Signing Cousins to a one-year extension last March, the new Vikings regime used the 2022 season as a trial year to see what they could get out of the veteran quarterback.
But this offseason, they’re unlikely to take the same path and will either extend Cousins long-term or allow him to play out the final year of his current contract, NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero reported on February 26.
“I would not anticipate that there’s another one-year extension here,” Pelissero wrote. “Either the Vikings and Kirk Cousins do a long-term extension that locks him up as their franchise quarterback, or potentially they keep their options open and let Cousins play out this existing deal.”
The expected succession plan for Cousins likely involves drafting a top rookie quarterback prospect that can develop under him for at least a season. With Pelissero’s report in mind, those plans may be accelerated this year if Minnesota decides to not extend Cousins.
By moving on from Cousins and admittingly taking a potential step back at the quarterback position, the Vikings will have more cap space to rebuild a decrepit defense that finished 28th in scoring and 31st in points last season, per Pro Football Reference.
The other route, extending Cousins for at least two more years, will require the Vikings’ 2022 and 2023 draft classes to take a tremendous step forward after Minnesota saw few contributions from its rookies last season.
The decision on Cousins’ future will likely be made by March 13, when the legal tampering period opens for free agency. The Vikings will want to have a full grasp on their finances and the future of the team in mind when negotiating with potential free agents by then.
Vikings Don’t Need to Rush a Decision on Kirk Cousins
Despite leading a 13-win season and tying an NFL record eight game-winning drives last season, Cousins’ reputation in the league is entrenched in a decade of good, not great quarterback play.
By Week 15, Cousins had largely shown he could play winning football, leading a 10-3 start to the season.
However, he still had not won over much of the NFL.
“I’ll say they’re pretenders,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “Remember, Kirk Cousins has only one playoff win in his career.”
Much of the league shares this same sentiment, and the Vikings losing to the New York Giants in the NFC Wild Card round didn’t change any minds that Cousins is who he is and has just one playoff win to show for his career.
But that can work to Minnesota’s benefit.
Allowing Cousins to play out the final year of his deal, Minnesota can still extend him in the 2024 offseason. The Vikings will miss out on potential cap savings by extending him before free agency, however, they can use the buffer year to either begin the development of their next quarterback or scout a 2024 prospect.
If Minnesota chooses the latter, they can still offer a one-year extension to Cousins to both start and mentor his successor. The dilemma would be if he would be willing to take it or if there would be better offers out there.
Few franchises would likely be willing to offer a multi-year deal to a quarterback who they won’t have in their colors until he’s 36 years old.
If Vikings Want to Capitalize on Justin Jefferson’s Prime, They’ll Need to Move on From Expensive QBs
Reaching free agency for the first time in his career in 2018, Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings to be the final piece of a roster that made it to the NFC Championship two months earlier.
However, the Vikings have slid from contention, winning just one playoff game in the Cousins era. Once the league’s No. 1 defense, the Vikings’ biggest strength when Cousins arrived has since atrophied due to aging talent, poor drafting and an inability to splurge on talented free agents with the cap constraints that come with having a veteran quarterback like Cousins on the books.
Cousins managed to win 13 games last season with first-year coach Kevin O’Connell guiding the offense, but the defense proved to be their demise, allowing the Giants to post 431 yards of total offense in a 31-24 loss in the NFC Wild Card round. It was the ninth time the defense allowed 400-plus yards.
The Vikings can hope to draft well and develop talent in the coming years, however, to fast-track the defensive rebuild, signing prized free agents would be ideal, especially with Justin Jefferson entering his prime years.
When Jefferson hits the extended years on his prospective contract in Minnesota, the Vikings will have to move on from a pricey veteran quarterback. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw will also be due for a contract extension in the next few seasons.
Both players are ideal pieces to help develop a young quarterback that won’t have the same weight on the salary cap, allowing the money saved to be spent elsewhere.