Are the nerds taking over the NFL front offices? They’re definitely in Minnesota, where a former commodity trader is now the managing director.
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first moves were to make six trades in last month’s draft, as if trading wheat futures in hopes of getting oil futures. Then his next step was to bring in a guy with an MBA who had a major in analytics to fill a newly created position in Minnesota of vice president of football operations. Somewhere Billy Beane, the originator of the “moneyball” school of building a baseball franchise, smiles. Whether Vikings fans will be fans remains to be seen, but the Geek Squad’s overall record of pro sports hasn’t been great…that of course depends on how you work out the numbers.
Beane’s efforts to build a low-budget baseball winner in Oakland were so successful that they spawned both a bestselling book and a bestselling movie. What they never produced was a championship team. This small detail seems to have gone unnoticed by NFL owners seemingly increasingly obsessed with quantum physics and data analysis.
Six years ago, the Cleveland Browns kicked off this analytics craze by hiring former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta to run their football operation. DePodesta was a sidekick to Beane in Oakland and carried on the “moneyball” tradition established by him. He won nothing in Los Angeles, where he was fired after taking a playoff team and turning it into one that in 2005 posted the second-worst record for a Dodger team since leaving Brooklyn in 1959.
This was followed by equally ineffective stints with the Padres and Mets. That didn’t stop Browns ownership from deciding that analytics was the future of football, hiring DePodesta in 2016 to become the Browns’ chief strategy officer.
This strategy has led to a 37-63-1 record so far, a playoff appearance and 1-15 season followed by a remarkably consistent 0-16 season and a failed experience with a quarterback- miniature fullback who left the team struggling with the final year of Baker Mayfield’s first fully guaranteed contract for $18,858,980. Mayfield’s record as a starter is 29-30, meaning he cost the Browns just over $1.12 million per win provided. The 30 losses came a little cheaper but not by much.
Worse, now the Browns want to get rid of Mayfield because they traded for struggling ex-Texan quarterback Deshaun Watson this offseason and then signed him to the biggest fully guaranteed contract in the club. NFL history, a five-year, $230 million deal. without any assurances, he will not be suspended for the year by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his alleged misappropriations in Houston. Silver ball? I guess.
While DePodesta isn’t technically the Browns’ general manager, he is, after all, their chief strategy officer, isn’t he? So this is their strategy for calculating numbers?
Which brings us back to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. He cut his teeth, or rather worked the numbers, for the 49ers from 2013 to 2018, becoming director of football research and development after being plucked from a career as a commodities trader for Credit Suisse. I don’t know what Credit Suisse knows about football, but they certainly know the numbers.
Impressed with his work in San Francisco, the Browns hired him to become vice president of football operations under DePodesta in 2020. He held that position for two years before the Vikings named him their general manager in 2022. His teams in all that time have so far failed to win any championships, which is an easy figure to calculate. Also easy to love, apparently.
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In those seven years with the 49ers, San Francisco went from losing a conference championship game to missing the playoffs five straight years to losing the Super Bowl in 2019. Although Adofo-Mensah was never in charge of the front office, the teams he helped developed gained nothing. In fact, for five of their seven years, they didn’t even have a winning record.
This inspired the Browns to name him vice president of football operations in 2020. Two years later, Cleveland has a messy financial quarterback and Adofo-Mensah left to lead the Vikings alongside Demetrius Washington, who is the young former financial analyst. he hired to fill a newly created position of vice president of football operations at Minnesota.
How good is football in Washington? Well, he worked with Adofo-Mensah for five years in the 49ers analytics operation and has that MBA with a major in financial analytics from the University of Missouri all to himself. In a Vikings press release, it was announced that one of his duties with the 49ers was to “optimize and process, and develop statistical analysis for player evaluation, acquisition and strategy. “.
Is that how they got stuck with Jimmy Garoppolo’s guaranteed base salary of $24,200,000 this season with a cap of $26,950,000, only to be on a team that doesn’t want him anymore? How to crunch these numbers without swallowing hard?
Adofo-Mensah said in a club statement: “Demetrius is one of the most gifted people I have met in my time in the NFL. He is able to learn complex ideas, make them simple and apply them in all facets of the organization. He has learned from some of the best minds in the game today and he will continue to thrive in his role with the Vikings.”
I’m sure he can. I’m also sure that he, along with Adofo-Mensah and DePodesta (both of whom have degrees from Harvard, Princeton and Stanford but no championship rings), are all among the brightest minds in America. The question is, does that mean they can create a championship sports team?
Not all the numbers are there, to be fair, but so far “Moneyball” fans don’t have much of a collection of rings. Moneyball defenseman Theo Epstein won with the Red Sox and Cubs, but he did it the old-fashioned way. He spent his team owner’s money like a drunken sailor in Boston and Chicago and had a high payroll and big rings to prove it.
So, will the Vikings finally launch “The Revenge of the Nerds Tour” this season? Will they sweep the NFL with a slate of cut-price talent and finally bring a championship to Nerdsville?
Maybe, but they’ll have to do it with a .500 career quarterback they signed to a one-year contract worth $35 million guaranteed, including a $25,000 signing bonus. $000. Maybe they calculate the numbers differently in the commodities business, but that sounds like a lot of money for Kirk Cousins, a guy who’s 59-59-2 in 10 years as an NFL starter and who failed to lead his team to the playoffs in seven of those seasons.
But hey, who matters?