Quarterback Kirk Cousins was clear on Wednesday about his intentions toward the Minnesota Vikings next season and moving forward.
The 10-year signal caller spoke with the media January 5 to address the question of the rest of his career, which to this point has been split between the Vikings and the Washington Football Team, where he was drafted and spent his first six seasons in the NFL.
Whether the Vikings want Cousins in Minnesota for the remainder of his professional tenure is, however, less certain.
Cousins Floated in Several Trade Rumors
The most recent trade scenario — floated by NFL insider Albert Breer, of Monday Morning Quarterback — would reunite Cousins with Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski in return for embattled and injured quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“Not impossible,” Breer said via Twitter in response to a fan question about whether such a trade would have a chance to go through. “That’s a good question. [Stefanski] has a relationship with Kirk, but I don’t know who’s coaching the Vikings next year.”
Stefanski was the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2019, the last time Minnesota was in the playoffs and the first and only time Cousins has won a playoff game while donning the purple and white.
Mayfield caught a lot of flak this season after being blamed for the departure of former star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., being questioned by several pass catchers who remained with the team including Beckham’s good friend Jarvis Landry, and playing to a subpar standard down the stretch with shoulder and lower body injuries. The Browns failed to make the playoffs this season after winning the franchise’s first postseason game in decades last year against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cousins, while highly productive statistically over the previous two seasons, has also failed to lead the Vikings to the playoffs during that time. The QB has tossed the ball for 8,236 yards over 31 games between 2020-21, per Pro Football Reference, and still has one more contest to play this year. Cousins will start against the Chicago Bears in Minneapolis Sunday, according to head coach Mike Zimmer, despite the Vikings’ 7-9 record, which has already eliminated them from postseason contention.
Over the last two seasons, Cousins has also thrown for 65 TDs compared to only 20 INTs, numbers that are significantly superior to Mayfield’s. That begs the question why Minnesota would make the deal. The answer is multi-faceted.
Cousins will be incredibly expensive in 2022, when he is guaranteed $45 million in salary and bonuses, per Spotrac. Both he and Mayfield will be free agents following next season, but Mayfield is making less than $19 million in the final year of his rookie deal and would be vastly cheaper to franchise as a bridge quarterback for a one-year or two-year stretch if things didn’t work out at a championship level in Minnesota.
Fans of both the Vikings and the Browns have been harsh with Cousins and Mayfield, respectively, this season. However, both signal callers have had bright moments relatively recently and have shown that teams can make the playoffs and build contenders around their styles of play. A swap for a year or two could do both QBs and both teams a world of good.
Beyond that, there’s little down side for either franchise. Who cares what your record is if you miss the playoffs? In other words, even though the football situations aren’t truly terrible in either city, they also can’t really get much worse from a practical standpoint.
Cousins Named Trade Target for Steelers and Broncos
Breer made an important point in his answer about a potential Cousins trade to the Browns when he said it’s unclear who the head coach will be in Minnesota next year. Zimmer clearly appears on his way out, but the identity of his successor remains an open question. There are also questions about turnover in the Vikings’ front office heading into the offseason.
A new coach and/or a new general manager may look to make a move with Cousins and free up tens of millions in cap space if he/they believe they can find value at the quarterback position elsewhere. Or, perhaps whoever is in charge will want to run it back with Cousins, along with RB Dalvin Cook, and wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen one more time under fresh leadership to see if a little tweaking can make the offensive recipe in Minnesota considerably more palatable.
If Cousins were to take a hike, other options beside the Browns include the Steelers and the Denver Broncos. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger announced this season will likely be his last in the NFL, while the Broncos have a quality roster minus average-to-subpar options under center in Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock.
In a scenario that sends Cousins west to Denver, Bridgewater could return to Minnesota to serve as a placeholder QB for the Vikings while they look for a permanent replacement. That would, however, potentially waste a prime season for both Cook and Jefferson, who were each named to the Pro-Bowl again in 2021.