Vikings’ Kwesi Adofo-Mensah vs. Bears’ Ryan Poles: The divergent paths of two new GMs

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			Vikings’ Kwesi Adofo-Mensah vs. Bears’ Ryan Poles: The divergent paths of two new GMs
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For better or worse, for the rest of their NFL careers, general managers Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Ryan Poles are going to be attached at the hip.

After making a name for themselves in NFL front offices over the past decade, both emerged as prime candidates last offseason. Ultimately, the Bears hired Poles on Jan. 25, and the Vikings chose Adofo-Mensah the very next day.

The similarities stop there. Over the past 10 months, Adofo-Mensah and Poles have taken completely different approaches to building their teams, the Vikings opting to stay competitive in their pursuit of a Super Bowl, and the Bears opting for what sure looks like a complete rebuild.

With kickoff set for noon Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings (3-1) have more to lose than the Bears (2-2) this week. Let’s take a look at how each team got to this point.

WHAT THE VIKINGS DID

The fact that the Vikings are off to their best start since 2016 probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Remember, co-owner Mark Wilf made it clear last offseason that he expects the team to be “super competitive” in 2022.

That was part of the job description when the Vikings started their search to find a new general manager.

Look at the moves Adofo-Mensah made after he got the job. He hired head coach Kevin O’Connell on Feb. 16, bringing on “a partner” that shared his vision for the franchise. With his head coach in place, Adofo-Mensah got to work on the roster itself, extending quarterback Kirk Cousins, then signing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, and linebacker Jordan Hicks in free agency.

“It didn’t matter who the Vikings hired as their general manager because this was going to be the plan no matter who they brought in,” said Marc Ross, an analyst at NFL Network, who previously served in the front offices of the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. “The ownership wanted to be competitive, and with Kirk Cousins in place, whoever got the job had to have a plan of how they were going to succeed with him.”

That’s exactly what Adofo-Mensah has managed to do so far. All of his decisions have been designed to help the Vikings contend right now, and a month into this season, the team is 3-1 and looking like it might actually have a chance with most of the NFC struggling so far. Of course, a soft opening schedule has helped, too. Games get tougher later in the season.

“I’m going to give Kwesi a ton of credit here because I don’t think I fully grasped how flat the league was going to be,” said Eric Eager, vice president of research and development at SumerSports, who previously worked in the same role at Pro Football Focus. “I think Kwesi did a good job of examining the league and saying, ‘OK, I could tear this thing down, or I could generate some good will by winning some games in Year 1.’ There were a lot of people, myself included, who thought they should’ve torn it down.”

No doubt the most polarizing decision Adofo-Mensah made last offseason was extending Cousins’ contract. He moved forward with the status quo, choosing not to trade for a quarterback or go for a project player in the 2022 NFL Draft.

That looks like another solid decision by Adofo-Mensah. Look at some of the quarterbacks who changed teams this season. Even those that aren’t fond of Cousins would agree he’s a much better option than Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz or Baker Mayfield, among others.

“It wasn’t the best year by all accounts to find a long-term quarterback,” said Dan Graziano, an NFL Insider at ESPN. “There were a lot of imperfect options on the open market, and the Vikings had someone in place that they knew was capable. Plus, Kevin O’Connell had a prior relationship with him. I think they decided to delay the long-term quarterback conversation and decided to go with a pretty good team and see what they could do with it.”

As the Vikings continue to bank wins, it’s also important to remember that Adofo-Mensah is a trailblazer in the industry as the only general manager in the NFL with an analytics background. That fact is not insignificant.

“The moment he doesn’t have success, people are going to be like, ‘See. It didn’t work. We should’ve got some footbally football guy in here,’ ” Eager said. “For him to build some good will in Year 1, whether it’s real or not, I can’t blame him one bit. He bet that the league was going to be bad and felt like they could at least be decent with a bad schedule. He’s absolutely hit on that.”

WHAT THE BEARS DID

After interviewing with the Vikings, and establishing himself as a finalist, Poles ultimately picked the Bears as his preferred landing spot.

“It does appear that Ryan Poles preferred a job where he could blank canvas the whole thing,” Eager said. “He is building that roster completely in his own image.”

Not long after being hired, Poles made a splash, trading star edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for a haul of draft picks. He followed that up by letting receiver Allen Robinson and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks walk in free agency.

It’s worth noting that Poles didn’t exactly step into the best situation. Not only did the previous regime trade the farm to acquire quarterback Justin Fields in the 2021 draft, they doled out a number of hefty contract that left the Bears with virtually no cap space last offseason.

“I’s almost like, ‘What’s another rebuild?’ ” Eager said. “The roster was always going to be pretty bad. It made sense for Ryan Poles to break it down and build it up because if they stink this year no one is firing him.”

Though the Bears have overachieved to this point, and head coach Matt Eberflus has them flying around on defense, the offense has been abysmal to this point. It’s left many to wonder if Fields is the answer at quarterback. The counterpoint is that the Bears haven’t exactly put him in a position to succeed.

“It definitely feels like they’re rebuilding and trying to figure out which areas to invest in,” said Cynthia Frelund, analytics expert at NFL Network. “They started in a space that was very difficult and now they are slowly digging out of that.”

FUTURE OF THE FRANCHISES

The divergent paths of the Vikings and the Bears over the past 10 months raises the question: Which franchise will have more success in the future?

There’s no doubt the Vikings were in a much better position than the Bears for immediate success. They had more talent in place, equipped with a number of weapons on offense, starting with running back Dalvin Cook, star receiver Justin Justin, and veteran receiver Adam Thielen. They also had some playmakers in place on defense in the form edge rusher Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith, among others.

On the flip side, the Bears have way more wiggle room than the Vikings down the the road. They are projected to have a whopping $115 million in cap space next offseason. That should give Poles the ability to put his stamp on the franchise.

“In some ways, it’s going to be more difficult for the Vikings to build a Super Bowl roster, than it will be for the Bears,” Eager said. “In the NFL, there’s a much easier path building from nothing than building from average, so it’ll be interesting to see a few years from now where the rosters are for both teams.”

It’s most likely going to come down to which quarterback Adofo-Mensah and Poles choose to ride moving forward.

Maybe the Vikings stick with Cousins. Maybe the Bears stick with Fields. Maybe a couple of years from now both teams have decided to move on.

“We can compare these guys as much as we want,” Frelund said. “The reality is neither guy has picked a quarterback. That will be the real test. Eventually both guys will have to make that decision, and they will ultimately be judged by that.”

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