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McCown's Hire, Cap Boost & Potential Practices with Browns Among Combine Talkers

INDIANAPOLIS — Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah strolled into a conference room, eased into banquet chairs circling a roundtable and covered recent developments, as well as talkers that have a relatively short time horizon (by March 13) or longer window to develop, with Twin Cities media members on Wednesday.

Each had knocked out a podium session on Tuesday in which they provided updates on negotiations with Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins, and each will remain at the NFL Scouting Combine for several more days.

Three recent developments O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah covered with media members included the hiring of Josh McCown as quarterbacks coach, the announcement of a big boost in the salary cap for 2024 and potentially visiting the Cleveland Browns for a round of joint practices.

O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah had been in meetings when the NFLPA released the results of its second annual report cards compiled through surveys of players in which Minnesota ranked second overall a year after leading the field with the highest grades.

The hiring of McCown

McCown's hire was announced Tuesday afternoon. He has traveled to Indianapolis to join Vikings coaches and members of the personnel department.

"Josh is really somebody who I've always thought highly of and have been talking to him for over the past few years, and really the timing of it with him having gotten into coaching and [being available for hire]," O'Connell said. "There was a process that took place and conversations, making sure it was the right fit with the staff and everything, but Josh is phenomenal. He's got an unbelievable wealth of knowledge of quarterback rooms, the dynamics of different rooms, relationships involved there and actual quarterback play, technique and fundamentals, a foundation of understanding what we're trying to get done on offense and translate it into whatever language that particular player needs and to be able to understand you might have three guys or more in that room at different spectrums of the process.

"I see him having a wildly bright future in this league and just felt this opportunity with us and allowing him to really grow around the right type of guys — not only players but coaches, too," O'Connell added.

The team announced Chris O'Hara as a pass game specialist, meaning the former Vikings QBs coach will continue to work with O'Connell as he did in Washington and Los Angeles before coming to Minnesota.

O'Connell explained O'Hara's focus and how it will help the team.

"Wildly smart, unbelievably helpful from a game-planning standpoint, football knowledge and wanted to make sure his role could be clearly defined where he's really assisting in the game plan side of things. He's going to have a big-time role there," O'Connell said. "He's very good about studying things around the league. I really wanted to use this opportunity to continue growing Chris in the phase that I think he's going to be the best at moving forward and then also bring in a true holistic approach to the quarterback position, where I don't think you need to be a quarterback to coach the position, but my transition was I got out of playing and got an opportunity to be a quarterback coach and grew through making mistakes and communicating well in some ways and learning how to do things better in other ways. I think that experience for Josh will serve him well and make me better, as well.

"I think the world of Grant Udinski as our assistant quarterbacks coach. He does so much to assist [Offensive Coordinator] Wes [Phillips] and myself," O'Connell added. "We may end up adding something to his title just to be a more accurate portrayal of what he does. I think the combination of those three guys, to be able to have them all on the same staff with Wes and [Brian Angelichio], what I'm looking for in year three is to be able to continue to take a step back and allow guys to grow and develop and put their fingerprints on things where I don't feel like I have to micromanage everything, and I think we're set up to do that now."

O'Connell said O'Hara is going to help boost the start of game-planning each week and is likely to have a role in preparing for third downs.

"What I like about it the most is we've got guys with different skill sets, different strengths, but their strengths will help the other guy grow areas where they have to possibly become the best coach they can become," O'Connell said. "I feel like the personalities matter as much as anything, the human beings, the emotional intelligence, the communication skills, all of those things are critically important to making something like this go, to maximize it, and we've got that, so I wanted to make sure we did that if that opportunity became available."

The boost in salary cap

Last Friday, the NFL announced the 2024 salary cap has been set at $255.4 million per club, with an additional $74 million available for player benefits, which includes performance-based pay when players reach contract benchmarks, and benefits for retired players.

The NFL explained the "unprecedented $30 million increase" is the "result of the full repayment of all amounts advanced by the clubs and deferred by the players" during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an "extraordinary increase in media revenue for the 2024 season."

Adofo-Mensah was asked if the Vikings were surprised by the increase in salary cap space.

"That's a big boost. I lean on [Executive Vice President of Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski for that stuff, so Rob tells me a number and I go to my little spreadsheet and use that number, but I think it's always good to plan conservatively for the fact that they don't raise the cap just for the Vikings," Adofo-Mensah said. "They raise it for everybody, so the money that was gained was gained for everybody, and teams that were a little crunched now have a little more cap space, so how does that impact the market? That's what I'm focused on, how does that impact the market in some of our conversations."

O'Connell humorously explained how he ran down the hall at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to Adofo-Mensah's office on Friday and exclaimed, "It's 255!"

Adofo-Mensah confirmed and then admitted that he stepped into the Debbie Downer role: "I popped his little bubble, 'Everybody's got that.' "

Even though the markets will shift, Minnesota will have more room than before the giant boost.

Joint practices pending

Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry, for whom Adofo-Mensah previously worked, on Tuesday told Cleveland media members that his squad plans to host the Vikings for joint practices this summer.

"They're not technically finalized, but I guess it's sort of a formality if we both request the ability to do that, but I don't know that it's technically a finalized thing," Adofo-Mensah said.

O'Connell has been a big proponent of joint practices, with the Vikings having hosted the 49ers in 2022 and the Titans and Cardinals in 2023.

If approved and finalized, this will be the first time under O'Connell that the Vikings have traveled for joint practices. Minnesota has two road preseason games, compared to just one at home in 2024.

"I think the type of team Cleveland has, [Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski's] leadership, the dialogue we had about how we would put it together was really exciting," O'Connell said, "and I'm looking forward to that, so hopefully it does become final when we get the green light for it."