Vikings Get Brutally Honest on Kirk Cousins, Future at QB

O'Connell, Cousins, Vikings

Getty Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell (left) talks with quarterback Kirk Cousins (right) during the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The new Minnesota Vikings have gotten cold feet when it comes to Kirk Cousins.

After watching Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer lose their jobs due to failing to bring the franchise back to the NFC Championship with Cousins, the new regime of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell is being cautious in overcommitting to the veteran quarterback. Instead of taking up Cousins’ offer for a discounted three-year contract extension, the Vikings opted to restructure Cousins’ current deal to make one final run with the veteran quarterback before his contract expires next offseason.

After a first-round exit in the postseason where the Vikings defense ceded over 400 yards of total offense for the 10th time last season, Minnesota must repair its defense to make this final year count.

However, the Vikings are doing so with Band-Aids instead of needles and thread. The financial constraints that come with paying a veteran quarterback upwards of $30 million a year has left the Vikings unable to fortify the defense with quality prime free agents (their poor draft history over the past four seasons hasn’t helped either).

O’Connell, speaking at the  NFL owners’ meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, addressed the future of the quarterback position and the allure of having a quarterback on a rookie-scale contract.

“I think it’s one of those things that if you are building a roster around one of those (elite) quarterbacks that’s kind of resetting the market, you’re probably in a good position. If you’ve got a quarterback, you’re excited; if you don’t, you’re excited to go find him,” O’Connell said on March 29. “It’s clear the benefits of drafting one and having those four years of that player on the scale that allows you to build a roster around those players has been an advantage. It’s not a cliche to say that that position really defines a lot of buildings in the NFL.”

Vikings Haven’t Found a Happy Medium With Kirk Cousins Yet

O’Connell’s comment states an obvious truth: having an elite quarterback is the ideal and having a rookie-scale quarterback is the next best option.

Minnesota hasn’t had either with Cousins, whose $159 million earned the past five seasons is the most by any player in the NFL. The Vikings have one playoff win to show for his tenure. Winning doesn’t entirely fall on the quarterback, but with the position atop the cap sheet, it is the defining building block for a franchise, as O’Connell mentioned.

Cousins combated his reputation for not winning in the clutch by clinching a league-leading eight game-winning drives last season despite a down year statistically. However, his playoff pedigree remains unchanged, prompting the new Vikings regime to consider a potential pivot at quarterback as soon as next season.

But for now, O’Connell is focused on making it work with Cousins, who could play himself into another contract in Minnesota if he can take the next step forward in his career approaching the age of 35.

“Kirk and I have had a ton of dialogue throughout the offseason, just really in anticipation and excitement of his year two in our offense. He actually brought this up to me, the last time he had the same voice calling plays in the same system in his ear was Sean McVay, 2015 to 2016,” O’Connell said at the owners’ meeting. “This’ll be really cool for him to be in the same system, call the same formations, the same plays. I’m just excited to see him in year two and my goal is that 2023 is one of the best seasons Kirk Cousins has had playing quarterback in the NFL.”

Vikings 1st-Round Draft Move Will Show Their Hand at QB

What the Vikings do in the first round will be telling of their plans for the future at quarterback.

Minnesota cannot afford to hemorrhage its future by selling the farm to move up and snag a quarterback in the first five picks. However, if a first-round prospect falls to the middle of the round, the Vikings could make a move up and secure a rookie quarterback and give him an ideal developmental season behind Cousins in 2023.

If the Vikings do not go quarterback early in the draft, the plan may be to secure a bridge veteran quarterback or re-sign Cousins, who is due $28.5 million in 2024 whether he is on the roster or not due to Minnesota’s restructuring of his contract.

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