In J.J. McCarthy and Dallas Turner, Vikings add potential cornerstone contributors

EAGAN, Minn. — The waiting is the hardest part.

The Minnesota Vikings had been simulating the first round of the NFL Draft for weeks. The team’s ownership even participated in the discussions. Then Thursday night finally arrived, and the clock began to tick.

Executives sat uneasily inside the TCO Performance draft room. The coaching staff gathered in another meeting room. They watched, paced, winced, checked social media, fired off texts, watched television. Most of all, they waited for the announcement of the franchise’s quarterback of the future.

The wait did not end at No. 3. Instead, the New England Patriots selected Drake Maye.

The wait did not end at No. 4 or 5. Neither the Arizona Cardinals nor the Los Angeles Chargers traded down.

Some within the Vikings building wondered if the New York Giants would sway the proceedings at No. 6, but the Atlanta Falcons at No. 8 caused some commotion on the second and third floors. Michael Penix Jr.’s removal from the draft board spurred Minnesota into action.



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The team couldn’t wait any longer.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah dialed up New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas, moved up a spot to No. 10, selected Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy (with the highest pick the franchise has ever used on a quarterback) and immediately dialed him up.

“Come on!” McCarthy said once he answered.

“Let’s go!” Adofo-Mensah responded.

“Come on!” McCarthy said again.

“What’d you promise me?” Adofo-Mensah asked.

“I promised you we’re going to win,” McCarthy said.

Twenty minutes later, the coaching staff heard that Minnesota was picking again. The Vikings had again traded to move up the draft board from 23 to 17. Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, a favorite of defensive coordinator Brian Flores, immediately received a call (and became the first edge rusher the Vikings have taken in the first round since Erasmus James in 2005). Once the selection hit the league database, one AFC executive said, “Good player at good value.” An NFC staffer texted, “Best player on the board at that time.”

“Listen, Dallas Turner is a guy who, quite frankly, we didn’t expect to be there in that range,” coach Kevin O’Connell said Thursday night. “We were just as excited and relieved (as when we selected McCarthy) to be able to call Dallas and make him a Minnesota Viking.”

Accounting for the Vikings’ pre-draft trade with the Houston Texans (to acquire No. 23), Minnesota parted with a fourth-rounder and two fifth-rounders in 2024, as well as a third-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2025. Adofo-Mensah said Thursday he prefers to keep future draft picks, but another team pushed the Jacksonville Jaguars for Turner, so he acted aggressively.

An unspoken but important piece of the Vikings’ willingness to trade away draft capital is the reality that they expect to recoup multiple compensatory picks in 2025 (via the departures of Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter). Over The Cap also projects them to have more than $100 million in cap space, the fourth-highest total in the NFL.

“If you told me a few months ago that we ended up here,” Adofo-Mensah said, “I think we’d be excited.”



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How the Vikings ended up here is probably best described as riding a roller coaster through a tornado. Think of all of the sliding-door moments:

• Disqualifying Kenny Pickett in the 2022 draft.

• Winning 13 games that season (many by one score).

• Failing to move up from No. 23 during the 2023 draft.

• Watching quarterback Kirk Cousins tear his Achilles.

• Josh Dobbs sparking the 2023 team to a couple of wins (that altered the team’s draft situation).

• Choosing not to match the Atlanta Falcons’ offer for Cousins.

• Crisscrossing the country to spend time with quarterback prospects.

• And then sitting down Thursday night to wait.

Was it the Vikings’ plan all along to select McCarthy? It’s hard to say.

But any approach to answering that question has to begin with the Vikings’ move that sent this draft process into hyperdrive. Adofo-Mensah secured the No. 23 pick in the middle of March, discarding a 2024 second-round pick (No. 42) and a 2025 second-rounder in the process. Conventional wisdom suggested Minnesota made that move to prepare for a massive trade up. And that may, in part, be correct. Multiple league sources told me the Vikings were willing to dig deep into their high-end draft capital to get Maye.

Once Maye was off the board, the next question seemed to be: How far would Minnesota go for McCarthy? Externally, many suggested the Vikings could pony up both of their first-rounders to move up to No. 4 or 5. One league source said that if the Vikings could not get Maye at No. 3, they’d be more likely to hover around No. 11 — multiple league sources believe the Vikings also had strong feelings about Penix — and keep No. 23 for further optionality. The thought was this: While two second-rounders might be worth more on draft pick value charts, having a first-rounder would create an incentive for other teams to call.

“If anybody above us wanted to come back,” Adofo-Mensah said, “we were their first and last phone call. We needed to make sure we were going to be that.”

In the end, the Jaguars called, and the Vikings were able to grab a difference-maker on defense. Pair that with McCarthy, whom O’Connell specifically praised for his competitiveness and performance on third-and-long for Michigan, and it was a strong night for the purple and gold.

In the end, the Vikings landed two players they hope are so transformative that the draft capital expended to acquire them is something they’ll laugh about years from now.

“We’re going to go do this damn thing together,” O’Connell told McCarthy on the phone. “I can’t wait to get you here.”

“Let’s go do it, Coach,” McCarthy said. “Thank you so much for believing in me. I won’t let you down.”

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(Photos: Matthew O’Haren and Gary Cosby Jr. / USA Today)

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