And he likes it that way.
Addressing his uncertain future with the team after contract extension talks stalled in the offseason, Cousins borrowed a mantra from Tom Brady when the New England Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 as a potential successor to the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“Tom made the point that there is no entitlement in the NFL,” Cousins said in a September 6 media conference. “And if there is entitlement in the NFL, that organization is probably doing it wrong. I think it’s healthy when players need to go out every day, and nobody is entitled to anything. I think that’s a healthy way to run an organization. It’s going to bring out the best in all of us. If it ever isn’t that way here, I would be the first one to complain and say, ‘I sense some entitlement, and let’s change that.’ ”
Cousins enters his 12th year in the league coming off his winningest season as a pro yet. However, his future in Minnesota is not cemented after the Vikings made a first-round exit in the playoffs last season.
It’s a situation Cousins is familiar with that he dates back to even before he was in the NFL.
“It’s sort of been life for me,” Cousins said. “I would even go back to college [at Michigan State] with quarterback competitions with Nick Foles. You basically felt that you’re going out there every day and putting your job on the line. That’s quarterbacking. I’ve been doing it for 16 years. This will be my 17th.
“That’s kind of the life you live. And I think when you take that seriously, that lends itself to having success more days than not.”
Kirk Cousins Addresses a Need to Win to Stay With Vikings
Cousins, 35, made it clear in the offseason that he would not engage in any contract talks during the season and would wait until March to go back to the negotiating table.
His hopes remain that he retires a Viking, which he has acknowledged in the past that is earned one way only — by winning.
“I’ve also believed, going back to when I was being recruited in high school… your senior where every pass could be a referendum on whether or not you’re going to get a college scholarship, I would say, ‘If we win football games everything else will take care of itself,’ ” Cousins said. “Let’s just focus on doing what we need to do to win and there won’t be much else to be concerned about.”
While Cousins has shrugged off the mounting expectations for him this season after a 13-1 record in the first year under Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings head coach hasn’t let Cousins remove himself from the impact he has on the team.
“A lot of the time,” O’Connell said Wednesday, “it’s just asking the questions: Where’s his head at? How’s he feeling? Most of the time [the conversation] veers toward scheme and how we want to play and what’s being asked of him and how he can do his job at a really high level. But I think it would naïve of me not to at least be there for him in a way where he knows that I fully, fully support him not only as our captain and our starting quarterback, but he knows my feelings towards him.”
The Financial Dilemma Facing the Vikings and Kirk Cousins
When Cousins arrived in Minnesota, he inherited a team that was coming off an NFC Championship game appearance that was brimming with talent and depth.
However, in six years the roster has atrophied.
Minnesota has struck gold in the draft by landing Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw, but both rising stars will require contract extensions soon. T.J. Hockenson just signed a lucrative extension as well. The offense is ready to contend, but the defense is still steps behind after years of poor drafting.
This season the Vikings will get a good look at its young core of defenders and see how close they are to putting together a serviceable defense. If Minnesota is still far away, the other option is to reinforce the defense with veteran talent through free agency.
That’s a luxury the Vikings could take without a veteran quarterback contract on the roster.
Cousins is likely to command a contract worth more than $40 million a year next season. Plugging in a first-round rookie quarterback would cost less than $10 million a season even in the peak years of the deal.
The dilemma remains that whoever plays quarterback will be carrying a defense but that defense could be drastically improved with the available cap space that comes with a rookie versus a veteran like Cousins.
But if Cousins can prove he can shoulder a playoff win or two this season, he could force the Vikings hand in future contract talks.