Welcome to the modern age, folks.
When the Minnesota Vikings announced the hiring of new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, a Princeton and Stanford grad who cut his teeth on Wall Street before being hired by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, they went off the beaten trail in the NFL. Traditionally scouts worked their way up the ladder to the top position but Adofo-Mensah started with the 49ers as a researcher before getting hired by the Cleveland Browns in 2019 as the VP of football operations.
He isn’t exactly Billy Beane in Moneyball but his presence is a sign of the times. Football front offices are following their brethren in baseball and basketball by looking for leaders who have a collaborative and quantitative approach and a background in understanding the value of a dollar. All that means is: Decisions within the Vikings’ front office are going to be based on evidence more than instinct.
Adofo-Mensah pushed back in his opening press conference against the label of being the Vikings’ “analytics candidate.” He was clear that following the facts means studying the scouting reports as much as the Excel sheets.
Browns GM Andrew Berry talked with the Twin Cities media following Adofo-Mensah’s hire and said that all good front offices should be utilizing all of their resources.
“A little bit too much is made about the whole analytics stigma, so to speak,” Berry said. “And I think, really, any high-functioning office, whether it’s in the NFL or across other sports, looks to bring different perspectives to the table with decision-making.”
I mean, who can argue against this way of doing things at this point? Everybody in the sports world has figured out that you have to use resources to keep up with the times. Not using data would be like the Vikings not having texting on their phones.
But here’s the secret about the Vikings’ new data wizard: The last guy touted the same stuff.
Certainly Rick Spielman and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah are different in their backgrounds but Spielman spoke every year at the draft about how much the team deployed analytics as a decision-making tool.
“Our analytics department is evolving right now to the point where we're almost able to clone players. Not literally, or else you'd see 90 Danielle Hunters walking around, although he can't throw a football worth a crap. But what we're doing with all, especially with the analytics, is with all this data we have now from psychological scores, the three different intelligence scores that we use – the stuff that we do to try to measure passion for the game, all the physical scores.”
Where Spielman erred was not in having a lack of data at his fingertips. Nobody loved the Vikings’ mega draft board that had every player’s video, data and scouting report more than Rick.
The issue was that Spielman started trying to hit four-irons into the fairway rather than 400-yard drives that might go off into the woods. With everyone feeling the heat after the first Kirk Cousins season – the “Super Bowl or Bust” year – went into the gutter, the Vikings started making self-preservation moves.
Things like signing Anthony Barr and Kyle Rudolph to expensive contract extensions because they were afraid the next man up wouldn’t be able to fill their shoes. Trading for Yannick Ngakoue in a panic, trading for a kicker/punter in a panic, franchise tagging Anthony Harris. And the biggest one: Extending Cousins.
These were not pragmatic moves that followed the research and were made with an eye on taming the salary cap beast and setting the franchise up for the right time to strike toward a Super Bowl. These were moves to make sure the team remained competitive enough to buy them more time.
In recent years, they always drafted for need, even when it went against positional value, i.e. Garrett Bradbury or didn’t meet long-term needs i.e. passing on Mac Jones. They signed players to short-term deals like Bashaud Breeland rather than giving a young, developing player like Cam Dantzler a chance to grow in a starter’s role.
Everybody relies on their spreadsheet until their job is on the line, eh?
Well, Adofo-Mensah’s job isn’t on the line. He might be no better or worse at making decisions than Spielman but his circumstances are far more favorable with time to work under a four-year contract with a roster that needs a lot of construction.
But Adofo-Mensah can’t “process” this team out of its rut of mediocrity. What’s required is an ice cold approach. Dollars versus value. If he isn’t the Wolf From Wall Street, the Vikings will fall into the same habits as before. Right now the team has a difficult quarterback decision that requires aggressiveness, not hope to be 9-8 next year and maybe win the NFC North if Aaron Rodgers moves to Texas to start a freedom of speech podcast. They cannot be afraid of the worst case scenario because often that results in a better case in the long run.
They also can’t look at the team’s leadership council of big cap hits and think those fellas need to stay. Adofo-Mensah cannot care whose jersey is most prevalent in the stands. If it’s the right thing to trade the expensive running back, trade the expensive running back. Those people who make videos of their crying kids will forgive you when you’re in the playoffs two years from now.
On Thursday, Adofo-Mensah presented an idealistic way of running the front office. Nobody would disagree with putting all the scouting reports and numbers in a big old cauldron. But if the Vikings aren’t aggressive in setting their sights on the Super Bowl, all the collaboration in the world won’t be worth any more than the Excel sheet it’s filed in.