Vikings: Kirk Cousins’ will be back in 2023, but what about Ed Donatell?
Head coach Kevin O’Connell, still in ‘evaluation mode,’ and had no news on whether the defensive coordinator will return
EAGAN, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell spoke with optimism about the future on Wednesday, but wouldn’t say whether it will include defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.
The Vikings went 13-4 during the regular season and won the NFC North for the first time since 2017, but that was despite the team ranking No. 31 in the NFL in total defense. That unit faltered in last Sunday’s 31-24 home playoff loss to the New York Giants.
In a season-ending news conference at the TCO Performance Center, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell were asked if Donatell will return next season, and O’Connell responded. Like the general manager and head coach, Donatell, 65, is coming off his first season with the Vikings.
“I’m (evaluating) my entire coaching staff,’’ O’Connell said. “I’m in evaluation mode of everything that we did. I think that’s really important. Part of self-reflecting and part of us reflecting as a staff is making sure we’re taking a look at every aspect of our football team and our coaching staff to make sure that we’re doing everything within my responsibility and my power to put our players and our organization in the best possible situation to have success. So, that is an ongoing process.”
Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell both said it was tough how the season ended, with the third-seeded Vikings falling to the No. 6 Giants in the first round of the NFC playoffs. But Adofo-Mensah said the season “laid a foundation of where we want to go.” And O’Connell said the Vikings are “talking about the next step, a championship standard.”
For 2023, the plan will include quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has one year left on his contract with a salary-cap number of $36.25 million. Adofo-Mensah was asked if the Vikings might extend Cousins’ contract this offseason, like they did last March, but he preferred to only address the upcoming season.
“It’s our expectation that he’ll be our quarterback,’’ Adofo-Mensah said. “I can’t say exactly how (his contractual situation) would look. Again, we have everything at our disposal. We’ll consider all those things just like we would with everyone else on the roster.”
Adofo-Mensah said the Vikings have started contract negotiations with wide receiver Justin Jefferson, eligible for an extension this offseason. Jefferson is under contract for 2023 for $2.399 million, and the Vikings will pick up his fifth-year option for 2024 this spring for an amount expected to be between $19 million and $20 million.
But Jefferson is expected at some point to command a deal worth more than $30 million a year that would kick in for the 2025 season. Adolfo-Mensah called Jefferson a “special player, a special person” and said that dealing with such a big-money issue would be one of the “champagne problems” for the team.
“We’ve had initial dialogue with his agent, all those things,” Adofo-Mensah said. “We get back to that in the planning but, again, it really starts from the player, the person, and we’ll work on solutions from there on.”
With Cousins and Jefferson playing a starring role, the Vikings were seventh in the NFL in total offense. O’Connell called it “a good year for our offense” and said he believes the unit can be even better within Cousins’ second season leading it.
“(I was impressed) with his toughness, his durability, his ability to go out there each and every week and try to put our offense in optimal situations (and with) his leadership, his ownership of the offense,’’ O’Connell said. “I’m excited for not only Kirk but all our players who will now have a year in the system and can really build off of that.”
Adofo-Mensah made note of the Vikings going a “historic” 11-0 in one-score games and spoke with optimism about how the “competitive rebuild” is going. That was a term the general manager used when he took over a team that had losing seasons in 2020 and 2021.
O’Connell said Sunday that the loss to the Giants will “sting us for a long time,” and Adofo-Mensah echoed that on Wednesday.
“The sudden-death tournament always ends abruptly for every team but one,’’ he said. “As a building, we’re kind of going through that right now. … At the end of the day, we didn’t play well enough to continue on, and that’s something we’re dealing with right now. That hurts for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I think these players showed so much. They deserved to play longer. … I hurt for our fans, our organization.”
Too many yards
Defensive struggles played a key role in Minnesota’s early exit. The Vikings gave up 431 yards to a Giants team that ranked No. 18 in the NFL during the regular season in total offense. Quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 301 yards and ran for 78.
“We fell below what we hoped to be, both schematically and our performance on the field,’’ O’Connell said of the defense. “So, I think it’s very, very important we look at it from the standpoint of the why? Why did it happen? What were the contributing factors that were both in our control and out of our control, and (how do we) make sure that we’re facing that head-on from an accountability standpoint?”
Donatell, who completed his 32nd season as an NFL assistant, changed Minnesota’s defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme when he arrived last year. As part of the evaluation process, O’Connell said, the Vikings are looking at “that 25-28 percentage” that they played a “true base 3-4” compared to the team’s other defensive snaps during the season.
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