NFL

Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell non-committal on DC Ed Donatell’s status

Rumblings and grumblings regarding Ed Donatell’s status as Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator existed prior to the postseason. They’ll carry on for at least a bit longer.

Three days removed from the Vikings’ 31-24 wild-card loss to the New York Giants, Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell was non-committal regarding Donatell’s future as he maneuvered around questions regarding his defensive coordinator’s future.

“I’m in the process of going through, as we did with our players on Monday,” O’Connell told reporters on Wednesday. “I don’t know the total number between practice squad, IR and our roster guys, but [general manager] Kewsi (Adofo-Mensah) and I had a chance to sit down and speak face-to-face with everyone. Get their feelings on both the individual and collective thoughts on where we’re at right now and then over the past couple days, and it’s ongoing. You know, I’m doing the same thing with my entire coaching staff. I’m in evaluation mode of everything that we did.”

As the Vikings went 11-0 in one-score games during a surprisingly lucrative 2022 campaign, their success often came despite a Donatell defense that ranked 28th in points allowed and 31st in yards. When time ran out on the Vikings’ good fortune in the form of last Sunday’s loss, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if time ran out on Donatell’s tenure, as well.

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The 65-year-old Donatell, who started his NFL career back in 1990 with the New York Jets, was in his first — and possibly only — year as Vikings defensive coordinator. He held the same position with the Denver Broncos the prior three years. In all but one of the Vikings’ losses this season, they gave up more than 30 points — and twice, it was more than 40.

“That is an ongoing process that is continuing as we speak and will continue throughout the rest of this week,” O’Connell said of staff evaluations. “I think it’s important to do, and I think after the success we had this year and then coming up short of where we ultimately wanted to get to, I think it’s the right thing to do. To make sure I go through that thorough process in doing so.”

Though the future of Donatell could fairly be characterized as in question, it’s much the opposite for the Vikings’ superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson and quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The 23-year-old Jefferson is coming off a third consecutive Pro Bowl season and topped the NFL with 1,809 yards receiving and 128 receptions. A 2020 first-round draft pick, Jefferson is due to make $2.39 million in 2023, will be a slam dunk to have his fifth-year option picked up and is eligible for an extension. Said extension portends to be of the massive variety.

Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah indicated nothing but preliminary talks have begun. He did, however, emphasize he doesn’t view having to work out a mega deal as an obstacle, but simply as part of the equation of rostering a top-tier talent such as Jefferson.

“I wouldn’t use the word challenge,” Adofo-Mensah said. “You got a special player, a special person. Those aren’t problems, or at least those are champagne problems. We’ll start there. Yeah, we’ve had initial dialogue with him, his agent, all those things. We can factor that into the planning, but again it really starts from the player, the person, and we’ll work out solutions from there on.”

As for Cousins, who signed an extension through 2023 ahead of this past season, he too is expected to be back for Year 2 in the Adofo-Mensah-O’Connell regime.

“It’s our expectation that he’ll be our quarterback,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I can’t say exactly how that would look, again we have everything at our disposal. We’ll consider all those things just like we will with everybody else on the roster.”

Cousins had one of his better career seasons in 2022. He earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection after throwing for 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns with a career-best 13 QB wins. In reality, moving on from Cousins would be costly as he carries a dead cap hit of $48.75 million with a pre-June 1 release and a hit of $36.5 million if he was cut after June 1. Already on his third contract with the Vikings, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the 34-year-old to sign another short-term extension.

There have been no coaching moves or extensions signed yet for Minnesota, but an eventful offseason is likely to kick off shortly.

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