Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Gets Brutally Honest on Stars’ Contract Disputes

Kirk Cousins and Kevin O'Connell

Getty Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The new Minnesota Vikings regime opted to run it back with a slew of veterans from the Rick Spielman era last season, resulting in a 13-1 record, an NFC North division title and a playoff berth.

But the honeymoon was short-lived.

Minnesota parted ways with eight starters in the offseason, largely over performance and financial reasons.

The Vikings wouldn’t agree to paying Za’Darius Smith more, so they traded him. Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen would not agree to restructuring their contracts, leading to the team cutting both stars.

Players currently on the team haven’t been spared either. Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter didn’t secure the long-term deals both players hoped for as the Vikings remain uncertain about their futures with the team. Both Cousins and Hunter are playing on expiring contracts this season.

Meanwhile, the Vikings showed some plans for the future by locking T.J. Hockenson to a four-year, $66 million contract extension after a monthlong hold-in by the star player.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell has played mediator through it all.

Broached on the topic of the team’s tough negotiations this offseason, O’Connell emphasized the balance he must strike working hand-in-hand with the front office and the players.

“The balance is communication and making sure that I will always do my best to keep those lines of communication daily open and honest. Allow the player to go through their process til their representation with Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and Rob [Brzezinski] and what that looks like. My role in this is to continue to make sure I’m a positive tool for both sides and look at it as, ‘How do I, in my role, help to make sure we get to a good place,’ ” O’Connell said in a September 6 media conference.

“That could be a lot of different outcomes I prefer all of them to be outcomes where the guys that you’re speaking of (Cousins, Hunter and Hockenson) I want them all here as long as I can. It’s one of those things where that side of it has to play itself out. The way we like to treat people, the way we like to communicate, make sure it’s daily, make sure they know they’re a major, major focus of our whole organization and then we just work through the intricacies of it and try to see if we can get something done.”

Kevin O’Connell Strikes Balance, Offers Honest Opinion to Vikings Players

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

GettyHead coach Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings speaks to the media during the NFL Combine in March 2023.

While O’Connell embodies this mediator role between the front office and players, he also was not coy in admitting he has his personal biases — primarily with wanting players to agree to a deal and stay in Minnesota.

“Throughout that whole process… I hope all of our players feel like my door’s open they can come talk to me about it and I’m going to give them my honest opinion, if they ask for it. If they don’t, I’m probably still going to give it to them anyway,” O’Connell said as he flashed a smile midsentence.

“But in the end it’s about them feeling good about the overall process so when things do get done they are excited about it and they’re excited about being a Minnesota Viking for a long time,” O’Connell added.

 New Vikings Regime Inherited Financial Constraints

Since Cousins was signed in 2018, the Vikings undeSpielman were in win-now mode, even when their record indicated they were slipping from their contender status.

Speilman’s strategy of restructuring veteran contracts created cap space to rebuild the roster every offseason and make another run at the postseason, however, it only backloaded contracts with void years and dead cap space for the next guy.

Adofo-Mensah ripped the Band-Aid off last season by releasing many household names. Usually over the salary cap approaching free agency in March every year, Minnesota is projected to have over $48 million in cap space to work with despite over $43 million in dead cap sunk into Cousins ($28.5 million) and Hunter ($14.9 million).

This season could be a transitional year for the franchise as they deliberate their future at quarterback and could have a wealth of cap space to sign prized free agents next offseason.

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