The No. 1 story of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft as a general manager, more than any individual player the Vikings selected, centers around the two major trades he made with NFC North rivals.
On Thursday night, Adofo-Mensah sent the No. 12 and 46 picks to the Lions for picks 32, 34, and 66. We knew a trade down from 12 was a strong possibility, but to move down 20 spots in a deal with a divisional opponent was shocking.
The move was met with a mostly negative reaction from fans. Not only did the Vikings pass on players like Jameson Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Jordan Davis, and Trent McDuffie, but they now have to face Williams twice a year after he was selected by the Lions at 12. Instead of taking the draft’s consensus top safety in Hamilton, the Vikings moved back 20 spots and took a different safety: Georgia’s Lewis Cinema.
The biggest question some fans had was whether or not Adofo-Mensah got enough back in the trade. Using the standard charts that assign a points value to every draft pick — the traditional Jimmy Johnson version and the more recent Rich Hill version — the Vikings lost the deal. Using newer, predictive charts that focus on talent cliffs, contract value, and career outcomes for non-quarterbacks (judged by metrics like Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value and Pro Football Focus’s Wins Above Replacement), the Vikings won it. Instead of getting one crack at a top player at 12, Adofo-Mensah elected to get two at 32 and 34 while moving back from 46 to 66 in order to do so.
“You typically want to target parts of the board because it’s an auction,” Adofo-Mensah said. “It’s a first-price auction. All you need is one name to be called, so you always want to put yourself in a situation, ‘Hey, there’s five good players in this area of the board or five very good players in this area of the board.’ As you go down the draft, and there’s a sense that those five players that you would take at that pick are going to be available 20 picks later, that becomes an opportunity, right? evolve as the board takes shape and goes on.”
You can look at the trade in multiple ways. There’s evidence that the Vikings made the smart move from an analytical sense, given what we know about how non-QBs drafted 12th vs. 32nd/34th do in the NFL and what kind of surplus value they provide while on their rookie contracts. This is a team that has gone 15-18 over the past two years and isn’t one player away from a Super Bowl; from that lens, you can understand Adofo-Mensah wanting to get two players with star potential instead of one.
At the same time, it’s hard not to think the Vikings could’ve gotten more of a return from the Lions, based on market value and the precedent of teams using the traditional charts to shape trades. Even if the process behind trading down was smart, could they really not have gotten a future first-round pick from the Lions? Even giving up the 77th pick instead of the 46th pick in the deal would’ve made the value even on the Rich Hill chart.
Adofo-Mensah said the approach to making deals during the draft is about more than just the charts.
“A lot of times people talk about the chart, and the chart is kind of a guideline,” he said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t follow the chart, but really, you’re comparing different alternatives. If your alternative is to stay and pick, that is some value, inherent happiness, whatever it is. If you trade, there is some inherent happiness, so if you’re more happy trading back and getting anything than picking the player you would pick, you should do that. scenario thing, ‘Here are the different scenarios we could be in if we pick this player or not,’ and just compare them and see how we are. as well.”
In regards to the return the Vikings got, Adofo-Mensah said this: “It’s not like you call somebody if you were buying a house and saying, hey, it should be worth this. Well, they might not pay that. Something is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.”
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As Adofo-Mensah’s first draft move in the GM seat, the trade with the Lions will be dissected and debated for years to come. It’ll be easy to criticize if Williams becomes a star in Detroit, if Hamilton becomes a star in Baltimore, or even in the likely event somebody picked in the 12-31 range at a position of need for the Vikings becomes a star. The focus should be on the process of the move the Vikings made at the moment, but that’s not how narratives work or how most fans operate. Of course, the opposite is also true; if Cine becomes a star in Minnesota as Harrison Smith’s eventual replacement, that will warrant plenty of praise.
The first trade Adofo-Mensah made didn’t make the second one any less surprising. After he was reportedly talked out of trading the 32nd pick to the Packers by others in the Vikings’ draft room late on Thursday night, he accepted a deal for the 34th pick early on Friday evening. Green Bay came up to get North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson at 34, sending the 53rd and 59th picks to Minnesota.
What was starting about this trade was the team the Vikings traded with. What’s not in question is who won the trade, value-wise. There isn’t a chart out there that says the Packers got the better end of a deal that saw them give up two second-round picks in exchange for one. Of course, if Watson becomes a star, the Packers won’t care about that, and the Vikings may get criticized in hindsight. But using what we know now, this was a big win for Adofo-Mensah that eased some of the concerns about the previous night’s trade.
Still, even Adofo-Mensah knew the optics were a bit unusual. really? Two trades with divisional opponents that resulted in them taking wide receivers, when the Vikings — at least at the time — had a major weakness at cornerback?
“A call was made, and obviously we thought heavily about, again, doing another trade [within] our division — for another receiver — and to that point on the board, I don’t believe we had a corner yet,” he said. “So believe me, the gravity of that was not lost on me, but again, you’ re supposed to make calculated decisions, and we did, and ultimately I think we were rewarded with what we did in the end.”
Adofo-Mensah also made an interesting point after both trades. People will knock the Vikings for “allowing” the Lions and Packers to land receivers who could give their secondary trouble for a long time, but it’s not like the Vikings were the only thing standing between those teams and those players. Detroit and Green Bay probably could’ve found other trade partners that would’ve enabled them to come up and get Williams and Watson. So, Adofo-Mensah said, why not get the value of doing the deal themselves?
“The other thing people should realize is that they can call other teams, so we were pretty sure that the team behind us was going to get the same deal,” he said. “Having that team get that player and us not get those picks isn’t a better outcome. The only better outcome would have been to take that player, but in our situation, we didn’t think that was the best decision to do. … We’d rather reap the benefits of the trade if we so thought. We are OK. This is a great league, those are great organizations and we’re going to have to compete with them either way and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Not long after making the Packers trade, Adofo-Mensah moved up from 53 to 42 via a deal with the Colts and landed Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., a first-round talent who dropped due to injury concerns. Booth has a special upside and gives the Vikings someone who can cover Williams and Watson going forward. Adofo-Mensah would go on to make three more trades on Day 3.
The trades with the Lions and Packers, due to the nature of the teams, picks, and players involved, will be analyzed for many years. But whatever your thoughts on them may have been at the moment, consider that there’s merit to Adofo-Mensah’s rationale behind making them. Starting this fall, let’s see how it all plays out.
“It’s something you think about,” Adofo-Mensah said about trading within the division and having to see a player like Williams twice a year. “Me and Kevin talked about it. He was one of our favorite players in the draft, but we got a pretty bad dude on our team, and we can add other pieces on the other side. Again, they have to play the Minnesota Vikings We don’t have to play Jameson Williams. They have to play the Minnesota Vikings.”
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