The Vikings are due for regression. The 2022 regular season was an aberration and the playoffs were indicative of who this team is. Or at least that is what the media seems to think. Only three days removed from the Super Bowl (congrats to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs), CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr listed the Vikings as the most likely team in line for regression in the 2023 season. And while he cited valid issues like the -3 point differential, the shaky defense, and the irreplicable 11-0 record in one-score games, the media is discounting the biggest changes the Vikings made last offseason: Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell.
The Regime Change
Around 13 months ago, the Vikings made a move that was long overdue in firing Mike Zimmer. Zimmer’s grasp on the struggling team had nearly completely dissipated and the team had turned in two disappointing seasons in a row. He lost control of the locker room, with reports of Cousins and Zimmer butting heads. On the same day, Rick Spielman was fired, putting an end to Spielman’s 16-year tenure with the franchise. The pairing of Zimmer and Spielman had gone stale and it seemed as though players and fans alike had lost faith in them. Two weeks later, 40-year-old Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was hired to be the general manager, and after winning Super Bowl 56, 37-year-old Kevin O’Connell was hired as a first-time head coach. The Vikings decided to completely switch it up by hiring one of the youngest general manager-head coach duos in the league.
This move gave life to a team that had been stuck in the mud. The 2022 edition of the Minnesota Vikings played with a kind of confidence and energy that had not been felt for a long time in Minnesota. It led the team to an impressive 13-4 record and an exciting season. The finish was lackluster and the defense was concerning, however, for the first year with a completely renovated front office, it was an impressive year. Now that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have had a taste of their first years running the show, expect an even more polished and disciplined roster in 2023, especially with Brian Flores running the defense.
Adofo-Mensah did not hesitate to start making moves after he was hired. He traded all around the draft, he even traded with division rivals, the Lions and Packers. While many fans were not too happy with the rare intradivisional trades, it demonstrated that Adofo-Mensah was going to be aggressive and find good deals, no matter what the unwritten laws of football that he was breaking. This aggressive strategy is very new for Vikings fans and we should be embracing it since the old, standard ways of constructing a roster have not been fruitful.
Adofo-Mensah is part of a new wave of general managers who are making decisions based on what the analytics say. He traded a lot in the draft because analytics say that sometimes having more draft picks is more beneficial than having higher draft picks. Of course with a higher draft pick the more likely a talented player is still on the board, however, a higher quantity of later draft picks gives more opportunities for a “diamond in the rough.” Drafting is not easy, there is no certain way of determining who will have the most success in the NFL because if there were the Johnny Manziel and Ryan Leaf’s of the world would not exist. Though I am not arguing that Adofo-Mensah’s draft strategy is better (yet), I am arguing that it is certainly worth a shot since the norm has not been working for the Vikings. While Adofo-Mensah’s first rookie class was not up to par due to injuries, it will be interesting to see how players like Andrew Booth and Lewis Cine perform in year two and how Adofo-Mensah will approach the draft this year with a limited number of picks.
The Minnesota Vikings are facing one of their toughest off-seasons in recent history and many are writing them off for the 2023 season already. It will certainly be a test for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to navigate team-unfriendly veteran contracts and a lack of cap space while also keeping the team in contention. However, if Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell led this team to 13-4 in their first year at their respective positions, there is no telling what they can do in their second years after getting their feet wet. For the first time in years, Vikings fans should have plenty of confidence and faith in this team’s management decisions. The 2023 season may not be a repeat of the 2022 season, however, I think fans should be able to expect another playoff berth.