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5 Takeaways: Kevin O'Connell & Kwesi Adofo-Mensah Reflect on the Year, Look Ahead to Offseason

EAGAN, Minn. – One of the first things Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did Wednesday morning was talk to the representation of star receiver Justin Jefferson.

General managers stay in contact with agents year-round. Still, on Wednesday, during a joint press conference with Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, Adofo-Mensah acknowledged that extending Jefferson is something that will be addressed this offseason, amongst "a bunch of other things."

"I had a great dialogue with his representation this morning," Adofo-Mensah said. "We had a great, great relationship, and the good part is we have a shared history now. We did a lot of the work last season, so we talked and said, 'Let's plan to talk again soon.' I'm always optimistic about those things."

Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell spoke with media members about the offseason ahead following a difficult Vikings season hampered by injuries and turnovers. The head coach and general manager duo reflected on what they learned in their second year together and emphasized several promising takeaways.

"When you look back on sequences and certain parts of the year when you felt very strongly about what we're doing," O'Connell said. "Specifically, that stretch there from San Francisco

Into our trip up to Lambeau Field. J.J. [Justin Jefferson] wasn't out there for that early on in the year where we were pretty effective moving the football when we did have at least 10 of the original 11 out there that we thought we would have."

Minnesota started 0-3 before winning six of its next seven games, including a five-game winning streak from Weeks 6 to 10. Jefferson missed seven games (Week 5 through 12) but still eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth time in his four-year career. His season-high 192 yards on a career-high 12 catches came in the Vikings season finale at Detroit in a game that equally showcased his world-class football talent and passion.

Below are four other takeaways from the media session with Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell.

On Danielle Hunter's future

In football terms, 30 years old is considered old. Yet Vikings outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, set to enter his third decade Oct. 29, mustered a career season. Hunter, who has been with the Vikings for nine seasons, also has a contract set to expire.

Adofo-Mensah said many factors go into projecting how a player will perform over the life of a new contract. Though age isn't necessarily on Hunter's side, Adofo-Mensah pointed out that Hunter prioritizes his physical health and has proven himself as a blue-chip player and leader.

"He had a really great year. The two years I've been around him obviously super productive, but the hustle, just for an elite player like that to play the way he does in the run game, train the way he does, just chasing the quarterback outside the pocket, even if it's not winning the rush initially," Adofo-Mensah said. "We had a great exit meeting. Just a great dude, a great player, and we'll look forward to those conversations."

Hunter set a career high in sacks (16.5) and tackles for a loss (23). This season he passed Vikings Legend Jared Allen on the franchise all-time sack list, moving into sixth in team history. His 23 tackles for losses were the most by a Viking since 1999 when the stat was first recorded.

As crucial as Hunter was on the field for the Vikings this season, O'Connell was equally impressed with how the first-time captain established himself as a key leader.

"It was not lost on Danielle, being voted a captain and kind of what that looked like – what his teammates look at him like. And I saw some tremendous growth from Danielle in that side of things, to go along with production on the field," O'Connell said. "I think that was really part of it. You think about him and Justin Jefferson being kind of first-time captains there and what they meant to our team, and the rest of that group helped us persevere and really try to thrive through some of that adversity, for sure."

Kirk Cousins situation

Several times this year, all parties involved – O'Connell, Kirk Cousins and Adofo-Mensah – have stressed their desire to stay together in Minnesota. But there are several factors to consider.

Cousins, 35, is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. The Vikings are slated to pick No. 11 in April's NFL Draft, and free agency begins in mid-March.

"There are a lot of factors that go into these things. It is age. It's injury, but it is also

performance. How do you believe the performance will go, and there's different examples through time," Adofo-Mensah said. "Obviously, you have to also pay attention to the person and what he puts into his body and how regimented and detailed he is. All those factors go into it. But, at the end of the day, we are just taking risks, and we try to measure it as best we can and protect ourselves and ensure against it. On his side, he is trying to take less [risk]. That is his job and they should do that and we will try and find a place in the middle and see where we end up."

Cousins led the league in passing touchdowns and was second in yards before injury. Cousins is 50-37-1 as a Viking and ranks third in career passing yards behind Tommy Kramer and Fran Tarkenton.

When asked about Cousins, Adofo-Mensah is clear about how he feels.

"I think I have been pretty consistent with that. Kirk, the player, is someone that we saw what he does to this team," Adofo-Mensah said. "I thought we were playing really good football before he got injured and it is the most important position in sports. Ultimately, it always comes down to can you find an agreement that works for both sides and all of those things, but as a player, it is certainly my intention to have him back here."

Patience with 2022 Draft Class

Adofo-Mensah is entering his third offseason with Minnesota. His previous two draft classes have contributed to the Vikings in varying degrees.

Rookies Jordan Addison and Ivan Pace, Jr., quickly became every-down players this season. Pace led all rookies in combined tackles with 102. Addison's 10 receiving touchdowns tied for first among rookie receivers with Packers pass catcher Jayden Reed.

But it's taken the 2022 draft class more time to develop. Safety Lewis Cine played just eight snaps this year after suffering a season-ending broken leg as a rookie, making 2023 his quasi-rookie season. Second-round selection Andrew Booth, Jr., has appeared in 23 games over the past two seasons but only played 13 percent of Minnesota's defensive snaps this past season.

Cornerback Akayleb Evans started 15 games this year but faced his own highs and lows. He forced a game-changing fumble versus the Falcons and intercepted his first career pass in Week 15. But he also battled a calf strain that kept him out two games in November and was benched in both games versus the Lions.

Adofo-Mensah stressed that not all progress is linear.

"You believe in those positive sloping lines as long as they show up, do the right thing, are about the right stuff," Adofo-Mensah said. "And a lot of the guys you're talking about are, and we're going to keep believing in them, but we're also going to obviously be prepared to improve this roster the best way we see fit."

View photos of Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressing the media during a press conference to close out the 2023 season.

O'Connell endorses coaching staff

Last week, the NFLPA announced the five offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators who received the highest ratings from players. Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores finished fourth among his peers, and Matt Daniels ranked third among special teams coordinators.

On Wednesday, O'Connell praised all three of his coordinators and the Vikings coaching staff for their efforts this season.

"With [Flores], could not be more happy with the decision that I made last year to bring him in. He's been everything and then some as far as what he's brought to the mentality to that defensive room. I thought what we created this year was unique," O'Connell said.

On Daniels: "Matt Daniels ability to adjust with the roster in some cases late in the week, where will have guys where we won't? We're going to have to call guys up and his ability to prepare, really the entirety of our roster, to have an impact and help us function in the

kicking game, I thought was really impressive."

On Wes Phillips: "Really my right-hand man. I rely on him so much. There's a reason why I wanted to make sure I made that a part of my opening comments just because of the faith and the confidence I feel in our leadership on coaching staff allows me to feel very, very confident that we're going to continue to press onward in real positive way."