INDIANAPOLIS — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah sat at the head of three circular tables that were dragged together on the top floor of the JW Marriot Hotel and talked around the elephant in the middle of Downtown Indianapolis: What the Minnesota Vikings are going to do with Kirk Cousins.
With 25 minutes available to shoot the breeze, Adofo-Mensah was ready to face inquiries on a bunch of topics, yet every subject is so far in second place in terms of relevance in comparison to the quarterback situation that it feels trivial to pose questions about anything else.
What do you think of the offensive line, Kwesi? You love Ezra Cleveland? Cool but let’s get back to the quarterback…
Whatcha thinking about fitting players to Ed Donatell’s system? You’re going to get him good players and he will use them the right way? Awesome but about the quarterback…
Reporters need to ask about the quarterback in lots of different ways because any insight into the QB situation is more meaningful than any detailed dissertation about draft analytics or the 3-4 defense or whether Kwesi and Kevin are collaborating so much that they bought a double bike to ride around the TCO Performance Center grounds.
The first attempt was direct. What is going on with Kirk Cousins?
“I talked with Mike [McCartney] in depth and he's a great person to me, we have mutual friends, and we had dinner together but we just talked generally about our vision for the team and what we want to accomplish and look, those conversations are ongoing and I can't tell you anything at this moment,” Adofo-Mensah said.
Oh, Adofo-Mensah provides a clue: That he’s met with Cousins’ agent.
“We will do whatever's best for the Minnesota Vikings and Kirk will do what's best for Kirk,” Adofo-Mensah said. “But I think there's a lot of middle ground for us to work well together.”
When Adofo-Mensah says that Kirk will do what’s best for Kirk, does that mean hitting free agency after the 2022 season?
There’s a very strong argument for Cousins to play out his contract and then have the freedom to pick his own location and strike when the NFL money is about to explode like an oil well with new TV contracts. In saying that there’s middle ground, does that imply that Cousins’ agent would be willing to reduce his 2022 cap hit via void years or whatever other shenanigans that teams use in order to make the cap disappear?
The next question in line for Adofo-Mensah was whether the Cousins decision needed to be the first piece to the offseason puzzle. This is basically a way of asking for a timeline on the Cousins decision.
“To win at the highest level, it's pretty hard to do it without good quarterback play,” the Vikings’ GM said. “So globally, that question needs to be answered. Now does it need to be answered this year versus the next five years and things like that. It's trying to be smart about how you try to answer that question generally to sustain success in the NFL. But again, he's under contract, Kirk's our quarterback.”
Two things here: The mention of Cousins being under contract reads like it’s leaving out the next three words of the sentence (“for right now”). Also when Adofo-Mensah talks about next year versus five years, it appears to be touching on the idea that Cousins might not be the long-term option and that the long-term option may not be answered right away.
Next up, a fundamental question: How much did Mike Zimmer hold back Cousins? (Of course, it was asked in a more Minnesota Nice way).
“Especially coming from my background, I don't always know if they do it the right way [when evaluating quarterbacks],” Adofo-Mensah said. “Yards, things like that, it's not always the best way to judge a quarterback.”
Nobody thought Adofo-Mensah used fantasy stats on Wall Street, right?
“You start a play versus a certain look and maybe a certain pressure's coming and your best play might be an incompletion and people don't realize that, so how do you start at it from a play level and take that to a macro level and really evaluate his position.”
This word salad is harkening to a common idea with Cousins: If you give him time to throw, he will be good. The numbers certainly confirm that as Cousins ranked second in the NFL in clean-pocket QB rating. Only minutes before Adofo-Mensah met with the TC beat in the JW, he was across the street at the podium inside the convention center saying, “When the odds are shifted in his favor, he gets the most out of it.”
Does this mean the Vikings’ plan if Cousins stays is to call more second down passes and sign some lineman and let the chips fall where they may? Possibly.
“In this world and probably in general that we try and focus on things people can't do,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We try to focus on what he can do.”
Adofo-Mensah appears familiar with the well-established criticisms of Cousins’ playmaking and off-schedule abilities.
Now here’s where it gets spicy. Kwesi, do you believe that this is a weak QB draft class?
“It's funny, I just had a conversation with somebody about that, I would probably go back and ask people what they thought about Mahomes and Watson's class. I thought they said the same thing,” Adofo-Mensah said.
He’s not wrong. In 2017, draft analysts and NFL teams were in lockstep: The QB class was weak. NFL.com said it was “lacking elite talent” and the league took two running backs before Mahomes and Watson. That wasn’t an outlier result either. If the NFL was actually good at analyzing quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen would have gone No. 1 and No. 2 overall in 2018. Which leads to Adofo-Mensah’s next point…
“You're just guessing, you're predicting,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We have information today and you watch a player and then you see in five years what they are like. Those things don't always line up. People come through, they improve their mechanics, they get different coaching, they get in different schemes that fit their skillsets. I'm not going to sit here and stamp that this isn't a great quarterback because I see a lot of good stuff on film from these guys.”
Some rare honesty amongst NFL decision makers. But the smartest people usually know what they don’t know and anybody who claims to have the magic potion to figure out quarterbacks is selling snake oil.
Adofo-Mensah proceeded to rave about what he heard from the quarterbacks in interviews. Not that it’s a surprise but the Vikings are indeed meeting with the QBs.
“We interviewed them yesterday and, man, it's incredible… you see it from these guys and they come in and you're trying to grade them on their recall and it's like, they're all great. It's some level of great,” Adofo-Mensah said. “You're trying to mince small details there. Again, I'm not going to sit here and stamp this quarterback class. I think there's a lot of talent there and we'll see what happens.”
Yes we will.
On the matter of the general unpredictability of the draft, this is where Adofo-Mensah is somewhat of a walking contradiction. His whole deal is being the Wall Street guy who is supposed to have the numbers to answer the league’s toughest test: The draft. But the numbers say that the answers aren’t there. He explained that the goal is to increase the odds slightly in his team’s favor by spotting the areas where they provably can give themselves a better chance to draft a hit (or avoid a miss).
“Yes, the draft is random, but it's more random in certain spots than others, right?” Adofo-Mensah said. “Trying to address certain needs that you need, you probably should do it in the more high-probability places in the draft. And there are probably certain positions that are harder. That's where some of the studying, the data that's come in, there are certain things that you learn about best methods going forward.”
Enter Kevin O’Connell.
The Vikings’ new head coach, already having inadvertently made a headline during a WCCO Radio interview in which he was a tad overly meta about the situation, was not intending to do so again.
“I’m excited about Kirk being our quarterback,” O’Connell said, essentially retracting a comment during the CCO interview about not knowing if Cousins would be the QB to start training camp. “With that comes the opportunity to build an offensive system around things that he does well, which are a lot of things.”
However, when O’Connell was asked about making plays outside of the structure of the offense, he went deep into its importance.
“Being able to create the off schedule, everybody wants that,” he said. “You’re in search of that as part of your offense sometimes because it’s the off-schedule things that you didn’t plan for that can be game-changing plays…Off schedule doesn’t always mean athletic ability to outrun an opponent, get on the edge, and launch a ball 60 yards…Maybe it’s a second window throw or a second reaction type throw.”
O’Connell got his bite at the apple talking about the QB draft class too. It wasn’t that long ago that he was at the Combine doing interviews with teams. So what is he looking for when grilling the next crop of signal callers? He pointed to three questions:
“Do they love football? What’s their capacity to recall the things they’ve already been taught and then what is their capacity to learn the things we’ll directly try to teach them moving forward?” O’Connell said. “It’s a lot to figure out in a 15-minute sit-down setting, whether you’re using film or the white board.”
And how do you know if they love football?
“If a guy sits up in his chair or sparks up when you ask a question about a good play or a bad play,” the new coach said. “Our position coaches have put together some great tapes with some of these guys and, shoot, I know some of my greatest memories of the combine are walking into some of those formals and the only plays we watched were of me giving the ball to the other team and trying to explain the why and what happened.”
Maybe O’Connell’s experience with quarterbacks is one of those edges that Adofo-Mensah was talking about that could push the odds in the Vikings’ favor.
The Vikings’ new head coach wrapped up his media session by lighting up like a Christmas tree when he was asked about Matthew Stafford’s no-look throw. Is that a clue? I don’t know.
Maybe they will have a new contract for Cousins before any of the QB prospects holds their pro day. After 50 minutes total with the new brass in Indy, it’s still pretty hard to tell what’s next.