‘I Don’t Buy This:’ Former Vikings LB Calls Out New GM ‘Moneyball Strategy’

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Courtesy of Vikings Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber (addressed the notion that newly hired general manger Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is only an analytics guy,

When Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman received three-year contract extensions with the Minnesota Vikings in the summer of 2020, Zimmer likened Spielman to himself, calling him a “football guy.”

“Rick’s a football guy,” Zimmer said in August that year, per Vikings.com. “He loves the process of digging out players, understanding schemes, understanding what we’re looking for in each particular position, and then being able to relay it to the scouts. And then working together with us and the coaches. I think the biggest compliment you can give to a general manager is that he’s a football guy.”

The “football guys” fallout just one year into their renewed contracts has opened a new era for the Vikings.

And newly hired general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is not akin to his predecessors.

Adofo-Mensah, coming from an analytics background, is more the “Moneyball guy” — a nickname carrying in the fan base for better or for worse. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber broke down the label and how the movie reference is moot in the NFL.

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Leber Defends GM Who’s More Than Moneyball

Following the leak of the Vikings’ hiring of Adofo-Mensah, Leber took to Twitter to dispel the notion that Adofo-Mensah is just a number cruncher.

“I know the term ‘analytics is an easy tag for Kwesi’s approach, but I don’t buy this whole Moneyball strategy for football. Football doesn’t have the same quantitative repetitions like baseball,” Leber said, referring to the relatively small amount of playing time in an NFL season versus the MLB season.

His original tweet was taken as a dig at Adofo-Mensah. However, Leber clarified that for Adofo-Mensah to have climbed to a general manager position in just nine years as an NFL executive, he has to have something more than just the “Moneyball” approach.

“Wasn’t meant to be negative. It’s the exact opposite. I keep hearing criticism about his ‘moneyball’ approach and I think he’s more than that,” Leber added. “Trying to dispel the idea he’s just crunching numbers.”

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Scouting Background

Spending the past two seasons as the Cleveland Browns‘ vice president of football operations, Adofo-Mensah was considered general manager Andrew Berry’s right-hand man.

The duo pieced together the fifth-best 2021 rookie draft class, per ESPN. First-round pick cornerback Greg Newsome (No. 26 overall) and second-round linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (No. 52 overall) landed on PFF’s 2021 All-Rookie Team. The Browns also saw contributions from late-round rookie wideouts Anthony Schwartz and Demetric Felton.

Before Cleveland, Adofo-Mensah helped the San Francisco 49ers rebuild a Super Bowl-caliber roster still intact today after the Jim Harbaugh era.

After four years as a manager of football research and development, Adofo-Mensah was promoted in 2017 to director of the department that informs both roster management and scouting practices.

San Francisco struck gold in the 2017 draft, selecting George Kittle in the fifth round. The 49ers also drafted All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner in the third round of the 2018 draft. In his final year in San Francisco, Adofo-Mensah was in the draft room that selected Nick Bosa No. 2 overall and Deebo Samuel in the second round. Both players made the Pro Bowl in 2021.

Vikings Insiders Reveal Zimmer’s Unwillingness to Accept Analytics Put Players in Harms Way

Star Tribune beat reporters Ben Goessling and Andrew Krammer recently spoke on the growing acceptance and ambiguity around analytics in the NFL on the Vikings Access podcast.

“Those buzzwords — analytics, data — gets thrown around and not a lot of it gets detailed in sports writing of what that actually means — how it actually manifests itself on the field. One way is through that GPS tracking data (on players’ jerseys) where it’s, ‘Hey, this guy has put on a lot of mileage a lot of stress. His hamstrings are about to give out at this point. Coach, let’s not run him too hard on a Wednesday,” Krammer said. “And Mike Zimmer might say, ‘Bah. What are you talking about? We practice today. We got to play on Sunday.”

Goessling interjected, referring to Anthony Barr re-aggravating a hamstring injury late in the 2021 season, that the team may not have taken the proper precautions.

Here’s the rest of their exchange regarding the past regime, comparing Spielman:

Goessling: Or like a 40-degree day in December when he’s coming back from a hamstring injury… Just to throw one out there.

Kramer: The coach not being receptive of (analytics), that stuff happened too often and cannot happen with whoever the 10th head coach is for the Minnesota Vikings.

Goessling: It happened a lot… we’re hinting at it here, but it happened a lot and we’ll probably have more to say about it going forward… but it happened a lot.

The Star Tribune reporters did credit Spielman for accepting analytics. Still, they compared his understanding of analytics to the Geiko caveman, saying he just wanted the player and not the data surrounding the decision at the end of the day.

“Rick wanted to do the grinding stuff you always did as a scout,” Goessling said. “I’m not saying that’s the wrong way to do it, but if that’s the only way to do it… you’re seeing other NFL teams say ‘Hey, we see baseball. We even see hockey. There are other sports that are more ahead.’ You can embrace this numbers stuff and try to learn from it.”

Whether the Vikings find a coach who can be receptive to Adofo-Mensah’s data-driven background remains to be seen.

Kramer left Vikings ownership a message as the team looks to follow through with its next hire in the coming days.

Get out of his way and let him pick the next head coach,” Kramer said of Adofo-Mensah. “Because you need to make sure those guys are in lockstep.”

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