Vikings Look Hard at Young QBs to Replace Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings plays against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on December 05, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings have a major question mark at quarterback entering the offseason, and the team is seriously considering a couple of youthful options as possible answers.

Kirk Cousins, who will turn 34 years old before making his next professional start, is a win-now kind of QB. He puts up huge traditional counting stats, the advanced analytics paint him as one of the most efficient signal callers in the NFL, and the cost of his current contract reflects both of those realities. The cost of his next deal — lingering just around the corner — will likely look similar, if not even more expensive than the $45 million total he’s scheduled to earn this year.

Cousins isn’t interested in taking a pay cut this year, or in any year moving forward, per NFL insider Jordan Schultz. As such, both Cousins’ desired salary and his career timeline appear to run perpendicularly to what the Vikings’ new leadership group is trying to accomplish in the short-term. But despite what is expected to be significant roster turnover in Minnesota this offseason, the Vikings need to be careful to invest in immediate winning so as not to alienate star offensive players like wide receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook by wasting years of their respective primes.

One way for Minnesota to spend less under center while remaining committed to a competitive roster in 2022 is to draft one of the top collegiate QB prospects this April. The Vikings did their due diligence in this regard at the NFL Combine over the previous week, looking hard at both quarterback Malik Willis of Liberty University and quarterback Desmond Ridder of the Cincinnati Bearcats.

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Vikings Named Among Favorites to Draft Liberty QB Malik Willis

Malik Willis, Liberty University

GettyQuarterback Malik Willis, of the Liberty Flames, throws the ball during the first half of the LendingTree Bowl against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Hancock Whitney Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It appears Willis is the leader in the clubhouse as far as collegiate QBs the Vikings would be interested in drafting, per Lance Zierlein of Minnesota is not, however, the favorite among professional franchises to land the dual threat quarterback.

Zierlein gave the Vikings a “15% chance” of drafting Willis with the No. 12 pick in the first round. Those are the same odds he afforded the Denver Broncos (pick No. 9), while the Pittsburgh Steelers (pick No. 20) and the Washington Commanders (pick No. 11) each came in with a 20% chance to land Willis.

When looking for a landing spot [for Willis], it’s best to search for a team installing a new regime (both head coach and general manager), as those teams tend to be less predictable and certainly less likely to be OK with the status quo. And Minnesota fits the bill, with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah taking over as Vikings GM and Kevin O’Connell coming aboard as head coach.

O’Connell’s likely offensive scheme is quarterback-friendly and happens to be a better fit for Willis than what the prospect ran at Liberty. With Kirk Cousins’ contract expiring after the season, O’Connell could use 2022 to develop Willis in the background while working him into in-game packages, like San Francisco did with Trey Lance last season.

Willis, 22, has four years of experience under center at the collegiate level, which ought to bolster his game readiness should he need to assume the reins in Minnesota this year or the next.

After beginning his career at the University of Auburn, Willis transferred to Liberty following his sophomore season and sat out the entirety of the 2019 campaign. Over his final two years in the NCAA, Willis completed nearly 62.5% of his passes for 5,107 yards and 47 TDs compared to just 18 INTs. He also rushed the ball for 1,822 yards and scored 27 TDs on the ground.

Willis produced a record of 17-6 across 23 starts at Liberty, including victories in two Bowl Games.

Vikings Spoke With Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder at NFL Combine

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati Bearcats

GettyQuarterback Desmond Ridder, of the Cincinnati Bearcats, stiff arms Nakobe Dean, of the Georgia Bulldogs, during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham /Getty Images)

Willis wasn’t the only veteran quarterback to catch Minnesota’s eye at the combine. Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday, March 3 that the Vikings had spoken with Ridder. The quarterback was a four-year starter at Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to undefeated regular seasons during each of his final two years with the program, as well as to a berth in the College Football Playoff (CFP) in January.

“Cincinnati Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder said at the combine that the #Vikings are among seven or eight teams that he so far has talked to in advance of the draft,” Tomasson tweeted.

Ridder had a prolific collegiate career despite much of it being marred by the pandemic. He led the Bearcats to a 44-5 record over four years, including two victories in Bowl Games. Two of Ridder’s five defeats in college came at the hands of SEC powerhouses the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide, the last two National Champions. Both of those losses occurred during postseason play.

Also 22 years old, Ridder appears well prepared for the NFL from the perspective of on-field experience. He racked up 10,239 passing yards on the strength of a 62.1% completion rate, totals that were complemented by 87 TDs and only 28 INTs. Ridder also rushed the ball for 2,180 yards and 28 TDs over the course of his collegiate career.

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