Thursday's NFL: Denver's Ed Donatell agrees to join Vikings as DC

Associated Press

Minneapolis — Ed Donatell has agreed to become the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings under head-coach-to-be Kevin O'Connell, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Thursday because the Vikings have not yet announced the hire. They're waiting first to finalize a contract with O'Connell, the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams.

FILE - Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell reacts against the Kansas City Chiefs during an NFL football game Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver.

After the Rams play for the championship on Sunday, the 36-year-old O'Connell can finally be introduced as the 10th coach in Vikings history. O'Connell is expected to then make the 65-year-old Donatell his most important assistant for his first experience running a team.

Donatell has 10 seasons on his resume as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, including the last three years with the Denver Broncos under coach Vic Fangio, who was fired last month. The Broncos were third in the league in 2021 in fewest point allowed and eighth in fewest yards allowed.

From 2000-03, Donatell directed the defense for the Green Bay Packers. He was defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06. He has worked 31 years in the league, primarily coaching defensive backs.

Prior to joining the Broncos, Donatell spent four seasons (2015-18) supervising the secondary with the Chicago Bears while Fangio was the defensive coordinator. Donatell and Fangio had those same positions for four years before that with the San Francisco 49ers, under coach Jim Harbaugh.

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Harbaugh was one of the four finalists the Vikings interviewed last week for the job that will go to O'Connell. New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris were the others.

New Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah worked in research and development for the 49ers during Donatell's last two seasons there.

O'Connell was selected to replace Mike Zimmer, who was fired after eight years with the Vikings. The 65-year-old Zimmer called plays for the defense throughout his time as head coach, directing a 4-3 defense that at its best brought clever and well-disguised blitzes and was one of the most difficult in the NFL to convert a third down against. The last two seasons were a struggle, though, and with several expiring player contracts the group was already bound to have a different look.

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Donatell and Fangio have long directed a 3-4 scheme with the best pass rushers typically standing up on the edges instead of as down linemen, so the Vikings figure to undergo a wholesale change. Donatell, coincidentally, was replaced by Zimmer in 2007 as defensive coordinator of the Falcons.

Falcons' owner Blank: Must plan for QB Ryan's successor

Atlanta — Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank says the team must have a succession plan at quarterback even while Matt Ryan appears set to continue as the starter in 2022.

The Falcons face more complicated decisions at wide receiver, where Calvin Ridley's status remains uncertain.

Blank, in Los Angeles for Sunday's Super Bowl, said the team still has not had direct conversations with Ridley since the Falcons' top wide receiver missed the final 11 games last season while addressing mental health issues.

“It’s a matter of HIPBA regulations in terms to what we have access to or should have access to,” Blank said Wednesday night. “We’re here to support Calvin as he goes through this journey he’s on and it’s a difficult journey.”

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Following Julio Jones' trade to Tennessee before the season, Ridley entered 2021 as Atlanta's top target for Ryan. That changed after Ridley was a last-minute scratch before the 19-13 loss to Carolina on Oct. 31.

On that day, Ridley posted on his Twitter account he needed to “step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing.” That remains Ridley's last tweet on his account.

“As an organization we’ve done the best job we could just to support Calvin and do everything we can for him,” general manager Terry Fontenot said after the season.

The Falcons can only hope Ridley returns for next season.

“Yeah, sure, absolutely,” Blank said. “I mean, who wouldn’t want him? He’s a great player. He’s a great teammate. He and Matt had a wonderful chemistry and played well together. He’s able to succeed at a very high level. And he’s always practiced hard and played hard.”

The Falcons must make plans for the April 28-30 NFL draft and free agency. They will need to know if they can plan for Ridley.

“Where that sits with him, I don’t know,” Blank said. “We haven’t talked to him directly. At some point ... we have to have a clear understanding about that. I think he and his agents certainly understand that as well.”