Zulgad’s four-and-out: An inside look at the Vikings’ to-do list at the NFL Scouting Combine

The Vikings’ postseason downtime — at least for the front office and coaching staff — will come to an end this week as the NFL Scouting Combine begins on Tuesday and runs through next Monday.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell are scheduled to speak to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell also will spend plenty of time watching the draft prospects go through workouts. A total of 319 players are scheduled to attend.

But the scouting side is only part of the Vikings’ to-do list in Indianapolis. Here’s a look at some of the other important business that will get done (or started) in the coming days.

Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins' contract situations

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Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins are in very different places when it comes to their careers and contract situations. Jefferson still has two years remaining on his five-year rookie deal, including the fifth-year option of $19.743 million, while Cousins will be entering the final season of his contract in 2023.

But, just as the Vikings will do for any of their players who need their contracts addressed, the team is expected to hold face-to-face meetings with the representatives for the star wide receiver and veteran starting quarterback.

Jefferson is top of mind because he is eligible for a contract extension this off-season. The 22nd pick in the 2020 draft, Jefferson has become of the NFL’s best receivers and is certain to want to become the highest-paid player at his position. The Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill currently holds that distinction, averaging $30 million per season on a contract that runs through 2026.

Rob Brzezinski, who joined the Vikings in 1999 and is in charge of managing the team’s salary cap, certainly has an idea of how he will want to structure Jefferson’s contract. But there is no getting around the fact that Jefferson is going to get quarterback-like money and his reps at CAA Sports won’t settle for anything less.

Cousins, 34, who has been with the Vikings since 2018, agreed to a one-year, $35 million extension last March and it remains to be seen if another short-term extension through 2024 could be in the works. There also is a possibility that Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, will pursue a long-term extension.

Jefferson and Cousins are only two of the players whose future will need to be addressed. The team wants to reduce wide receiver Adam Thielen’s upcoming cap hit of $19.968 million, and there also is a list of free agents to make decisions on. That includes cornerback Patrick Peterson, center Garrett Bradbury and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Who are the Vikings will to pay and who will ask for too much?

There likely already have been talks on many of these players, but this is where it usually heats up. Whether that be over a shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s Steak House or in hotel room suite, Adofo-Mensah should depart Indianapolis with a better idea of what the Vikings’ 2023 roster will look like.

Clandestine conversations

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The NFL’s “legal tampering” period — meaning teams are allowed to contact and enter into negotiations with the agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents — will begin on March 13. Two days later, March 15, free agency and the new league year begin.

The NFL decided to put in “legal tampering” ahead of free agency because it was embarrassing to watch players hit the market and sign minutes later, when that was supposed to be when negotiations started. But, make no mistake, there is still plenty of illegal tampering and that often starts at the combine.

As the Vikings, and all other teams, hold meetings with agents about potential in-house business, it comes as no surprise that discussions might turn to other players represented by the same agent. If a team is interested in a player, it only makes sense to find out if that interest is reciprocated and what a financial starting point might be.

Let’s say, for example, the Vikings want to find out if a free agent cornerback would be willing to sign with them, they could put out a feeler to that player’s agent. If the player isn’t interested, that enables the team to pivot to another cornerback who might want to sign. Deals can’t get done here, but they certainly can get started.

Important meet-and-greet

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In addition to watching workouts that begin on Thursday, the Vikings (and all teams) can request interviews with up to 60 draft-eligible players that can last a maximum of 15 minutes. This is where some bizarre and, at times, inappropriate questions have been asked of prospects.

But it’s also where Adofo-Mensah, O’Connell and other key decision-makers will get a chance to judge the personality of a player and whether the prospect fits what they are looking for in the locker room and on the field.

It’s an interesting process because it will challenge the Vikings to make a decision on a player in a very short time. Teams often look for red flags during these conversations, but you have to wonder if they become overly confident about their ability to identify real issues and sometimes ignore, or emphasis, things they shouldn’t.

For instance, a quarterback might come off as polished and smart while talking to a team, or drawing on the board, but there’s a big difference between looking smart in the calm of a hotel room suite and being able to process things with a blitz coming at you and a sold out crowd screaming.

The Vikings will get their first chance to talk to the underclassmen in this draft after being able to meet with players at the Senior Bowl. The team also will get to bring in 30 prospects of their choosing leading up to the draft, and can watch on-campus workouts from many players at their Pro Day.

Part of the issue with these meetings is that players are often so-coached-up by their agents that the team isn’t getting to know the real person but rather what the representative thinks the team wants to hear.

Nonetheless, all of these opportunities will provide the Vikings with information as they put together their draft plan. How Adofo-Mensah, O’Connell and Co., process that information will be very important.

Setting the table for potential moves

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Adofo-Mensah spent time at the combine last year getting to know other general managers and learning what it meant to be in charge of an organization. O’Connell also had plenty to learn after being hired following the Rams victory in the Super Bowl.

But as each enters his second season with the Vikings, they are no longer the new guys and should be able to hit the ground running. That comfort, and familiarity, could mean even more discussions with fellow GMs and executives about potential deals.

The Vikings have plenty of business to take care of, and several veterans who might be jettisoned before the new league year opens. Adofo-Mensah should get an opportunity to see if any GMs want to make a deal that might land the Vikings a draft pick or two.

Minnesota only has four picks in the April draft, although they are expected to be award a compensatory selection as well. But five picks isn’t a lot for the Vikings.

This also is a good time to lay the groundwork for potential draft trades. For every 100 deals discussed at the combine, it’s likely only a couple get done. But Adofo-Mensah has nothing to lose by exploring every way possible to improve his team.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire