Carolina released behind-the-scenes footage of the Panthers draft room that day, revealing Minnesota’s offer to trade up. The Vikings offered Carolina their No. 14 overall pick along with single third- and fourth-round picks.
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There was speculation whether Minnesota was targeting Northwestern left tackle Rashawn Slater, picked No. 13 overall by the Los Angeles Chargers, or Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, selected by the Chicago Bears at No. 11 overall.
Vikings Ownership Pushes for Cousins Contingency Plan
After the draft, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported that Vikings ownership was the biggest proponent for finding a replacement for Cousins, who is under contract for two more seasons.
“I am told by multiple people that ownership drove the bus, not necessarily on that specific quarterback, Kellen Mond, but on the idea of taking a quarterback relatively high. And if it came down to it, even taking a quarterback in the first round,” Wolfson said in an appearance on the Mackey & Judd on SKOR North podcast. “The Wilf’s didn’t want Spielman to wait until round six to take a quarterback. They didn’t want it to be like last year: waiting until round seven, snagging, Nate Stanley.”
The hype surrounding Florio’s anonymous source confirming the Vikings trade-up was an attempt at picking Fields has largely ballooned in a slight against Cousins.
However, Minnesota’s offer was not enough for Carolina to even consider.
The lack of a future first-round pick or attempt to leapfrog the Bears, who traded up to get Fields, at other spots shows the Vikings seem at least content with Cousins for the 2021 season by not selling the farm for his successor, instead opting for a more affordable option in third-round pick Kellen Mond while still drafting a lineman, Christian Darrisaw in the first round.
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Cousins Could be Gone by 2022
Cousins has spoken publicly about his disinterest in restructuring or extending his current contract in Minnesota.
“Honestly, I just signed the extension last offseason and it really doesn’t kick in ’til this coming year,” Cousins said, via Pro Football Talk. “It’s a two-year deal. Those two years begin with 2021… I think it’s more about going out there next season and the year after that and playing at a high enough level that would justify being able to do another deal beyond that. That’s really where my focus is. As I said earlier, I would like to be a Viking for the remainder of my career. I’ve got to play well enough to make that happen.”
In 2022, Cousins carries the highest cap hit of any quarterback with a base salary of $35 million and a $10 million signing bonus — all fully guaranteed. Depending on Mond’s development this season, Minnesota could attempt to part ways with Cousin by trade to avoid that significant cap hit.
“If the Vikings privately tried to renegotiate the Cousins contract before free agency or the draft and if Cousins refused, the Vikings may have decided not simply to protect themselves against Cousins leaving in free agency but to affirmatively seek out his replacement,” Florio wrote.
If the Panthers had accepted Minnesota’s trade and the Vikings selected Fields, he would have been the highest-drafted quarterback in the team’s history. Even so, Mond was the highest selection of a quarterback since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 — signaling the Vikings’ readiness to move on from Cousins’ contract.
However, several factors hinge on that plan panning out. Cousins would have to play well enough for another team to be willing to take on his hefty salary, and Mond would have to check all the boxes needed to make Minnesota confident in him starting after a year-long study under Cousins. Cousins could also have a change of heart and could agree to an extension that would cushion his 2022 cap hit onto following seasons.
There are still zero signs the Vikings are planning to end their partnership with Cousins early, but the upcoming season has seismic implications on the organization’s future.