And with several teams ready to win now, Minnesota could make away with valuable draft stock to turn a potential rebuild into a one-year tune-up under newly hired general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell.
CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin proposed 13 quarterback moves on February 25, two of which involve the Vikings, who look to push forward after missing the playoffs two seasons in a row.
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Cousins to Denver
At the top of Benjamin’s trade list was Cousins joining the Denver Broncos, who find themselves ready to make a run.
Denver is ready to compete now. They have a run game, offensive line, receiving corps and defense built to make a playoff run. All they need is an established QB. With the pipe dream of a Rodgers relocation put to rest, Cousins is the best alternative. General manager George Paton was the Vikings’ assistant GM when Minnesota signed and extended Cousins with big money. And the Vikings, despite new coach Kevin O’Connell’s enthusiasm, will be happy to dump at least a portion of his massive $45 million 2022 cap hit, perhaps eating some extra cash in exchange for a high draft pick.
A potential trade could net the Vikings the No. 9 overall pick in the draft from Denver. Paired with Minnesota’s No. 12 pick, it allows the Vikings to make moves all over the draft board.
Meanwhile, Benjamin suggested the Vikings make a move for a budget bridge quarterback for the 2022 season and pending free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston.
“New coach Kevin O’Connell would probably prefer Kirk Cousins, but the Vikings are under new management at an inflection point. By offloading Cousins’ massive deal rather than extending him, they could delay a real QB reset until 2023, when O’Connell will have a chance to choose his own guy,” Benjamin wrote. “In the meantime, with second-year man Kellen Mond still developing, Winston could give O’Connell and new coordinator Wes Phillips some of the downfield action they got with the Rams — a big arm capable of feeding Justin Jefferson.”
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PFF: Jameis Winston Accelerates Vikings Rebuild
Before writing off the idea of Winston, the intent is not to find an equal replacement to Cousins, who has proven to be the more reliable quarterback, but to improve the team with the freed cap space in the short term and find a future franchise quarterback in the coming years.
Winston, who has been valued at $4.8 million this season by OverTheCap, is cheaper than Cousins at $45 million by nearly tenfold. Drafted No. 1 overall in 2015, Winston is known as a gunslinger gone wrong, throwing for over 5,000 yards 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, Winston is coming off a redemptive streak with the New Orleans Saints, where he went 5-2, throwing 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions in a game manager role before suffering a torn ACL.
He showed better decision-making in limited action with the Saints and a higher level of comfort throwing the ball deep, posting a career-high 7.0% big-time throw rate and a career-best 3.0% turnover worthy play rate, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
|Quarterback||Big Time Throw Rate||Turnover Worthy Play Rate||NFL Passer Rating|
|Jameis Winston (7G, 2021)||7.0%||3.0%||102.8|
|Kirk Cousins (16G, 2021)||5.0%||2.8%||103.1|
In 2020, the Vikings started the season 0-2, and the calls to ditch Cousins were roaring. He was coming off an abysmal performance against the Indianapolis Colts, completing 11 of 26 passes for 113 yards and throwing three interceptions for a career-low 15.6 passer rating.
PFF senior editor Eric Eager proposed that Minnesota accelerate its plans to rebuild and get rid of Cousins after trying to sell the fan base they could contend in 2020 by reinforcing the team with a historic 15-man rookie draft class.
Eager proved himself right.
He projected the Vikings to go 6-10 in 2020; they went 7-9. Nothing changed in 2021 despite pouring over $46 million into the defense with free-agent veterans. PFF’s 2021 simulation models projected the Vikings to average 7.9 wins in 2021 with Cousins; they finished 8-9 with an extra game regular-season game on the schedule.
Coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings’ ceiling has been established in four seasons with Cousins. They’re further from a championship-caliber team, and it isn’t entirely on the former coaching staff. While rostering plenty of star power, Minnesota lacks depth at numerous positions and hoping to not get bitten by the injury bug is fool’s gold in the NFL.
Eager made a case that the Vikings should have gambled on Winston in 2020.
“There’s guys available for rookie contracts that can change your franchise,” Eager said on SKOR North in 2020 with a historic quarterback class poised for the 2021 draft. “It’s much much more of a risk to go into that draft and not be open-minded to finding your 10-year guy than it is to let Kirk Cousins go. The Winston process just gets the Vikings so much quicker to the truth; whether it’s 2-14 or 7-9.”
If Benjamin’s trade proposals came to fruition, the Vikings could potentially have two first-round picks and roughly $20 million in cap space created if they could sign Winston at roughly $5 million for the season.
Minnesota could get lucky with Winston. Maybe the defense can undergo a successful rehaul after two failed tries in 2020 and 2021 and Winston captures shades of Case Keenum in 2017. But if the Vikings fail miserably in 2022, at least they’ll be closer to taking a swing at a future franchise quarterback on a rookie contract who they can build a foreseeable future around instead of mortgaging their future with Cousins.
Entering the NFL Scouting Combine week where many NFL team leaders will discuss their franchise’s futures, the Vikings should be open to trade talks and entertain the possibility of a bridge quarterback.