mensah to distinguish himself from Spielman. But based on his track record, Risner and Akers could be the beginning of panic moves that bring more of the same.