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Favorite emerges in Vikings’ search for D-coordinator; former Colts GM joins front office

NFL: Denver Broncos Training Camp
Jul 28, 2021; Englewood, CO, United States; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell during training camp at UCHealth Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings are expected to introduce Kevin O’Connell as their new head coach next week after the Rams play the Bengals on Sunday in the Super Bowl. Could Minnesota introduce its next defensive coordinator at the same time?

Ed Donatell, 65, who spent the past three seasons coordinating the Denver Broncos’ defense and was recently hired as a senior defensive assistant by Seattle, has emerged as the favorite to become the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, according to ESPN. There are no indications the Seahawks would object to Donatell moving on so quickly.

Donatell has been an assistant or coordinator in the NFL since 1990, working for the Jets, Broncos, Packers, Falcons, Jets (again), Washington, Broncos (again), 49ers, Bears and Broncos (again). He was defensive coordinator for the Packers from 2000 to 2003, the Falcons from 2004 to 2006, Washington in 2008 and then the Broncos. Donatell’s other stops were to serve as a defensive backs coach.

Although he has never been a head coach, Donatell would bring plenty of experience to the 36-year-old O’Connell’s staff.

Other reported candidates for the defensive coordinator’s job have included Anthony Weaver, who has served as Baltimore’s defensive line coach and run game coordinator; former Bears DC Sean Desai; and Aubrey Pleasant, the Lions’ defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator.

The Broncos ran a 3-4 defense this season under former coach Vic Fangio and Donatell and Weaver, Desai and Pleasant also come from 3-4 backgrounds.

The Vikings did make a hire on Wednesday, naming former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson to a senior personnel position. Grigson spent the past two seasons with the Browns as their senior football advisor, working with new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Grigson’s role included, “contributing to all roster and strategic football decisions,” according to the Vikings’ press release.

“I am thrilled to add Ryan Grigson to our staff,” Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. “During my time in Cleveland, I was immediately drawn to Ryan’s passion for the game, big heart, and reflective wisdom. He is a talented evaluator who brings energy and humor to every discussion. As a former general manager in the NFL, Ryan offers complementary skills to help me in my transition in becoming general manager and brings energy and humor to the room.” (I’ve been covering the NFL since 2003 and have never before seen the word humor in a quote or statement.)

Grigson was the Colts general manager from 2012 to 2016 and has 23 years of front office experience. That includes serving as a senior football consultant with the Seahawks in 2018 and ’19.

Grigson, who will turn 50 on Feb. 23, was fired by the Colts in January 2017 after the team missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. He had drafted quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts were 49-31 during his five seasons as general manager. They made the postseason three times. Grigson was fired less than one year after the Colts signed him to a four-year extension through 2019.

Grigson took the hit for the Colts’ inability to surround Luck with the talent needed through free agency and the draft. The main drawbacks were his struggles to build a defense — the Colts used only four of 14 draft picks in the first three rounds on defense under Grigson — and an offensive line that could protect Luck.