Rick Spielman

NFC North Notes: Vikings Front Office Hire, Hundley, Jones, Alexander

New Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made a noteworthy addition to his staff earlier this week. The team announced the hiring of Demitrius Washington as their new vice president of football operations.

Washington had spent seven years with the 49ers, a stretch which overlapped with Adofo-Mensah’s time in that organization. For the past two seasons, Washington served as San Francisco’s director of research and development, the same title Adofo-Mensah held with the Browns prior to his hire. The pair will now reunite and, along with new head coach Kevin O’Connell, oversee the franchise’s transition from the previous Rick Spielman-Mike Zimmer regime.

Here are some other notes from around the NFC North, starting with one more from Minnesota:

  • The Vikings brought in veteran backup quarterback Brett Hundley as a tryout during rookie minicamp, but they made it clear they would not be signing him, as noted by Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. The 28-year-old hasn’t made a regular season appearance since 2019, most recently spending time with the Colts. Minnesota’s QB room currently consists of Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond, Sean Mannion and Nate Stanley.
  • The Bears used one of their 11 picks in last month’s draft to add to its receiving corps, selecting Velus Jones in the third round. The team is high on his speed and versatility, leading to the new coaching staff having “big plans” for the 25-year-old. “Let’s start out at receiver and then let’s see what he can do, moving him around to different spots and getting him the ball, because he is an explosive athlete” head coach Matt Eberflus said, via ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. After transferring from USC to Tennessee, Jones produced both on offense and special teams, recording 807 receiving yards and leading the SEC in both punt and kick return yardage in 2021.
  • An interesting note came out in the aftermath of Jaire Alexander‘s record-breaking extension with the Packers. USA Today’s Josina Anderson reports (on Twitter) that the Pro Bowler specifically wanted a four-year (rather than five-year) deal. He got just that, helping him to break the record briefly held by Denzel Ward for the highest annual average amongst cornerbacks at $21MM per season, and keeping him under contract through 2026.

2022 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

Along with the head coaches being fired, a few NFL teams are looking for new general managers. Listed below are the GM candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status.

If and when other teams decide to make GM changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 5-24-22 (9:03pm CT)

Chicago Bears

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers’ GM Interviews Continue

In what continues to be one of the widest ranging general manager searches in recent history, the Steelers announced three more interviews that took place earlier this week. Jerry Reese, Rick Spielman, and Doug Whaley were added to a list of interviewed candidates that now totals up to 16.

Reese is a former general manager for the Giants. Reese served 23 years in New York’s front office starting as a college scout and progressing through the roles of pro scout to director of player personnel and, eventually, to general manager. His first season as general manager saw the team win their first Super Bowl in 17 years, and the Giants earned a second ring under Reese just four years later. After a 2-10 start to the 2017 season, Reese was fired along with then-head coach Ben McAdoo in a rare midseason double canning. In the years since his firing, teams have reached out to Reese. In 2018, Reese turned down an interview for the Raiders’ general manager position that would eventually go to Mike Mayock. Last year, Reese interviewed for the Panthers’ and Jaguars’ open general manager jobs that eventually went to Scott Fitterer and Trent Baalke, respectively. This is the first time Reese’s name has been mentioned in general manager searches this year.

Spielman is a longtime veteran of NFL front offices who formerly served as the general manager for both the Dolphins and the Vikings. In 1990, Spielman started in Detroit as a college scout for five seasons before adding pro scouting responsibilities to his plate for two more. Spielman took on the position of director of pro personnel for the Bears in 1997 and, three years later, took a similar role as vice president of player personnel in Miami. In four seasons, Spielman elevated to senior vice president of football operations to eventually spend one season as the team’s general manager. Spielman left the role and worked 2005 with ESPN as an NFL analyst before returning to football as the vice president of player personnel for the Vikings the next year. After six seasons in that role, Spielman was elevated to general manager, a position he held until being fired a little over two months ago. For the Vikings, Spielman saw success in all aspects of player acquisition bringing in contributors like wide receiver Mike Wallace through trade and quarterback Kirk Cousins through free agency. He also had an eye for undrafted talent, signing the likes of safety Andrew Sendejo and wide receiver Adam Thielen. This is the first job interest he’s received since being fired earlier this year.

Whaley is another former NFL general manager, this time for the Bills. He began his NFL career as a pro personnel coordinator for the Steelers in 2000. For ten years he worked under Kevin Colbert and is credited with helping to scout and draft such defensive stars as pass rusher Lamarr Woodley, safety Troy Polamalu, and linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Whaley was eventually named the assistant general manager and director of pro personnel for the Bills in 2010. Three years later, Whaley took over for Buddy Nix as general manager. He notably moved up in the draft to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins, a move questioned by some as fellow receivers Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., and Brandin Cooks were picked later in the same draft. He also notably traded linebacker Kiko Alonso for running back LeSean McCoy in 2015, seeing McCoy enjoy great success for the next three years as a Bill. Whaley was relieved of his duties following the 2017 NFL Draft and became a recruiter for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl for a season before getting hired as the senior vice president of football operations for the XFL. He was shortly laid off due to COVID-19, but was rehired recently as the league’s vice president of player personnel. Like the other two names above, this is the first mention of interest in Whaley this year.

The Steelers continue to search far and wide in their efforts to replace Colbert. Stay up to date on the search through our 2022 NFL General Manager Search Tracker.

Latest On Jaguars’ Front Office

The Jaguars are in the process of rebuilding not only their coaching staff, but also their front office personnel and structure. As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco writes, the team is looking to add multiple new executives, including an executive vice president of football operations. 

As he states, owner Shad Khan is looking to hire not only an EVP, but also “someone to work under” general manager Trent Baalke. It wouldn’t be the first time the Jaguars had a structure like that, as a similar one was in place when the Jaguars were last in playoff contention.

When speaking about the changes, Khan said, “One of the reasons we had the [coaching] search was not only looking for the head-coaching candidate but really to learn about other organizations… So some of the practices, some of the structure that works, we got great insight into it. Strengthening the football operations, more staff, that’s part of our goal. We’ve had too flat an organization and we want to add brainpower and more people to strengthen that”.

Tom Coughlin held the EVP title beginning in 2017 during the Doug Marrone coaching era in Jacksonville. That season ended with a trip to the AFC Championship game, but the organization was streamlined after Coughlin was fired in 2019. Khan elected to try a more coach-centric structure when he hired Urban Meyer, a decision that proved to be borderline disastrous. A return to the previous system so quickly after Meyer’s firing would represent a very fast about-face from Khan and the organization.

Many believe that Rick Spielman will eventually be named as the new EVP. The former Vikings GM recently interviewed for a position that would outrank Baalke, though nothing has been made official yet. In addition, the team would have to meet with at least two external minority candidates for the position in order to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

Especially after the hire of former Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson as head coach, the Jaguars are “taking a collaborative approach”, DiRocco writes. With an emphasis on long-term building, as opposed to a less patient, win-now approach with Meyer, more voices being involved in decision making could be a productive first step towards turning around a franchise which has finished at the bottom of the NFL for two straight years.

Latest On Jaguars, Rick Spielman

There are more signs pointing towards Rick Spielman being hired by the Jaguars. New details, more importantly, indicate that the position he is close to taking on would outrank that of general manager Trent Baalke (Twitter link via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones). 

[Related: Jaguars Interview Rick Spielman For Non-GM Position]

Specifically, Jones states that “momentum is gaining” for Spielman to “ultimately get a football position that reports directly to owner Shad Khan and is above [Baalke]”. That is an important distinction, given the fact that it was reported earlier this week that Spielman’s role was likely to be that of an assistant GM, allowing Baalke to be more ‘hands-on’ rather than handling day-to-day operations.

Earlier in the day, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that Spielman is headed for, essentially, a president role – something which many thought he would be transitioned to in Minnesota before he was fired. He adds that “there is progress being made” towards the hire becoming official. If it does, that would go a long way to easing concerns over the presence of Baalke, which has reportedly turned certain head coaching candidates away from the team.

On the point of the Jaguars’ HC vacancy, Garafolo also notes that Doug Pederson “would have been high on the Vikings’ list” if Spielman had remained in Minnesota. Between that, and the fact that Pederson has interviewed twice with Jacksonville, the Spielman hire becoming official would certainly point to the former Super Bowl champion getting the inside track for the HC job.

Jaguars Interview Rick Spielman For Non-GM Position

Amidst the confusion and controversy surrounding the Jaguars’ head coaching search, there has been a development of the front office side of the organization. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the team conducted an in-person interview with former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on Monday (Twitter link). 

[Related: Latest On Jaguars’ Head Coaching Search]

Rapoport details that Spielman interviewed for a “high-level front office position”. However, as his colleague Mike Garafolo tweets, the role he is potentially taking on is not that of GM. That would mean incumbent Trent Baalke, who has been the source of much dismay in the Jags’ fanbase and is thought to be an impediment to the teams’ search for a head coach, is likely to remain in place.

Further to that point, Mark Long of the Associated Press reports (via Twitter) that Baalke was thought to be looking for an executive “to take on an assistant GM role to handle day-to-day operations”. The reason for that, he continues, would be to allow Baalke “to be more hands-on with players on the field”. It would appear, then, that a hire like this would alter, but in a sense, expand, Baalke’s duties in Jacksonville.

Spielman was fired along with HC Mike Zimmer on ‘Black Monday’. That brought his 16-year tenure with the team – which included the last 10 seasons as GM – to an end. While the team is clearly set to move in a new direction, there was a good deal of success during the 59-year-old’s time there. If he were to come to Jacksonville, he would at a minimum represent an experienced voice in front office decisions, and potentially even quell the concerns of interested candidates wary of having to work under Baalke.

Latest Candidates, Priorities In Vikings’ Coach, GM Searches

The Vikings are one of eight teams in search of a new head coach, and one of three (soon to be four, counting the Steelers) in need of a new general manager. New details have emerged regarding the worsening culture in the organization, and the emphasis being placed on better communication in the process to replace Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. As the search comes into better focus, the order in which hires will be made has been confirmed, and another name has been linked to the head coaching vacancy. 

According to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, one of the main reasons Zimmer and Spielman were let go was to allow for a “culture shift”. She notes that there seemed to be a growing disconnect between players and the coaching staff, and that working towards mending that relationship will be key in trying to get the team back into the postseason. One damning comment came from veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, who said “I don’t think a fear-based organization is the way to go”.

Cronin notes that an internal search committee has been formed to select the new general manager. Made up of members from a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets – one of which is “the people and culture department, which includes diversity and inclusion” – they will choose the new GM, who in turn “will have input in the head coach [selection]” according to a tweet from the writer. Owner Mark Wilf has emphasized multiple times the need for strong leaders and communicators to lead the franchise going forward.

Part of the emphasis being placed so much on culture and communication stems from the apparent growth in tensions within the team as Zimmer’s tenure wound down. It had become “clear that for some, there was a need for a new voice”, something that many in the organization feel will be a positive step for the team. It has become known that “some coaches felt internally that the offensive staff was at times pitted against the defensive staff”, something which may have contributed to the high amount of turnover of offensive coordinators in Minnesota during Zimmer’s tenure.

Meanwhile, Cronin’s ESPN colleague Jeremy Fowler tweets that the Vikings have done research on Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glen, and that he is therefore a name to keep an eye on if the team’s list of candidates grows in the coming days. Regardless of who the new HC and GM will be, it is clear they will be charged with making more than just schematic or personnel changes if they are to bring the franchise back to being a Super Bowl contender.


Vikings Request Interview With Bucs’ John Spytek

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, in their search to make their first general manager outside hire in over a decade, the Vikings have requested an interview with Buccaneers’ executive John Spytek (Twitter). Spytek is the current vice president of player personnel in Tampa Bay.

A Midwest-native, Spytek got his start as an operations intern for the Lions in 2004. He became a player personnel intern for the Eagles in 2005, taking only a year to earn a full-time college scouting assistant position. From Philadelphia, he moved to Cleveland to become their director of college scouting. After three seasons in the Browns’ organization, he spent about three more years in Denver before taking a position in the Buccaneers’ front office. He’s currently in his sixth season with Tampa Bay and his 18th in the NFL.

The connection to Minnesota is interesting due to Spytek’s connection to the Kubiak family from his time in Denver. Be sure to track the Vikings’ interest in Spytek and other candidates to replace Rick Spielman here.

Vikings Fire GM Rick Spielman, HC Mike Zimmer

The clearing-out of the regime in Minnesota has begun, as the Vikings have fired General Manager Rick Spielman, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). Pelissero also reports that the team has let go of Head Coach Mike Zimmer as well (Twitter link). 

It was widely expected that Sunday’s game against the Bears would be Zimmer’s last with the Vikings. However, there was a belief that Spielman could stay on either as GM, or in some other capacity, and play a role in the selection process for a new HC. Instead, the 59-year old is out after 16 seasons working with in team’s front office, including the last 10 as GM.

Zimmer, 65, had recently expressed an overall sentiment of pride regarding his tenure with the Vikings. Knowing the writing was as the wall with team set to have a losing record for the second straight year, Zimmer said, “regardless of anything that goes on after the season, I can stand proud”. Zimmer ranks third in franchise history with 71 wins, but the team has a total of one postseason victory in the past four seasons.

The team Tweeted out a statement from its ownership group which says in part, “we appreciate Rick and Mike’s commitment to the team’s on-field success, their passion for making a positive impact in our community and their dedication to players, coaches and staff. While these decisions are not easy, we believe it is time for new leadership to elevate our team so we can consistently contend for championships. We wish both Rick and Mike and their families only the best”.

This news, along with the firing of Matt Nagy in Chicago and Brian Flores in Miami, brings the total number of coaching vacancies in the league to six (Vikings, Bears, Broncos, Dolphins, Jaguars and Raiders) and opens up one of two GM openings, the other being in Chicago after Ryan Pace was let go on Monday as well.


Vikings Expected To Fire Mike Zimmer, Retain GM Rick Spielman

On thin ice for much of this season, Mike Zimmer is not expected to receive a ninth year as Vikings head coach. Minnesota is expected to move on from its longtime HC after Week 18, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports.

This situation was headed toward this conclusion for a bit now, with the Vikings’ past two losses likely sealing the defensive-minded coach’s fate. Ownership nearly canned Zimmer after the Vikes’ run to the divisional round in 2019, so it was going to be tough for the 65-year-old HC to withstand back-to-back losing seasons.

While the Vikings have made the playoffs three times under Zimmer, his abrasive style has worn on the team, La Canfora adds. The team’s two Kirk Cousins contracts have not produced the desired results, with the high-priced quarterback set to finish 1-for-4 in playoff berths under Zimmer. The Vikings advanced to the postseason in 2015 with Teddy Bridgewater at the controls and reached the 2017 NFC championship game with Case Keenum. Zimmer’s defenses were in better shape during those seasons; injuries limited the Vikings’ defensive capabilities over the past two years.

A longtime defensive coordinator, Zimmer had the Vikings perched as a top-10 scoring defense from 2015-19. Over the past two seasons, however, the team has fallen off that pace. Going into Week 18, Minnesota ranks 25th in points allowed and 31st in total defense. The 7-9 squad has been without Danielle Hunter for most of this season and lost Everson Griffen in November. Hunter missed all of last season as well. Zimmer would likely be a strong DC candidate elsewhere if/once the Vikings pull the trigger on firing him.

GM Rick Spielman‘s status is less certain, but he should be expected to return. Spielman has been with the Vikings since 2006, lasting through the Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Zimmer tenures. Although the Vikings could start fresh with a new GM, Albert Breer of SI.com notes Spielman is expected to remain with the team — be it in his current role or in another executive position. La Canfora also hears Spielman is not viewed as a chopping-block candidate. Spielman, 59, could be in position to select the next Vikings GM, in a scenario similar to how the Broncos transitioned from John Elway in that post last year.