The first Vikings general manager search in 16 years put team officials in interviews with the widest range of candidates in club history.
The winning candidate took a path to the GM's office like few in the NFL.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the Browns' vice president of football operations — a 40-year-old with economics degrees from Princeton and Stanford and eight years of experience on Wall Street before nine in the NFL — was hired as the Vikings' new GM on Wednesday, in the first step of a process that could reshape the team's football operation for years to come.
Adofo-Mensah was the Vikings' first GM candidate to get a second interview for the job, coming to the Twin Cities on Tuesday for a day of meetings at the team's facility and dinner with several members of the Vikings' search committee. The team hired him Wednesday morning, reportedly giving him a four-year, $12 million deal.
"Kwesi has a clear philosophy on building a complementary football team," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said in a statement. "His intelligence, progressive mind-set and passion for the game, along with his ability to make thoughtful and intentional decisions, provide a tremendous foundation as he leads our football operations."
Adofo-Mensah will lead the Vikings' head coaching search, which has already included virtual interviews with eight coordinators from playoff teams and figures to pick up now that a GM is in place. The Vikings' current scouting staff remains under contract, and is expected to stay intact for the time being as the team begins preparations for the NFL draft, running from April 28-30.
"I am extremely thankful to the Wilf family and the Vikings organization for giving me the opportunity to lead our football operations and join this respected franchise," Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. "There is so much to appreciate about this organization: an existing nucleus of talent on the roster, top-notch facilities, passionate fans and smart people throughout the building who are committed to winning. I look forward to partnering with our next head coach and our entire football operations staff to begin our work of bringing a Super Bowl to Vikings fans."
Casting a wide net
With Adofo-Mensah (his names are pronounced kway-see uh-doe-foe men-suh) leading the football department, though, there will be a different approach than with Rick Spielman in charge.
The Vikings began their GM search saying they were open to a wide range of options, and conducted interviews with eight candidates ranging from longtime scouts such as the Titans' Monti Ossenfort and Buccaneers' John Spytek to the Eagles' Catherine Raîche, a former lawyer who had worked in the CFL and XFL before becoming the first woman to interview for a NFL GM job when she talked to the Vikings.
They ended the first round of the process with two finalists from starkly different backgrounds: Adofo-Mensah and Ryan Poles, the Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, a former college offensive lineman who had been the team's college scouting director when it drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 draft.
Both had impressed the Vikings in their initial interviews, and the Vikings lined up second interviews with Adofo-Mensah on Tuesday and Poles on Wednesday. But Poles, who had been a finalist for the Giants' GM job, was the top candidate for the Bears' opening, and sources said Chicago made him a strong offer leading up to his second interview with the Bears on Tuesday.
It was a move definitive enough for Poles to accept the Bears job on Tuesday and cancel his interview with the Vikings on Wednesday. Adofo-Mensah, who'd already been in town for his interview, became the sole finalist.
Much like Andrew Miller, the Vikings' chief operating officer who led the team's GM search, Adofo-Mensah came to the front office of a professional team after time on Wall Street. He'd started to take on some scouting tasks for Browns GM Andrew Berry (himself a Harvard graduate) as Cleveland built a front office full of executives with economics degrees.
He will take on a series of important decisions in his first few months with the team. The Vikings need to clear about $13 million of cap space before the start of the league year in March, and could face a choice about whether to keep or trade quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is guaranteed to make $35 million in the final year of his contract. Cousins is one of nine veterans accounting for more than $150 million against the Vikings' 2022 cap, so many of the Vikings' most important choices before the 2022 season will involve their most established players.
As Adofo-Mensah reshapes the Vikings' roster, the new GM's decisionmaking process figures to be influenced by what he learned before he got to the NFL.
"I would say that my whole life, and not just my professional life, I have been really passionate about decisionmaking under uncertainty," he said in a news conference with Cleveland reporters after the Browns hired him in 2020. "I think Wall Street and my commodity trading background is a reflection of that. I think my graduate school in economics is a reflection of that. I think playing basketball is a reflection of that. What draws people to sports from an academic environment is that you get a chance to apply some of these academic principles and the things that happen kind of subconsciously on the court or on the field.
"In a sense, some people see that as very different, but I do not see it as very different in my ability to kind of pool information to make a bet on the direction of the market versus pooling information to making a bet on the direction of an NFL player. I think those are similar processes."
On to selecting a coach
With Adofo-Mensah in place, the Vikings will quickly turn their attention to finding Mike Zimmer's replacement as head coach. They've conducted initial interviews with eight coaches — the Packers' Nathaniel Hackett, the Cowboys' Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn, the Rams' Raheem Morris and Kevin O'Connell, the Eagles' Jonathan Gannon, the Buccaneers' Todd Bowles and the 49ers' DeMeco Ryans — but had planned to hire a GM first, so that person could have a say in picking the next head coach. Coaches still in the NFL playoffs such as Morris, O'Connell and Ryans can't be interviewed again until next week.
Adofo-Mensah worked with both Ryans and O'Connell in San Francisco, and reportedly has a good relationship with Hackett, who coached at Stanford several years before Adofo-Mensah studied there. After the Vikings fired Zimmer and Spielman on Jan. 10, co-owner Mark Wilf talked about the team's desire for strong leaders, collaborators and communicators; sources have said the coaching candidates who interviewed with the Vikings stuck out to the team because of charismatic personalities.
Sources said the Vikings could also look at bringing in an assistant general manager to work with Adofo-Mensah. Raiche, who had an impressive first interview with the Vikings, could be a candidate for such a role.