Vikings GM Draws Laughable Criticism
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired in 2022 to take over from longtime general manager Rick Spielman. He had only limited draft picks and was over the cap limit in both seasons, but he still managed to swap out nearly the entire roster. He has done some good things and failed the task in others, but that should be expected. No general manager is sin-free, and the vision takes time to unfold.
Vikings GM Draws Laughable Criticism
Adofo-Mensah entered the building as the numbers and analytics guy. And while he tried to get rid of that description early in his tenure, it has stuck, and he will probably keep it until he exits TCO Performance Center for the final time.
Criticism is acceptable, and it is even necessary. Fans are supposed to be judgmental of the decision-makers, although they should still support them. Draft busts can be called out, and failed moves should draw an uproar among the fans.
But it needs to be reasonable. Lewis Cine hasn’t worked out, and first-rounders should work out–in a perfect world. That’s not always the case, however, as every general manager has those busts on his resume, even those who build wonderful rosters. Howie Roseman famously liked Jalen Reagor enough to pass on Justin Jefferson, and John Lynch traded the farm to acquire Trey Lance.
In that infamous 2022 draft, Adofo-Mensah traded down to gain some draft capital and drafted the 33rd player on the consensus draft board with the 32nd overall pick. He proceeded to pick the 22nd player (Andrew Booth) on that same list in the second round. Trading back can be viewed as the wrong strategy (although it is generally a totally valid one), and it can be noted that he should’ve gotten a better return. Still, nothing was wrong with the general process of those two picks that have been cited to discredit the man since April 2022.
It is fair to wonder if some have made up their minds about the GM when he pulled the trigger to trade down or when they realized that Cine doesn’t star. His tenure is ongoing, and that one draft doesn’t define him. Every move and every comment creates outrage on social media because the guy just isn’t good at his job. Why? Just look at his 2022 draft or free agent signing X, is a common response.
The latest instance showcasing the ruthlessness of the fan base towards the GM was when a quote floated on social media about him and his relation to Pro Football Focus.
MLFootball tweeted: “I use Pro Football Focus to teach myself things that frankly, I didn’t know. PFF really allows somebody to go deep and study that for themselves.”
That quote is from Matthew Coller’s book Football Is a Numbers Game: Pro Football Focus and How a Data-Driven Approach Shook Up the Sport.
There wasn’t any more context, but those few words were enough for the latest outrage. PFF is a controversial topic in the football world. Most recently, future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt went on a massive rant about their grades and their inaccuracy. Players have always been vocal against those numbers because the graders don’t know what the players are supposed to do in any given play.
Besides those grades, PFF provides a multitude of data for the normal fan, but they provide even more data for organizations. Since 2019, every NFL franchise has used PFF data. It is as normal as wide receivers wearing gloves and quarterbacks using headsets to hear the plays from the play-callers.
For some reason, Adofo-Mensah was criticized for using the data. People started to read it as he ONLY uses that data to make decisions. However, it is just part of making decisions, in addition to data the team collects and the input from the football people. Staff is not just one GM and a couple of coaches. For example, when Bud Grant was hired, there were dozens of coaches, scouts, and individuals in the front office.
It is also not his job to be a great football mind. That’s why the coaches are there to tell him what they need. His job is to collect all the data from the employees–numbers and opinions–and make the best possible decision after considering them.
He is the overseer, the guy to make the decisions, but he doesn’t have to be an Xs and Os guy. Spielman was a scout before taking over the front office, and while he was somewhat successful, his track record in the draft, especially in the second half of his time in charge, was quite flawed. Other football guys failed before him and will fail after him.
For some reason, those football guys get a longer leash than the perceived numbers guy. Fans want to put their costly franchise into someone who has been in the sport before, which is a fair point. But Adofo-Mensah wasn’t hired straight from Wall Street. He has worked in NFL front offices since 2013 and assisted John Lynch in San Francisco and Andrew Berry in Cleveland.
A general manager deserves some benefit of the doubt until the roster looks like he wants it to be. In the first three or even four seasons, he is still working around the contracts and personnel of his predecessor, and his draft picks need time to prosper. Once multiple years are over and the vision has become visible, it is fair to look at the roster and complain about holes, lack of depth, and general lack of talent.
Discrediting someone before he had that time is failing to understand that it takes time to reshape a roster and that not every move is an immediate ace.
The widespread criticism includes some wild topics. As previously mentioned, when looking at the 2022 draft, but that example can be used for everything else, the process is ignored, and only the results matter, which is the wrong approach.
Another instance is the signing of Marcus Davenport in free agency in 2023. After one season with the team, he is scheduled to hit free agency. The pass-rusher signed a one-year contract for $13 million. He was viewed as the best pass-rusher on the market, and the Vikings signed a potential game-changer who flashed that talent when he was on the field. Unfortunately, he played only four games and 118 defensive snaps because of a pair of ankle injuries.
The general opinion, which is totally fair, labels him a bust, and many move forward while holding it against the GM, although there is much more to it than investment and result. It underlines Adofo-Mensah’s strategy, an approach that could very well work out next time, and he will be celebrated for it.
Davenport was a risky addition. His market was limited because of an extensive injury history, and that’s why he signed a one-year deal for relatively cheap money instead of signing a four-year contract for 50% more salary per season. That deal limited the risk to one season. In case of injury, he didn’t mortgage the organization’s future and can move on after a year, but if he can stay on the field, he was a bargain. That’s the calculation he made. He lost — this time.
However, that loss shouldn’t prevent him from taking risks in the future. Sometimes, taking risks is necessary. One of those risks would be the selection of a quarterback in the first round, especially after trading up, which he reportedly attempted to do in 2023 and could once again try in April’s draft to bring one of the top passers in the draft to Minnesota.
Another risk was to extend the contract of a career special teamer before his breakout season. Who would’ve thought Josh Metellus could turn into a borderline Pro Bowl player? Also risky was the release of Dalvin Cook. While Minnesota’s rushing attack was terrible in 2023, Cook’s season was even worse. He is a shadow of himself. If he had produced 1,500 rushing yards, Adofo-Mensah would have looked quite bad, but he didn’t.
After all of these words, I want three things to be remembered.
- A general manager needs time for his vision to become reality, and the roster is how he wants it to be.
- Just like it takes years to see the vision, it also takes years to build the required track record to conclude if someone is good or bad at drafting. One pick doesn’t define a person who is supposed to be in charge for at least half a decade.
- Criticism is fine but never expect perfection in the NFL, especially in the crapshoot draft where everyone misses. Focusing on the losses while ignoring the wins only allows a bad-faith evaluation and is not the right way to go.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt