Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell are each two years into their four-year contracts. Will ownership extend those deals this offseason?
“No, I don’t think they will,” a former executive in the NFL told Sports Headliners while speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the first season of the new regime, 2022, the Vikings finished 13-4, won the NFC North Division title and advanced to the playoffs before being eliminated in their first game. With quarterback Kirk Cousins lost for the season after his Achilles injury in late October, Minnesota limped to the finish line with a 7-10 record and four game losing streak.
If 2023 had been more like 2022, contract extensions could have materialized but probably not now. “I would say there is a medium amount of pressure on them (the GM and head coach) to get back to the playoffs and get back on the track they were (on) the first year,” said the source who has years of experience working in pro front offices.
A really bad season in 2024 could land O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah “in big trouble” regarding job security, the source said. He added that the coach is probably safer because of the 13-win season and the many injuries that held back team performance in 2023.
The authority mentioned above said the “jury is out” on the GM’s acumen for drafting players and signing free agents.
The 2022 draft was particularly problematic for Adofo-Mensah who chose to give up his No. 12 selection in the first round in a trade with the Lions. Defensive backs Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth (first and second round picks) have not done much while the Vikings could have drafted safety Kyle Hamilton or cornerback Trent McDuffie, both of whom have become all-pros. Last season the secondary was underwhelming.
There have been successes like 2023 first-round selection Jordan Addison at wide receiver and undrafted linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. who also became a first-year starter. RB Ty Chandler, taken on the fifth round of the 2022 draft, was a winning move, too.
But in the last two years the Vikings haven’t acquired enough talent and depth, and part of the issue is the free agent report card. Signing linebacker Marcus Davenport turned “into a fiasco when they gave him $13 million bucks and he plays in three games,” said the source who pointed out Davenport missed part of the prior season with the Saints.
Cornerback Byron Murphy, who missed games in 2022 with the Cardinals because of a back issue, signed with the Vikings in the offseason last year but then was unable to take the field in the last three games of the season when the secondary was collapsing, and Minnesota was competing for a playoff spot. Defensive lineman Dean Lowry, another free agent signee, suffered a pectoral tear in late November and missed the rest of the season.
“I think when you’re signing free agents, you gotta sign guys who have been healthy,” the authority said.
Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips was a successful performer last season as a newly signed free agent but overall, the source and Vikings fans have reservations about Adofo-Mensah’s work in adding talent through the draft and free agency. “They’ve had more misses than hits, let’s put it that way,” he said about the Minnesota organization he watches throughout the year.
To Adofo-Mensah’s credit, one of his better moves was the 2022 in-season trade with the Lions for tight end T.J. Hockenson. His presence gave Minnesota another quality receiver for their highly productive offense, a player who despite his size at 6-5, 248 pounds can be a deep threat.
There is conjecture about whether the Vikings will embrace a “competitive rebuild” to remain a playoff contender or use a start over philosophy of reducing payroll and letting key players go while concentrating on high draft choices and player development for a few years.
“No, I don’t see them wanting to tear it down,” said the source. “I think that they feel like they’re close enough (to the playoffs). That they did win the division in 2022 and then the injuries hit last year.”
The first indication of ownership’s intention will be the decision on whether to bring back their free agent starting quarterback Cousins. The authority is on board. “He was the third ranked quarterback in the league when he got hurt (late in game 8) and was playing really well. And they had won three straight games at that point. It’s obvious to me that if he hadn’t gotten hurt, they would have won at least two or three more games (and made the playoffs).”
The source has no doubt the Vikings can return to double-digit wins and the postseason. To do so means making moves in adding quality personnel and keeping their best players. He said using maneuvers like paying bonuses and deferring money in contracts the Vikings can work within the NFL salary cap to acquire key players and re-sign Cousins, wide receiver Justin Jefferson and linebacker Danielle Hunter.
All three players will be expensive starting with Cousins who figures to be the first domino to fall. “I think that’s going to come in around $45 million a year,” said the authority. “I think they’re going to have to probably give hm at least two years guaranteed at $90 million. And then maybe give a third year at just kind of window dressing on the contract.”
Jefferson, the source believes, could command a five-year contract at $175 million to replace his rookie year deal that ends after the 2025 season. Jefferson reportedly wants to be the highest paid non-quarterback in the NFL and currently 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa has that honor with a five-year $170 million deal.
“All these rumors about trading Jefferson are just ridiculous,” the authority said. “You don’t trade the best player in the league at his position.”
He believes Hunter could sign a three or four-year deal at $25 million per year. Linebacker D.J. Wonnum has played well and is also a free agent who the source could see receiving $10 to $13 million on a three-year contract. He added the Vikings have other free agents they likely will keep, mentioning defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, linebacker Jordan Hicks and kicker Greg Joseph.
“Yeah, I think they can keep all the guys they want and still have the capability of going out and signing a couple of free agents,” the source said. “I absolutely do.”
NFL free agency begins March 17. The Vikings have 28 players, including multiple starters like Cousins and Hunter, who will be free agents. The most likely of the starters not to return is probably Davenport.
Meanwhile, Adofo-Mensah and his staff are also preparing for the April 25-27 NFL Draft. The Vikings hold the No. 11 pick in the first round and the authority believes they will select a quarterback in either the first or second rounds to groom behind Cousins.
Speculation is the top three available college quarterbacks taken will be Caleb Williams, Drake May and Jayden Daniels. The source believes the Vikings would have to make a trade and move up to the No. 4 or 5 spot to land one of them. “The quarterbacks, the top guys, are always gone early. You gotta figure they’re going to be gone certainly in the top five.”
He believes moving up higher in the draft order could demand giving another team Minnesota’s first pick in 2025 and second selection in 2024. “I just don’t know if they’re going to want to do that.”
If the Vikings stay at No. 11, they could choose a top pass rusher or cornerback and fill a need that way. Then target a best remaining quarterback in the second round, possibly seeing a J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix or Michael Penix available.