Scoggins: Vikings open camp in win-now mode, with a new culture

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Kwesi Adofo-Mensah learned a valuable lesson in Football Management 101 with comments he made that appeared in a national publication this week. As the new face of the Vikings operation, his statements will be scrutinized and dissected for their overarching meaning.

"My wife tells me sometimes to say less," the general manager joked Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters on the eve of the first training camp practice, Adofo-Mensah sought to explain a few quotes he gave to USA Today this spring. Among the more interesting nuggets was this statement: "You never want to go full Rams."

Translation: Going all-in in pursuit of a championship can be dangerous to roster management.

The Rams, of course, hold a different view, as they gaze at the diamonds in their Super Bowl rings.

Adofo-Mensah clearly felt bad about his word choice.

"That was probably not the best turn of phrase," he said.

The Vikings' philosophical approach has been a point of debate since the Wilf ownership group executed a dramatic organizational pivot in overhauling their leadership.

Mark Wilf insisted that ownership expects the Vikings to remain "super-competitive" this season. Adofo-Mensah labeled his blueprint as a "competitive rebuild." A vocal segment of fans screamed for a roster teardown, worried that the team is stuck in mediocrity and delaying a necessary rebuild.

In words and roster construction, the Vikings' strategy aligns closer to being all-in than starting over. The new front office chose a "run it back" approach, though, to be fair, a salary cap mess left by his predecessor Rick Spielman left little wiggle room.

The underlying message though: The failures last season were a Mike Zimmer problem, not an indictment on personnel.

Thus, the 2022 season should provide a verdict on the degree to which Zimmer and his staff held back a team top-heavy with individual star talent. Win and we'll believe that to be true. Lose and we'll wonder what problems run deeper.

The Vikings are banking on the notion that a change at head coach and instilling a positive workplace environment will show results in the win column.

"This team had a good baseline to start," Adofo-Mensah said. "We tried, on the margins, to correct some key things that could happen. Small things that could have a bigger impact."

Their approach makes sense. It's the right path because the alternative — a full-scale rebuild — simply isn't practical with the roster they inherited.

A team that includes Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith isn't bottoming out. Nor should the organization ever consider wasting years of Jefferson's career, or Cook's, or Hunter's, with an eye on the future.

The focus should be on the present. Jefferson has produced two historic seasons statistically but has yet to experience the playoffs. The clock is ticking to maximize his individual greatness.

Cousins has become the most polarizing athlete in recent Minnesota sports history, but even his detractors must admit that Cousins gives the team a much higher probability of winning this season than if Adofo-Mensah had maneuvered to start over at that position with a rookie or a veteran to bridge the gap. Adofo-Mensah bought some time before having to make that legacy-defining decision by giving Cousins a one-year extension in March, putting him under contract through the 2023 season.

Flaws with the roster got exposed the past few seasons, but their talent at skill positions on offense alone is such that a "super-competitive" mindset should not come as a surprise. The Wilfs are fans who have no patience or desire to see their investment slog through a rebuild.

"In football a lot of times we tell ourselves that we're there, that this is the year," Adofo-Mensah said. "To be able to put all your chips in at the poker table is, a lot of times, not wise."

Adofo-Mensah phrased it awkwardly to USA Today, but his assertion that the Vikings are in a different position than the 2021 Rams is correct. The trick is to avoid getting stuck in the middle: Too good to rebuild, not good enough to contend.

The Vikings believe they see a path out of their rut, confident that a new coaching staff will squeeze more out of a roster that didn't change all that much.