Vikings GM Was Always Going to Do Things His Way

Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in his first year on the job at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana.

When the Wilf family decided the time for change had come in Minnesota, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was always going to do things his way. The Vikings GM came to his position in Minnesota along the road less traveled.

Vikings GM Was Always Going to Do Things His Way

A Princeton and Stanford graduate without a football background, Adofo-Mensah would never conventionally take to his job.

The Analytics Guy

Going to Do Things
Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the 2022 NFL Combine. Adofo-Mensah joined the Vikings in January of 2022 after the departure of Rick Spielman.

Adofo-Mensah is perceived as an analytics guy, yet somehow every time he makes a move that is based on analytics, people — especially the national media — seem to be surprised. The latest example is the reaction to the release of running back Dalvin Cook. Every time Adofo-Mensahbis in front of the media, a question about analytics is asked. That shouldn’t be a surprise as people try to get their heads around a different approach to a different approach to being an NFL general manager.

It also shouldn’t be surprising that a new approach is met with skepticism — this is usually the case in all walks of life, not just the NFL. The only way new ideas become entirely accepted is with success. So far, Adofo-Mensah’s methods brought the Vikings a 13-win season and a division title, followed by the ignominy of a humbling defeat in the playoffs by the New York Giants. It was a good first season, but one without a playoff win doesn’t constitute success.

What Are Analytics?

Vikings Will Enter 2023 Offseason with Familiar Problem
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Analytics are the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics. What does that mean in the NFL?   If we go back to Adofo-Mensah’s introductory press conference last year, the Vikings GM gave us his answer. Analytics are a tool that he uses that requires “being thoughtful and intentional” and “asking why” things are the way that they are to make those decisions. 

He has also been clear that it’s not only about the analytics, and talking to the football people around him and getting a more traditional perspective is also an essential part of any decision-making. Still, the big decisions right now being rooted in analytics shouldn’t be surprising anyone.

Adofo-Mensah in Football

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; A Minnesota Vikings helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Before embarking on a career in the NFL, Adofo-Mensah attained a master’s degree in economics and worked as a commodity trader on Wall Street. His sporting background came in basketball, where he played for Princeton. He entered the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers in research and development roles between 2013 and 2019 before moving to the Cleveland Browns as Vice President of football operations between 2020 and 2021.

When the Vikings appointed Adofo-Mensah, they appointed a young GM who would do things differently. That was the right call when considering the Vikings ownership’s remit of a “competitive rebuild,” which is an alien concept among the football community. There is an opinion that there are only two ways to operate in the NFL, which are to go “all in” on a Super Bowl or burn it all to the ground. 

Attempting to move on from an aging team and a salary cap mess without “tanking” seems confusing for some. There is an opinion that losing every game to get the number one draft pick and getting a quarterback solves everything – it doesn’t. I eagerly await the Vikings drafting a QB of the future as much as the next person; however, the situation that QB comes into is vitally important.

The Plan

Vikings Face Need for Kirk
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets instruction from head coach Kevin O’Connell in the first quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

There’s been a lot of talk about the plan in Minnesota, and the answer is evident if you’ve paid close attention. Change the squad full of highly paid veterans into a younger squad that can be competitive from the get-go and build towards a Super Bowl. The Vikings have replaced their aging starters with younger alternatives. How well that works out remains to be seen, but that sort of plan is not designed for complete success in Year 1.

Kirk Cousins and Harrison Smith are the two highly-paid veterans left on the roster. Keeping them to marshall this young team for another year is sensible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last year for both. It could also be the swansong for CJ Ham and the last season in purple for Jordan Hicks, which would see a complete turnaround in the roster. The Vikings roster should be looking very youthful in 2024. Adofo-Mensah has prioritized freeing up cap space to pay the young stars on the Vikings roster.

The Vikings are likely a couple of years – at least- away from a genuine Super Bowl run, which will likely depend on how successful in drafting a young quarterback. In Minnesota, they are building a team that is competitive in the interim and embeds the culture of a competitive franchise, something that should always be the plan rather than chasing the lottery of an early draft pick if you want a successful franchise for the long term.