It is already a guarantee that the Vikings will be under new management next season, both in the front office and on the sidelines, as the team is currently in the process of interviewing replacements for fired general manager Rick Spielman and former head coach Mike Zimmer. The NFL is a volatile professional landscape and the window to prove one’s worth as a decision maker is typically narrow, as few as just two or three seasons in some cases — take the tenures of the New York Giants‘ last three head coaches, as just a few of several examples.
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New men in charge often want to make a team their own — to be defined in success or failure by the imprint they actively impose upon a franchise. That’s why, despite the fact that Cousins currently sits sixth in Pro Football Focus’s quarterback rankings, the signal caller could well be on his way to another team next season via the trade market.
Complicating the situation further is the $35 million base salary Cousins is owed on the final year of his deal and the extent to which paying the QB that salary will hamstring new management’s ability to address other problem areas in Minnesota, such as a weak secondary and an ailing edge pass rush.
Analyst Predicts Cousins Will Land in AFC North Next Season
More than one team has been floated as a potential destination for Cousins.
There are a handful of quality rosters that exist across the AFC that are ostensibly a quarterback away from attaining true contender status. Among them are the Denver Broncos, who found out this season what the Vikings already knew — that Teddy Bridgewater probably isn’t a long-term solution under center. Then there’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, who made the playoffs this year but were routed by the Kansas City Chiefs over Wildcard Weekend. It appears the game at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night was the end of the line for two-time Super Bowl winning QB Ben Roethlisberger.
But it’s another AFC North squad that writer Ian Wharton, of Complex, believes will win the Cousins sweepstakes this offseason. Of course, they will have to part with their own question at quarterback before they are in a position to do so.
As painful as it may be for [Cleveland] Browns fans who are loyal to the quarterback who helped break the franchise’s playoff drought, the team needs to explore all avenues to improve the position. [Baker] Mayfield was awful in 2021 as injuries exacerbated poor decision-making, field vision, and accuracy. In total, Mayfield has been average or worse for the majority of his tenure in Cleveland considering 2019, the first half of 2020, and 2021.
The good news is there are plenty of better candidates on the market. While the team should do everything they can to acquire Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, both of those players have the cache and, in Watson’s case a no-trade clause, to direct where they’d go. They should want to join Cleveland’s impressive roster, but it’s unknown how they feel at this time.
The natural choice is to acquire Kirk Cousins as the Vikings look to shake up their roster and coaching staff. Cousins is entering the last year of his deal, owed $35 million in salary and carrying a $45 million cap hit. That deal is meant to be restructured, and Cleveland can oblige without killing their flexibility.
Cousins’ familiarity and extreme success with Stefanski makes this an easy fit to see. Cousins isn’t nearly as impactful as his crazy stat lines suggest, but he raises the baseline of an offense to a solid level. Cleveland would be a considerable Super Bowl contender with a borderline top-10 quarterback like Cousins, and he takes the guesswork out of the position that Mayfield brings.
Vikings GM, Head Coach Search Results Will Dictate Cousins’ Future
Whoever the next general manager in Minnesota is will have a huge impact on the person named the next head coach. The football philosophy of that head coach, whoever he turns out to be, will likely determine whether Cousins stays or goes.
There is a divide on whether the Vikings should lean toward an offensive mind to take advantage of their multiple Pro-Bowlers on that side of the ball, namely running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Presumably, an offensive-minded candidate like Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore or Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett would be more likely to value what Cousins brings and keep him around.
The flip side is that an offensive guy might believe himself more capable of bringing along a younger and/or lesser known commodity at QB and would value the cap flexibility to throw money at areas of the team they’re less equipped to fix through coaching alone.
A defensive coach who could address some of the Vikings’ more glaring deficiencies on that side of the ball might see the release of Cousins as the only way to truly untie the team’s hands and create a more well-rounded roster. However, a defensive guy like Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn or Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles may be more gun shy to part with a quarterback like Cousins who, at the very least, is wildly productive from a statistical standpoint. Taking a solid offense and tanking it by discarding a quality QB is a great way for a defensive head coach to get fired early in his tenure.
Chad Graff, Vikings reporter for The Athletic Minnesota, has reported that Hackett, Moore, Quinn, Bowles, San Francisco 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans and Philadelphia Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon will all get looks from the team as potential head coaching candidates. After an impressive victory Monday night over the Arizona Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris also emerged as a candidate.
Whoever the Vikings decide on between these men, or any as of yet unnamed candidates, will probably swing Cousins’ future either back to Minnesota or to a team like Cleveland in the AFC looking to make a move under center.