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Zulgad: Rough draft: Vikings’ general manager continues to follow predecessor’s blueprint

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Georgia vs Alabama
Dec 4, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Lewis Cine (16) celebrates after a pass break-up against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the first half during the SEC championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As word filtered out Thursday evening that the Vikings had dealt the 12th-overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft to the Detroit Lions, the immediate thought was new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had made one of the shrewdest moves possible. That he had not only acquired Detroit’s second pick in the opening round — the 32nd and final selection that the Lions had gotten from the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams in the Matthew Stafford deal — but he also had convinced the often-woeful Lions to send him their 2023 first-round pick.

The Lions, coming off a 3-13-1 season under first-year coach Dan Campbell, haven’t been anywhere near .500 for four consecutive seasons. Landing Detroit’s first-round pick next year would have either positioned the Vikings to take one of the top quarterbacks available in 2023 with the Lions’ selection, or given Minnesota the ability to trade the Lions’ pick and its own in order to move up to grab a QB.

It would have been a genius move — especially since next year’s draft is projected to have the type of top-end quarterback talent this year’s didn’t.

The only problem was Vikings fans quickly found out that wasn’t the move Adofo-Mensah had made. Instead, he willingly moved down 20 spots, enabling the Lions to take Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, and also gave up the 46th pick in the second round in order to get picks 32, as well as pick 34 in the second round and pick 66 in the third round.

Somewhere former Vikings GM Rick Spielman had to be smiling.

The Vikings moved up in the second round and got an additional third-round pick to give them four selections in the top 77. Minnesota grabbed Georgia safety Lewis Cine (pronounced Seen) with the final pick of the first round, landing them a guy who is expected to be a day one starter. But Adofo-Mensah passed up Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie, not to mention Williams, by going so far back in the draft.

Projecting whether Cine will be a long-term contributor to the Vikings defense or a bust is impossible at this point, but it’s safe to say that Adofo-Mensah’s first move as the Vikings’ GM was reminiscent of what his predecessor did and was truly underwhelming. It also raises questions as to what Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings are doing.

After firing Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer, the expectation was the Vikings might hit the reset button coming off a second consecutive season in which they finished under .500 and didn’t qualify for the playoffs. But after Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell were hired, the pair made sure everyone knew they felt this team could win immediately and began the process of bringing back several of the players Spielman had acquired. This included giving quarterback Kirk Cousins a one-year, $35 million extension that will keep him under contract through 2023 and includes a no-trade clause.

So if the Vikings were all in for the coming season, common sense seemed to indicate they would either trade up or stay put at 12 to grab the best player available in the draft. There was speculation they might trade back with Pittsburgh at No. 20, if the Steelers wanted to move up to take a quarterback, or even make a deal with Kansas City (which had picks 29 and 30).

The feeling here was that would be fine, as long as Adofo-Mensah came away with a 2023 first-round pick from one of those teams to begin the process of finding Cousins’ replacement.

There is still time for the Vikings to find a way to get another 2023 first-round pick in order to accomplish this. But as far as explaining the team’s current strategy, that is becoming more difficult. It’s also becoming harder to explain why Spielman was fired, given Adofo-Mensah seems to have found Spielman’s blueprint in his desk drawer and is following it line by line.

Sign veteran free agents on the defensive side of the ball? Check. Sign a few inexpensive offensive linemen? Check. Write another big check for a statistically successful, but almost always .500 quarterback? Check. Trade back in the draft to accumulate more picks? Check.

At some point, you would think this has to end and that Adofo-Mensah is going to want to put his stamp on the franchise. That he’s going to make an impact move that will have everyone saying, “Wow, these aren’t Spielman’s Vikings anymore.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t come close to happening on Thursday night.