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Adofo-Mensah & O'Connell on Cousins' Departure, Adding Darnold & Jones

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have made some tough decisions over the past couple of days.

Opting to ultimately part ways with Danielle Hunter and Jordan Hicks, as well as seeing the Kirk Cousins era come to a close in Minnesota, have been among those challenging crossroads they've faced.

But there also is ample excitement about the additions the team has made as it evolves the 2024 roster.

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with media members Thursday from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center before introducing five new Vikings. Both also addressed the bittersweet moments.

"You know, these decisions are never easy. Saying goodbye to Danielle Hunter is not easy," Adofo-Mensah said. "Danielle Hunter has been a great member of this organization for a long time. I'm glad we found solutions so he could be a Viking for these past two years and watch him resume his status as one of the league's premier rushers. Saying goodbye to Jordan Hicks is not easy – as someone who embodies everything that it takes to be a Minnesota Viking.

"You know, there's always change in sports teams. One of my best friends texted me last night: 'There's no sports team ever that's been the same one year to the next,' " Adofo-Mensah continued. "Change doesn't mean that the memories that you've made, the relationships that you have, all that stuff wasn't real and meaningful. Change oftentimes just means opportunity. Opportunity for people to thrive in new roles."

He and O'Connell both emphasized their positive feelings toward Cousins.

"I'll forever be grateful for my time that I had with him," said O'Connell, whose relationship with Cousins dates back to 2017 in Washington. "But at the same time, this is an exciting time of year as we start building our team for 2024."

Here are five takeaways from the Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell press conference:

  1. All in alignment

In regard to moving on from Cousins, Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell were asked if there had been any disparity between them, or with the Wilf Family Ownership group, on the ultimate decision.

O'Connell noted "complete alignment" leading into conversations with Cousins' camp and on the back end.

"Everybody knows how myself, Kwesi, this organization feels about Kirk and, you know, sometimes things just don't work out," O'Connell said. "And I think the most important thing is that alignment and the understanding that our plan is in place, you know, crazy to use the word contingency plans, but those are all discussions and paths and avenues we can take out a very, very important position, no doubt but in the end, you know, as much as I would have maybe like to have courage to do the right thing, moving forward for our team is where we are today. And I think it all goes back to our process that goes into it, the communication and that alignment, that I personally think is the most important thing, and my confidence level in the folks around me on our coaching staff and obviously Kwesi's department and the opportunity we have here from the Wilfs. I'm very confident in where we're going to go at that position in the future."

  1. Message to Darnold

In the wake of Cousins' departure, the Vikings signed quarterback Sam Darnold to a one-year deal.

O'Connell was asked about some of the hurdles Darnold has faced already in his career and the struggles he experienced with the Jets and Panthers before joining the 49ers in 2023 as a backup to Brock Purdy. O'Connell also was asked about his message to Darnold in coming in on a short-term contract.

"It's been all about coming in and competing and fully just investing in the process," he said. "Investing in a daily attack of just trying to continue to be the best version of himself, while understanding that we're going to – we brought a player in here with great experience because you guys know, I believe I've said this before, all experience can be good experience if it's used the right way. And I think Sam's proven that he's already on a trajectory to do that.

"My confidence level in what we can provide a quarterback, not only within the walls of this building, but out on the field with their teammates, I just want to see him attack it on a daily basis and put his head down, go to work and do what he's always done," O'Connell continued. "Just chase improvement. And I really feel like where he's at from a mental standpoint, and just his excitement and urgency throughout this process, is going to be seen and felt by all, and I can't wait to see him get going."

  1. Draft options open

Considering Darnold's current contract is only through 2024, does that mean the Vikings are "locked in" to drafting a quarterback in the first round?

Not if you ask Adofo-Mensah.

"When you think about rebuilding, that position, I think it's … some scale of quarterback play and then the rest around it. You can look at last year's Super Bowl for your own example of that," he said. "So when you talk about that, you're trying to figure out what path you're on, what avenue you're going to be on. And really when we enter this draft, we have the flexibility to go either way.

"If the opportunity comes where that player's available, we'll take it," he added. "If it's not available in that sense, we'll continue to build around and then find potential odds at a long-term solution, in addition to what we've already brought in with Sam and anybody else we acquire. So really, the answer isn't some strict thing. And part of that is the flexibility we've wanted to put into our plan."

  1. Jumping on Jones

The Vikings didn't wait long to reach out to running back Aaron Jones, who agreed to terms with Minnesota the day after being released by the Packers.

There's no denying Jones' production over the past seven seasons and what he brings to an offense. Adofo-Mensah was asked, though, if Jones' age (29) or a recent leaguewide decrease in running back valuation impacted his decision on the signing.

"A lot goes into that, obviously – projections, calculations, things like that. But ultimately, that stuff is just a guardrail," he said. "You look at a player's production, and you know the person and who he is. You look at what he adds to that room.

"We feel really good about what we had in that room to start – that discussion, Ty Chandler – and we feel really good about the draft and different things that you can do on your team. And that's a position where you need depth no matter what you do, so we'll continue to do so," Adofo-Mensah continued. "But we're excited about Aaron. And you know, we get the conversation about running backs and age and different things like that, but I think as you've seen this year in the market, maybe that dynamic has gone a little too far to the other side, and teams are realizing that there's still really good players. That they're valued, and it's a position where you can really upgrade performance at a pretty efficient, you know, asset-wise, and we're excited to have him."

  1. Adding to Flores' defense

In the first wave of free agency, Minnesota added three new defensive players to the roster: linebacker Blake Cashman, an Eden Prairie native, along with outside linebackers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel.

Van Ginkel will reunite with Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, whom he played for in Miami from 2019-21, while Cashman and Greenard will be fresh faces for Flores.

O'Connell explained that he's worked with his coaching staff, as well as with Adofo-Mensah and his personnel, to identify the qualities most important in seeking out new players.

"I think Jonathan, Andrew and Blake all do that. They check, you know, it's one thing to say you've 'checked boxes,' but then, you know when I shut my eyes and think about possible additions we could have made to our defense, especially right out of the gate in free agency, being very competitive with some of some top-tier players that a lot of the league wanted to add to their team," O'Connell said. "These guys wanted to become Minnesota Vikings, and it just kind of felt in each case, individual stories paths to get there, guys' different trajectories of their careers.

"I'm very excited about each and every one of these guys and what they're going to bring to our team," O'Connell added. "Really the role of Flo', in his dialogue with Kwesi and myself and how this has all kind of come together, really was a positive for me as the head coach, knowing what we needed to get done."