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Free agency and pre-draft preparations are continuing to roll along, but some of this week's buzz will center on the Annual League Meeting, which is being hosted in Arizona.
VEN's Gabe Henderson is among those covering the meeting this year, so be on the lookout for some content from there this week.
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell are attending.
Congrats to C.J. Ham on his contract extension that the fullback signed on Friday. It's been an incredible run for someone who was undrafted and worked his way up from the practice squad. He offers versatility and leadership and goes about everything the right way.
It was also nice to see Dean Lowry and Marcus Davenport participate in their first interviews with Twin Cities media members (virtual) last Thursday. We put together some takeaways from those sessions, in case you missed it.
I have a few questions regarding the college and pro scouting departments.
Who do [Adofo-Mensah] and [O'Connell] trust to give them the info they need to do their analytic voodoo on? What changes have been made to either staff since [Adofo-Mensah] and [O'Connell] arrived? Do GMs and coaches handle the scouting departments like their coaching staffs, i.e., bring in their own people? Or does the scouting department come with the keys to the building like other office personnel, so-to-speak?
Thanks for your time and consideration.
*— Florian Kubes in Montreal, Quebec, Canada *
We'll start things off with the leaders of the football operations.
In the case of Adofo-Mensah, he implemented a policy of retention and addition. Adofo-Mensah inherited a long-established staff with multiple members who have been working together for years. When Adofo-Mensah participated in a session with Twin Cities media members at the NFL Scouting Combine, he explained his approach to observing the staff over the course of his first year.
"I wouldn't say observation in terms of judging them. I would say more of an observation of learning what their strengths are," Adofo-Mensah said. "Every person is a data source, but you have to understand what that data source is best at. Some people are really good at certain areas, positions, types of players, different things, so I've had to step back and really observe everybody, see their decisions, see how it played out, and now I know how to best utilize them, so in that sense, it's been a year of more feeling out and learning about their strengths.
"It's been great," he added. "It's a really close, connected group, so one of the things I wanted to make sure was I didn't change that, because I do think that camaraderie and closeness they have is special. I was the new person. I didn't want to change that, so that's something I really took seriously."
As for the additions, the Wilf family's commitment to the team enabled Adofo-Mensah to hire Senior Vice President of Player Personnel Ryan Grigson and Vice President of Football Operations Demitrius Washington last year.
Adofo-Mensah overlapped with Grigson in Cleveland from 2020-21 and with Washington in San Francisco from 2015-19.
We spoke in depth at the combine with Grigson and Washington for this feature that explains the intersection of a hard-nosed football background and new-school analytics applications.
Grigson, who was GM of the Colts from 2012-16, comes from the traditional football background. Washington provides a background in quantitative analysis. He and Adofo-Mensah shared a workspace in San Francisco that they referred to as "The Lab."
Coaching changes are a bit different and usually are accompanied with turnover of staff to match particular offensive, defensive and special teams systems the head coach wants to implement. While there was turnover among assistants during O'Connell's hire, he did retain multiple coaches from the previous staff, as well as many existing support staff members in other departments.
Do you think it's possible to trade [Kirk Cousins] to the 49ers for running back Christian McCaffrey, quarterback [Brock Purdy] and a third-round draft pick? If not then, trade someone else or draft picks 5, 6, and/or 7 for McCaffrey. He's our missing piece on offense and great at trick plays passing down field. We need Christian McCaffrey. Let's get him. Is it possible?
First-round draft pick comes around and no QB left to draft and DL [Jalen] Carter is available. Are we drafting him or a bulldozer of a running back, kickoff returner who's fast and can score. A chance for two fast wide receivers?
— Edward Dunn
Two questions from Edward here.
I'll start the trade scenario with a cautionary reminder about believing a team is one player away (see Herschel Walker trade, 1989). The 49ers just acquired McCaffrey last October in exchange for second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a 2024 fifth-round pick. I don't think they'd be that interested in shipping McCaffrey out so quickly after shedding so much draft capital to acquire him, so I think that completely rules out the exchange of picks scenario.
We also don't know if the Vikings have any interest in Edward's first proposal.
As for the second question, the Carter situation — he entered pleas of no contest earlier this month to charges of racing and reckless driving that stemmed from a Georgia incident in which one of his Bulldogs teammates (Devin Willock) and a team staffer (Chandler LeCroy) died — was resolved in criminal court when he was sentenced to probation.
It remains unclear what impact his connection to the tragedy will have on his draft position.
The Vikings running backs room has everyone from 2022 under contract for 2023, and Kene Nwangwu has shown his ability as a kickoff returner. Mock drafts have leaned heavily toward the Vikings going with a cornerback at No. 23. We'll post another Mock Draft Tracker (version 6.0) Tuesday.
Charles Davis has the Vikes picking QB Will Levis from Kentucky at 23 if he's available. They could do worse. He looked really good at his pro day. If they decide to not go CB for the upteenth time, how do you feel about a Levis selection? Would he be ready to go after one year behind Cousins?
— Nicholas Balkou
A lot of QBs come out next year. Do you think it best to wait until next year or take a shot this year?
— "W Warren"
The new Mock Draft Tracker will include Davis, but here's what he wrote to accompany his pick:
"Finally! Teams picking as high as No. 4 overall will likely consider the big-armed passer from Kentucky, but he lands with QB-friendly coach Kevin O'Connell in Minnesota as the franchise's signal-caller for the future. And if Tennessee's Hendon Hooker had not suffered an ACL tear late last season, a HEAVY debate would be had about the former Volunteer being picked in this spot, or others, in Round 1."
Notice that Davis said teams "picking as high as No. 4" will consider taking Levis. There's a significant gap between that spot and the Vikings going on the clock at No. 23. By multiple media accounts, Levis made a good impression on teams at the combine and at Kentucky's Pro Day.
Generally speaking, if there's a player lasting longer on the board than Minnesota's leaders expect, it's likely that a discussion in the draft room will occur. Potential topics could include best player available vs. more immediate need. If a player is too good to pass up, even if not in the most immediate spot of need, it's possible for teams to make a move, as long as they have dance (trade) partners.
With Cousins entering the final year of his current contract, there's going to be significant speculation on whether the Vikings will draft a QB with a high pick. Minnesota has multiple needs and plenty of pathways to take to improve its roster through the draft.
That said, Minnesota doesn't have to overreach this year on a quarterback and can instead stay true to its process and board.
Someone might explain to [O'Connell] that if backup offensive lineman play as fullbacks, that would help give them football hitting experience. And it would help to get the running back open holes to score at or near goal line.
— Michael Dawkins
I think O'Connell is pretty well versed in the different positional opportunities, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Ham is a top-tier fullback, and the Vikings reinforced their belief in him by signing him to the extension last week.
That said, I also believe the short-yardage run game is a point of emphasis for Minnesota this year. The continuity up front, plus the addition of tight end Josh Oliver are encouraging elements for the run game in 2023.
I'm not opposed to an element of trickery, but the Vikings can refine a few of the basics, as well.
Well, it's been a while since I wrote in. I'm very confused by being No. 1 for free agents to come, but we miss the ball on some very good defensive players. I'm not impressed with [$13 million] for a guy that hasn't done anything, or signing [Garrett] Bradbury to a $15 million dollar contract. I give us an F. [Byron Murphy, Jr.] is solid, but man I'm not impressed with any of the others!
I'm saddened about Bud passing away. Got some great memories of his legacy.
— Toby in Alaska (Ak Skol)
Welcome back to the Mailbag, Toby.
Couple of things for people who may have missed what Toby is referring to.
The Vikings finished with the best ranking on report cards released by the NFL Players Association ahead of free agency.
The Vikings position against the salary cap created a situation in which Minnesota needed to utilize precision to make acquisitions and implement retention at multiple spots when possible. Players experience here, along with their assessment of the facilities, may have helped certain retention efforts.
Minnesota reached a one-year deal with edge defender Marcus Davenport for a reported $13 million, but it has a much lower cap hit.
I'll respectfully add a degree of nuance to the "hasn't done anything" viewpoint. He's recorded 21.5 sacks in 32 starts and appeared in 63 games. While his sacks went from 9.0 in 2021 to 0.5 in 2022, his pressure rate has been consistent. Maybe it's a situation of finishing the play a little bit better in 2023 while helping the Vikings create more pressure than they did in 2022.
Coaches said they appreciated the way Bradbury commanded the offensive line in his first season in O'Connell's system. Instead of him being under a fifth-year option, Bradbury's new deal is three years, and he has a much lower cap hit for 2023 than he would have on the option.
Bradbury has experienced quite a bit of turnover on either side of him during his Vikings career, so let's see how things shake out with a bit more carryover.
To not have much wiggle room but land players like Davenport and Murphy, who were both highly rated among this year's class of free agents by NFL.com, is a sign of creatively solving problems.
I can't believe that the Vikings were foolish enough to release Adam Thielen, one of the most productive receivers we have. Look around at the Viking games and see which number is most popular on the Vikings fans' T-shirts — very few No. 8.
— Jerry LaFreniere in Side Lake, Minnesota
So Thielen had a $19 million cap hit this year, so we just cut him and he signs a new deal for three years for $25 million. We couldn't negotiate with him? He wanted to stay and was extremely important for the team and the community. Nope, we are going to get another unknown and pay 3x Thielen's hit for what? Same … decisions by Minnesota management. I believe they have a wheel like on Wheel of Fortune and spin it to make one stupid decision after another. Why aren't they actively trying to trade Cook, [Za'Darius] Smith and Cousins? Or are they just going to release them for no value like they do for all of our stars. I mean after all their bad decisions from the past means that we have a grand total of five draft picks with one of those coming from the league. With Cook and Smith (who is asking to leave) and Cousins, we won't have cap space for years and will be the same old losers we know and love.
I'm tired of reading comments about what the Vikings should or shouldn't do in the offseason. Play Monday Morning QB with your friends instead. Trust the process and have faith in the organization. I for one do not think I know more about the team than anyone who works in the building or anyone who writes to the Mailbag. Here are some facts to take into account when the Vikings cut or add players. Yes, the team went 13-4 but who can argue that the record represents how good they are? The point differential is a more accurate representation of the team. Now when one of your favorite players get let go, ask yourself how many playoff games did they win, did they go to the Super Bowl? My point is the player might have lost a step, is now overpriced, it's not good practice to keep players because of sentimental value. No one likes changes but no one likes losing either. I like how the team is going about its business. Looking forward to next season. SKOL.
— Al Lindberg in Denmark, Wisconsin
Combining these three emails for one collective response.
No one is diminishing Thielen's popularity in the state and beyond, his impact on the community or what he accomplished in Minnesota. The hope is people remember those things for years to come. He will be someone to pull for (except when playing the Vikings), and there are many who look forward to continuing their relationships with him once his playing days are over.
It's one of the NFL's best feel-good stories in recent years and so much more.
Thielen finished 2022 with 70 catches for 716 yards with six touchdowns on 107 targets, but his splits were a bit different after T.J. Hockenson joined the team via trade, with more passes going to the tight end from Iowa.
Hockenson was with Minnesota for its final 10 games of the season and caught 60 passes on 86 targets. Thielen totaled 35 catches on 57 targets in that same span.
Justin Jefferson, by the way, caught 76 passes for 1,057 yards on 113 targets in Minnesota's final 10 games of 2022.
I'd expect those trends could be similar with Jefferson being the primary target as one of the best receivers in the NFL and high volumes of targets heading Hockenson's direction.
Clearing millions from the cap hit by releasing Thielen enabled other signings for this year and beyond, and Minnesota hasn't been shy about saying they'd like to have Jefferson for the long haul. There's probably a high interest in retaining Hockenson for years to come (he's entering the final year on his rookie contract). Doing so increases the return on investment from Minnesota sending its 2023 second-round selection to Detroit for Hockenson.
I'm not sure where Greg is referring to paying another receiver on the roster three times Thielen's rate in 2023, but Jefferson and Hockenson are candidates for long-term deals. I also don't like the word "stupid" to describe decisions. I like the visual of imagining a spinning wheel, but I believe the process to be shaped by information, and that's been the case for several years.
Adofo-Mensah and his staff soon have the next opportunity to use this year's information optimally. No matter how much effort and intelligence is put toward trying to identify the best fits, there's still a bit of uncertainty with how humans match, surpass or fail to meet projected expectations.
When it comes to wide receiver, everyone is talking about drafting a wide receiver, but Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor's names never come up. What are their strengths and weaknesses. I read that Nailor is pretty fast; however, no one says anything about Reagor who they made a trade for last season. He was a first-round pick, and that says something about his ability. I'm sure that [receivers coach] Keenan McCardell can resurrect Reagor and bring out the best of Nailor, who he vouched for during the draft. I say first round, go with [Tennessee QB] Hendon Hooker, salvage the wide recievers on the roster or trade the first-round pick to Baltimore with Cousins and Cook to obtain Lamar Jackson.
Thank you as always.
— Rodger in Sacramento
I'm intrigued to see how Reagor benefits from having a full offseason program in Minnesota's system. He joined Minnesota just before the 2023 season in exchange for a 2023 seventh-round pick and a conditional 2024 pick.
Reagor has some talents, but it also seemed like there were times when he wasn't completely on the same page with Cousins last season.
Nailor earned the nickname "Speedy" prior to arriving in Minnesota. Nailor was clocked running the 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in 4.5 seconds. Reagor clocked a 4.47 in 2020.
Reagor totaled eight receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets for Minnesota last season; Nailor finished his rookie campaign with nine catches for 179 yards and a score on 13 targets.
Last week, the Vikings agreed to terms with receiver Brandon Powell, who spent the past two seasons with the Rams, including 2021 when he, O'Connell and Vikings Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips helped Los Angeles win Super Bowl LVI.
Powell only played three snaps on offense that season, but he did contribute on special teams in six games.
This past season, Powell caught 24 passes for 156 yards on 32 targets. I look forward to seeing Powell compete in Purple at receiver and as a returner.
Note: We are closing here with a couple of nostalgic emails regarding Bud Grant's time before joining the Vikings, as well as the identity shaped during his tenure. Please scroll below for a reminder about the Letters to Bud project.
I watched Bud pitch and play first base for the Osceola Braves back in the late '40s. My future brother-in-law played shortstop for the Braves. Bud was a very good baseball player. It was a fun time.
— Rod Nelson
In 2018, prior to Minnesota hosting the Super Bowl, I was listening to an ESPN talk host about how he would have liked to interview a Minneapolis Lakers player when he was covering the Super Bowl. He stated unfortunately they had all passed away. I called in and told him he was wrong, that Bud Grant was a Minneapolis Lakers player and still alive. They researched it and confirmed that I was correct!!!!
— Thomas Manders
I remember "THE ICEMEN COMMETH."
The Rams could not beat the Vikings in Minnesota in December — Loved Jim Klobuchar!
I've heard plenty of mentions of Bud being incredible on the baseball diamond but haven't seen much footage. That's pretty impressive for the only man to ever play in the NBA and NFL.
Through the graciousness of Coach Grant, the Minnesota Vikings Museum, which opened about five months after Minnesota hosted Super Bowl LII, has been able to feature artifacts from his sporting career, including his time with the Lakers.
From Dec. 27, 1969, (Minnesota defeated L.A. 23-20 on the way to the NFL Championship, which was followed by playing in Super Bowl IV), through the 1974 NFC Championship Game (14-10 win by Minnesota) and the 1976 NFC Championship Game (24-13 win by Minnesota), the Rams had to hate visiting the Old Met.
Whenever I'm doing research, I almost have to allot for a few extra minutes for the way Klobuchar's writing draws me in like a tractor beam. His mastery of language and colorful descriptions are so enjoyable.
Thanks to everyone as always for sending in your questions and comments.
Send your own Letter to Bud
In tribute to Bud Grant and his legacy, and in continuing the "Letters to Bud" theme, we invite fans to mail in letters sharing the impact Coach Grant had on your Vikings fandom, your personal life, your childhood and so on.
Letters received may be published through Vikings content platforms in a future special edition of "Letters to Bud." We also will pass along the letters to Coach Grant's family.
If you would like to participate, please send letters to the below address.
Lindsey Young, Vikings Entertainment Network
Re: Letters to Bud
2600 Vikings Circle
Eagan, MN 55121
Here are the links to the previous content series in case you'd like some inspiration (chapter explanations are on the left, and the Adobe Spark features are on the right).