Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is coming off his best season as a pro and recently signed a two-year contract extension. Cousins is set to make $33 million guaranteed each season, and after receiving a $30 million signing bonus and another $500,000 workout bonus, the 31-year-old quarterback earned $60.5 million in 2019 as the highest-paid NFL athlete.
While Cousins has earned his stake as the NFL’s fourth-most accurate passer, football is a team sport and the offensive scheme and skill players surrounding him have also influenced his success.
As one of the most run-heavy teams in the league, running back Dalvin Cook has had a major impact on Cousins’ production, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Kirk Cousins & the #Vikings passing game was most productive when Dalvin Cook was on the field last season.
Cousins threw 5 INT on 165 pass attempts without Cook
➤ 3.0% INT Rate
Cousins threw 1 INT on 279 pass attempts with Cook
➤ 0.4% INT Rate pic.twitter.com/uHavc498VF
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) June 16, 2020
Five of Cousins’ six interceptions last season came when Cook was off the field. Cousins was slightly less accurate and gained fewer yards per attempt. Cook has contributed to the Vikings’ ability to sell the run-fake on play-action and was the team’s second-leading receiver with 519 receiving yards.
While Cook is currently holding out from virtual team activities until he receives a “reasonable” contract extension from the Vikings, these numbers could help improve his negotiations.
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Kirk Cousins Named the NFL’s Best Play-Action Passer
Cousins was named the best play-action passer in the league through the first 11 weeks in 2019 by Pro Football Focus. He also earned the highest PFF grades on designed rollouts and finding receivers out wide and on crossing routes. These are all throws made in play-action scenarios — meaning Cousins performed well when put in those situations.
Cousins also threw the most play-action touchdowns last season.
You like that? pic.twitter.com/4lEoq7CPFB
— PFF (@PFF) June 16, 2020
BringTheNews’ Chris Schad broke down Cook’s influence on Cousins’ emergence:
“Beginning with Kevin Stefanski’s takeover as offensive coordinator in Week 15 of the 2018 season, Cook ripped off a 10-game stretch where he ran for 973 yards, 10 touchdowns, and averaged 5.44 yards per carry. Those numbers declined to 410 yards, five touchdowns, and 3.5 yards per carry in the final seven games, but that doesn’t tell the full story of his impact on the offense.
When Cook began to stumble, the Vikings’ passing game took full advantage. After struggling for his first 20 games in Minnesota, Cousins took off and played at an MVP-level for the Vikings, averaging 8.31 yards per attempt and compiling a 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his final 12 games.
With the combination of Cook shredding opposing defenses, it helped play-action become Cousins’ most dangerous weapon. Cousins registered a 129.2 passer rating on play-action passes throughout the season, but that number dropped to 101.4 in the final two starts without Cook per Pro Football Focus.”
Cousins Reliant on Supporting Cast and Cook
Kirk Cousins’ career so far has been largely in the hands of his support cast. He isn’t going to transcend the game like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, but if put in a good situation, he’s shown he can succeed.
SKOR North compared Cousins’ consistency in 2018 versus 2019 and found similar results:
“But some of his shortcomings, including bouts with inconsistency in performance — which could be largely dependent on whether the supporting cast steps up or not — probably aren’t going to disappear as we go forward. The Vikings will have to factor all of his strengths and weaknesses as they consider a contract extension.”
While Cousins is set to make $33 million this season compared to Cook’s estimated $1.3 million base salary, it comes into question how much of that was earned by Cousins’ and how much is a product of the scheme.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire