It's been a long time since the Minnesota Vikings have had different leadership in their front office. General manager Rick Spielman, fired on Monday along with head coach Mike Zimmer, had been with the franchise since 2006. For the first six years of his tenure, he was part of a "triangle of authority" of decision-makers along with Rob Brzezinski and the team's head coach — first Brad Childress and then Leslie Frazier. Spielman was given the GM title and the final say on all decisions in 2012, a position he held for ten years.
Zimmer's firing didn't come as a surprise to anyone. Spielman's did. Many thought he would be moved into a cushy senior role, a la John Elway in Denver, but stripped of some of his authority. Instead, the Vikings got rid of him entirely after 16 years. Reports emerged on Monday that Spielman wasn't expecting to be let go and had even begun looking into head coaching candidates last week in anticipation of leading the Vikings' search for Zimmer's replacement.
He won't have that opportunity after all. The Vikings will conduct an internal search for a new general manager, who will become part of the search for the team's next head coach. Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf confirmed on Monday that the GM hiring will come first, and that both searches are already underway. "We strongly believe we need new leadership to elevate our football team," Wilf said.
Although he wouldn't specify who will be leading the search, Wilf did say this: "We have a lot of leadership on the business side as well as on the football ops side who are going to participate on the committee. We were just having a conversation on how we’re going to go about it and divvy up responsibility but believe me, the cupboard is not bare."
There's buzz that COO Andrew Miller will be involved in the GM search, as will Brzezinski, who has been in the team's front office since 1999.
"We know as ownership we’re not making the decision ourselves," Wilf said. "We have a lot of great input with a lot of great thought going into it from around this building and around the league, and that’s how we’re going to make this decision. We’re going to be thoughtful about it. We’re not going to rush into it. We’re going to be deliberate. We’re going to be thorough. We’re not going to say we have to have this or we have to have that. We want to get people that are great communicators, great leaders and know how to create a culture that people can thrive in on the field, off the field, all around."
I would imagine that the Wilfs aren't looking to promote from within when making a move like this. If they do consider it, the two logical options would be co-directors of player personnel Jamaal Stephenson and Ryan Monnens.
But for now, let's ignore those two and take a look at 15 external candidates to be the Vikings' next general manager. As of this writing, the team has not yet submitted any official interview requests for GM candidates, but that is likely to change very soon. The two other teams with GM openings — the Bears and Giants — have already begun doing so.
Ed Dodds, Colts assistant GM
Dodds interviewed multiple times for GM openings last year and is already doing so again this year. He was hired by Colts GM Chris Ballard in 2016 after a long, successful run as a scout with the Seahawks. The Colts have mostly drafted well under Ballard and Dodds, landing stars like Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, and Darius Leonard.
Head coach candidate link: Colts DC Matt Eberflus
Will McClay, Cowboys VP of player personnel
McClay has an interesting background. A former player at Rice University and in the Arena League, he was then a coach and executive in the Arena League for 16 years. He eventually made the jump to the NFL and has been in the Cowboys' front office since 2009. Dallas has one of the more talented rosters in the league and has won four NFC East titles in the last eight seasons. McClay is getting a lot of buzz as a GM candidate, but it's also possible he's content with his current job.
Head coach candidate link: Cowboys DC Dan Quinn
Jeff Ireland, Saints assistant GM and former Dolphins GM
A former college kicker, Ireland worked his way up the scouting ladder with the Chiefs and Cowboys before landing the Dolphins' GM job in 2008. Miami didn't have much success during his run, which got Ireland fired in 2013. But he joined the Saints' front office a couple years later and has been a major part of their success since then. Sean Payton has heaped praise on Ireland, who helped put together perhaps the greatest modern NFL draft class we've seen in 2017.
Joe Schoen, Bills assistant GM
The Bills' turnaround under GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott has been remarkable, so naturally, teams are going to want to poach talent from both their front office and coaching staff. Schoen, who is Beane's right-hand man, is already getting a lot of interest in this cycle from the Bears and Giants. Before joining the Bills, he was the Dolphins' director of player personnel.
Head coach candidate link: Bills OC Brian Daboll
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Browns VP of football operations
One of the most interesting candidates on this list is Adofo-Mensah, a 33-year-old former Princeton basketball player who worked on Wall Street prior to getting his first NFL job with the 49ers in 2013. He's been one of the top voices in the front office for Browns GM Andrew Berry. Adofo-Mensah, who has a background in analytics, interviewed for the Panthers' GM opening last year and will get interviews again this year.
Brandon Brown, Eagles director of player personnel
A former college DB, Brown has been with the Eagles since 2017 after getting his first NFL job with the Colts. He's another rising young star at just 33 years old. Brown has a law degree and worked in compliance at Boston College, giving him a diverse background. He has experience in both college and pro scouting during his NFL career.
Head coach candidate link: Former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson
Rex Hogan, Jets assistant GM
No, the Jets are not exactly the model NFL franchise. But Hogan has a lot of respect around the league and previously worked for the Colts and Bears. He's reportedly drawn comparisons to Ballard and is expected to be a candidate for the Vikings' and Bears' openings.
Monti Ossenfort, Titans director of player personnel
Local angle time! Ossenfort grew up in Luverne, Minnesota, played quarterback at Minnesota-Morris and broke into the NFL as a Vikings training camp intern in 2001. He eventually spent 15 years with the Patriots, working his way up to becoming New England's director of college scouting. Ossenfort then joined former Patriots colleague Jon Robinson, now the Titans' GM, in Nashville in 2020. He's likely going to become a GM sooner or later.
Head coach candidate link: Titans OC Todd Downing
John Dorsey, Lions senior personnel executive and former NFL GM
There are several options out there with previous NFL GM experience, including Ireland and Dorsey. The former Packers linebacker and director of scouting was the Chiefs' GM from 2013-17, most notably drafting Patrick Mahomes. Dorsey then spent the next two seasons as the Browns' GM. He has experience doing the job, but was let go twice in a two-year span and would be a risky hire for Minnesota.
Head coach candidate link: Former Chiefs OC Doug Pederson (this might be a stretch)
Thomas Dimitroff, former Falcons GM
Another option in the former GM category is Dimitroff, who was in the role for longer than Ireland or Dorsey ever were. He spent 13 seasons as the Falcons' GM, going 109-88 with a Super Bowl appearance before being let go in 2020. Prior to his Atlanta tenure, Dimitroff won two Super Bowls as the Patriots' director of college scouting from 2003-07.
Louis Riddick, ESPN analyst
Wilf said that the Vikings will leave no stone unturned in their GM search, so they could take a serious look at Riddick, who is currently a Monday Night Football color commentator. The former NFL safety previously worked in the front offices of Washington and the Eagles for over a decade. He interviewed for three GM openings last year.
Ryan Poles, Chiefs executive director of player personnel
Poles has been with the Chiefs for the last 13 years and is a key part of GM Brett Veach's front office. The former Boston College offensive lineman (he blocked for Matt Ryan for several years in the mid-2000s) came up on the college scouting side but his role has broadened in recent years. He was a finalist for the Panthers job last year and will interview with the Giants soon.
Head coach candidate link: Chiefs OC Eric Bienemy
Mike Borgonzi, Chiefs assistant GM
The Chiefs have been one of the most successful franchises in the league in recent years, so it makes sense that both of Veach's top assistants could get consideration for GM openings. Borgonzi, a Brown alum, climbed the ranks in various roles under Scott Pioli, Dorsey, and then Veach. He's been a big part of their success, as has Poles.
Head coach candidate link: Chiefs OC Eric Bienemy
Ryan Cowden, Titans VP of player personnel
Ossenfort isn't the only one in the Titans' front office getting GM buzz. Cowden has been with the Titans for the past six years after spending 16 seasons with the Panthers, where he reached two Super Bowls. Cowden has a ton of experience in both pro and college scouting.
Head coach candidate link: Titans OC Todd Downing
Adrian Wilson, Cardinals VP of pro personnel
Wilson is certainly the most talented former player in this group, having made five Pro Bowls in 12 years as a safety for the Cardinals. After his playing days, he became a scout for Arizona, then their director of scouting, and is now in a broader front office role as GM Steve Keim's right-hand man. The Cardinals have built a strong roster in recent years that finally got them back to the playoffs this season.
As a concluding note, there are tons of possible GM candidates out there. I feel more confident that the Vikings' next head coach will come from my list of 17 candidates than I do that their GM will come from this list. With that said, I've seen some buzz on all of these guys in doing research lately. For a lengthier list of candidates, check out this one from SI insider Albert Breer or this one from Mike Sando at The Athletic ($).
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