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Matthew Coller: Vikings Combine pressers headlined by QB evaluations, Jefferson rumors, Kirk status, Hunter and Chandler

Kevin O'Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah addressed the two subjects everyone wants to know about in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of questions to answer this offseason but only two of those questions will completely shape the future of the organization: Who’s playing quarterback? Will they sign Justin Jefferson to a long-term contract extension? Those inquiries took center stage on Tuesday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis as head coach Kevin O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did their annual podium sessions with the media.

The most glaring comment of both sessions was Adofo-Mensah’s seeming frustration over rumors about potentially trading Jefferson. Over the years the GM has been clear about his appreciation for the star receiver and his desire to sign him to a long-term contract extension as soon as possible but there has been speculation that the team might consider moving him rather than inking a mega deal. Adofo-Mensah noted that he promised Jefferson’s side that he would not be talking in detail about their negotiations but said that things that he has seen reported or floated as buzz are “completely false.”

He was asked specifically if he was referring to trade possibilities being tossed about the internet and he said that trading Jefferson “is not something that has once crossed my mind.”

But how are the actual negotiations going with Jefferson? With the increase in salary cap it’s plausible that his side could aim even higher than they did when the two began working on a long-term deal last summer.

“We had a lot of great dialogue last offseason,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I think people forget that deals rarely happen after three years [of a rookie contract] and there’s a reason: Two years left. There’s new money, old money, how you look at contracts. Those are very hard conversations to have so a lot of them don’t get done. We got unbelievably close.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean they are currently unbelievably close. Judging by the fact that TJ Hockenson’s deal took nearly all of training camp to get hashed out, it might end up being late August or early September before we know whether JJ will have a massive extension in hand or be playing on his fifth-year option. Adofo-Mensah hinted that some patience may be required.

“The sooner the better but deadlines spur action,” Adofo-Mensah said. “They have their reasons for waiting, we have our reasons for wanting to do it sooner.”

One X factor in working out a new contract for Jefferson may be the quarterback situation. While Jefferson has never demanded that the team bring back Kirk Cousins publicly he has routinely praised the veteran QB as being underappreciated. Does Jefferson’s opinion play into his negotiation and/or the QB decision?

“Kevin [O’Connell] has actually had a lot of conversations with him about that,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Any great player, especially a wide receiver, should want to have a great quarterback who’s accurate and is gonna throw him the football when he’s open….I think you have got to treat players like partners, you bring them in and have those conversations and that’s something we’ll do with Justin.”

So, how about that quarterback position?

Reading in between the lines might be quite challenging when it comes to Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell’s comments. The GM said he spoke with Cousins recently and was non-committal in his comments about where conversations stand, saying, “we have our interests, he has his, we’ll get to the table to see if we can figure out a creative solution and kind of meet in the middle.”

Feb 27, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talks to the media at the 2024 NFL Combine at Indiana Convention Center.

Feb 27, 2024; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talks to the media at the 2024 NFL Combine at Indiana Convention Center.

O’Connell was typically complimentary of Cousins saying that he had been in contact with the QB on a weekly basis throughout the offseason and he was “not surprised” to see a recent video from Cousins’ social media showing the progress of his recovery from Achilles surgery. The head coach’s comments about the possibility of Cousins returning were stronger than those of the GM.

“He knows how the Minnesota Vikings feel about him, I believe Kirk wants to be a Viking,” O’Connell said. “And we’re going to work to try to make that the outcome. I think anytime you go into situations like this, it is a negotiation, you’re trying to come to an agreement that really works for both sides.”

However, O’Connell did acknowledge that there are “uncertainties this time of year” when it comes to Cousins and the potential of him becoming a free agent.

If Cousins does elect to sign elsewhere, that could put O’Connell in a position to develop a quarterback from the 2024 draft class, which features a number of highly touted prospects (several of whom will throw at the Combine). In the past KOC has mentioned enjoying the process of coming to the Combine and evaluating quarterbacks.

“I think what you try to do is find the traits first and then go back and apply those traits to them doing certain things that maybe they don’t even know they’re doing at the time, maybe ask about them here in Indianapolis or throughout the rest of this process, but you’re just trying to piece together the best possible profile you can on the player,” O’Connell said.

Should the Vikings select a quarterback, a major part of O’Connell’s job from years past would be changed. He has been around veteran QBs in Matthew Stafford while he was the Rams’ offensive coordinator and Cousins for two seasons in Minnesota. Drafting a QB would mean reworking his offense to fit the skills of the rookie.

“I think the biggest thing is understanding how you project the physical and the mental makeup of a quarterback into your offense and then understanding at the quarterback position, maybe the greatest example of that your offense needs to be what your players do well and that can evolve and change with player development, growth,” O’Connell said. “All those things lead you to a place as a coach where you better be able to adapt. You better be able to grow and really not be stuck in your ways in any particular form or fashion.”

If you were working hard to interpret the commentary from the Vikings’ brass, one thing about Adofo-Mensah’s answer to a question about requirements for a good quarterback may have stood out. He talked about the QB needing to execute the offense as it’s called by O’Connell and make plays off schedule.

“When the play doesn’t work, maybe a teammate struggles, how do you overcome it?” Adofo-Mensah said. “That’s something we are going to look for.”

That could pertain to Cousins’ ability to go through his reads and make adjustments quickly but it could also be viewed as KAM looking for more playmaking ability from the position.

Whether it’s Cousins or QBX, the Vikings will need to improve their rushing attack, which struggled over the last two seasons. Both Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell were asked about how they feel about the running back position and there was a good amount of praise for Ty Chandler.

“Specifically with Ty toward the end of the season, I thought seeing him really come on there and kind of really start to assert himself was a real positive for our team,” O’Connell said.

“I think Ty Chandler had a great, great season in the second half there,” Adofo-Mensah said.

The running back market could open up the door for the Vikings to look at top free agents as there are numerous proven backs available in free agency including Tony Pollard, Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley.

On the defensive side Adofo-Mensah did not sound overly optimistic on Danielle Hunter’s chances of returning.

“Always have to remember the players have their needs from their standpoint and I always respect that so we’ll go to the table and…see if we can talk about a way to find a deal to meet in the middle,” Adofo-Mensah said.

Trying to meet in the middle may very well end up the theme of the offseason.

The Vikings’ brass will talk again to the local media on Wednesday to touch on a number of other topics so stay tuned…