Only the Minnesota Vikings could add extra drama to a general manager search.
On Tuesday, the Chicago Bears reportedly came to an agreement with Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Ryan Poles to become their next GM. Poles was a finalist to take over the same position in Minnesota.
On Saturday, Purple Insider and CBS’s Jason La Canfora reported that Poles was the top candidate for the Vikings but Chicago was very high on him as well. Chicago’s second interview with Poles came on Tuesday and they never let him leave the building. Now it appears the Vikings will turn to their other finalist, Cleveland Browns VP of football operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
In the coming offseason, the two new NFC North GMs will be jockeying for position for which team can be the future of the division with Green Bay seemingly set to take a step back if/when Aaron Rodgers exits. They are each taking over positions in which they get to shape the organization, from coach to QB to roster spending. For the first time in a long time, the race could be beginning at the same place with all four NFC North teams in the running, rather than Green Bay starting from miles ahead.
Over the last few years the Bears and Vikings have mirrored each other in many ways. They both floundered in their attempts to remain relevant after having defense-driven peak years. The Vikings went to the NFC Championship in 2017 with the No. 1 defense and fell short in Philadelphia. In 2018 Chicago won the North and doinked a field goal to fall in the postseason, also to the Eagles. Neither club was able to repeat their success in the subsequent seasons with the Vikings making the playoffs only once in 2019 and the Bears reaching the postseason in 2020, only to lose handily in the wild card round to New Orleans.
Out of 33 games played in the last two years, Chicago has won 14 and Minnesota 15. Now both franchises are left with much work to do and frustrated fan bases who have grown weary of mediocrity, with each club winning the division just twice since 2009.
The GM hires in both Midwest cities have an air of new energy. Chicago was bogged down by a bust QB draft pick in Mitch Trubisky and Minnesota faithful became tired of an old scout GM giving out lucrative contracts to the players he drafted and an old head coach who wanted to run the ball more. The fresh-faced Poles and Adofo-Mensah are in a position to bring a more cutting-edge approach and break through the ceilings that previous regimes capped their franchises with.
Not everything is the same between Minnesota and Chicago, though. Poles is taking over a team that is one step ahead with its quarterback situation. With Justin Fields in place, the Bears have an opportunity to follow the path of a team like the Cincinnati Bengals, who picked Joe Burrow two years ago and quickly elevated themselves to a legitimate contender by spending money in free agency and drafting a dynamo receiver.
Numerous teams have put themselves in a winning position in Year 2 of their first-round quarterback — including the Bears with Trubisky. Some examples, in no particular order: The Chiefs reached the AFC Championship in Patrick Mahomes’ sophomore season, the Jared Goff Rams led the NFL in scoring in his second year, Carson Wentz’s Eagles earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs in his second year (and won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles after Wentz got hurt), Buffalo got to the playoffs in Josh Allen’s second year, Lamar Jackson won MVP, and Teddy Bridgewater won the NFC North in 2015.
With $30 million in cap space (per OverTheCap.com) to start with, the Bears can go to work putting pieces around their young quarterback. They desperately need to restock their offensive line and secondary and must find another receiver or three, rather than drafting more tight ends like the predecessors. If Fields clicks after a rough first season and maximizes the physical skills that got him drafted in the first round, Poles has a shot to instantly look like a wizard.
Of course, if Fields struggles, Poles will look a lot like previous GM Ryan Pace.
The Vikings are in a different spot at quarterback. Adofo-Mensah needs to quickly pick a path with Kirk Cousins. In the Vikings’ current cap state, $13 million in the red, it would be impossible to have Cousins play out the final year of his deal unless they added void years to his contract. That wouldn’t exactly be a Wall Street-style move. Instead the two roads the new GM can take are A) trading Cousins and drafting a quarterback or B) extending Cousins.
Trading him wouldn’t have to mean falling completely behind in the rebuild race but it would mean having to find a bridge quarterback or going through rookie growing pains.
Keeping Cousins could leave the Vikings in neutral. If cap space is freedom, they have been jailed for the last four years. With little money to spend, all the horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the defense back together again after it fell following the 2019 season. Would Adofo-Mensah think he could work around a restrictive quarterback contract to land an entire new secondary and several key defensive line pieces?
It’s not totally impossible. Adofo-Mensah came from San Francisco, where they are set to play in the NFC Championship despite Jimmy Garoppolo’s $26 million cap hit. But that took having the best offensive coach in the game and landing some franchise-changing draft picks like Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. (And it took a well-timed blocked punt).
The QB hurdle has so many aspects to weigh. This year’s QB draft is said to be weak. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it isn’t. The poor QB-needy teams in 2013 were treated to EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon, while the other clubs outside of Chicago in the supposedly sorry 2017 draft got Mahomes and DeShaun Watson.
Goes to show how much the rebuild race will rest on which team’s QB ends up being a hit. Keep in mind, Ryan Poles probably isn’t getting interviews without Mahomes.
QB aside, Adofo-Mensah has a bunch of other tough decisions to make. Does he want to play the short-term game and keep stars with unfavorable contracts in order not to fall behind? Will he view this as more of a retooling effort?
There’s no fogginess about the direction in Chicago. When a team has a quarterback on his rookie contract, it’s an all out effort to win in the window before that QB has to get paid. Nobody will debate whether a step back and long-term approach is needed.
On the staircase to the top, the Vikings are the floor behind the Bears. But any thought of taking several years on a rebuild doesn’t quite coincide with Justin Jefferson’s rookie contract years. That has to be a factor because if he continues on his present trajectory, Jefferson will eventually be the NFL’s highest paid receiver.
We can go round and round on the rebuild/retool discussion. What we do know is that the Vikings need to set their sights on a Super Bowl, not just hoping to put enough together to make the playoffs. The franchise has settled for position many times in the past and every regime ends up giving way to malaise and frustration.
Breaking the cycle of being trapped in the middle is one of the most difficult things in the NFL to achieve but Adofo-Mensah will have a largely blank canvas in which to paint a winner.
Can he do it before Poles does first?