The Cousins conundrum vexed first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in 2022 — a player good enough to keep a franchise competitive and difficult to upgrade over in an NFL where winning QBs are at a premium, but also unproven at the highest levels of the game and a struggle to justify at his exorbitant price. Adofo-Mensah’s answer was ultimately to kick the can down the road a season by extending Cousins through 2023 on a one-year deal worth $35 million.
While still an option, a rinse and repeat of that same half-solution isn’t likely this time around. Cousins, who turns 35 in August, is going to want a multiyear deal to secure his playing future through his late 30s. The Vikings brass need to get the quarterback position right if they hope to keep a hold on the NFC North Division, as the team braces to pay what is likely to be the richest wide receiver contract in league history to All-Pro Justin Jefferson this offseason.
In this context, the answer to the Cousins question becomes clear — it’s time for a trade. The next question is with whom? Among the best candidates are the New York Jets, a team that has the No. 13 overall pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft to offer in trade.
Vikings Can Sell Jets on Cousins if New York Can’t Secure Aaron Rodgers
The Jets are exactly the kind of team that can be sold on Cousins because he can legitimately elevate them to contender status. New York outperformed expectations last season, finishing the year 7-10, despite six straight losses to close out the year and no real answers under center.
NFL championship windows are almost never open as long as you think they will be, and the Jets are incentivized to take a swing now with a Super Bowl-caliber defense and solid, young skill position talent in running back Breece Hall, as well as wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore.
The Jets have been most frequently tied to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, though his future remains murky and there has been no indication he would sign off on heading to the powerhouse AFC East Division if he is ultimately traded. More than that, Rodgers brings with him the baggage of a hefty and complicated contract that will weigh any trade partner down financially for years to come.
“Rodgers would bring a $15.79M cap figure with him to a new team in 2023, then $32.5M, $51.1M, [and] $45.2M through 2026,” Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac wrote on January 26.
While Cousins’ contract is no picnic either, it is significantly less onerous and discussions of a two- or three-year extension would probably be part of any trade deal. Cousins does have a no-trade clause, though it seems unlikely he would buck at playing for an up-and-coming organization like the Jets with as much as they have to offer.
Cousins doesn’t have the track record of success that Rodgers does, but he is four years younger and appears considerably more interested in actually playing football next year. Those two facts make him a top option, along with a player like Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, should the Jets strike out in their attempts to acquire Rodgers from Green Bay.
Vikings Can Draft Future at QB in Anthony Richardson
Of course, parting ways with Cousins would not be absent significant pains. First off, the Vikings would probably need to relegate themselves to something of a reset year in 2023, unless Adofo-Mensah and company view a player like Carr as the long-term answer under center and are motivated to spend significantly to acquire him.
But as a team nearly $23.5 million over the salary cap as of January 31, per Over The Cap, significant changes are already coming to the Vikings roster this offseason, with players like running back Dalvin Cook and wide receiver Adam Thielen prime candidates for the chopping block. Trading Cousins provides Minnesota with close to $18 million in cap relief and opens the door for a veteran to serve as a bridge to the QB of the future.
As to who that quarterback of the future would be, the most likely place to look is to the talented 2023 draft class. Minnesota owns the No. 24 overall pick. If they executed a trade with the Jets, considering New York’s significant need under center, they could probably squeeze the No. 13 pick in return as well.
The top QB prospects in Bryce Young of Alabama, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Will Levis of Kentucky are all likely to be off the board before the first 10 names of the night have been called, but Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson could slip into the Vikings’ range if they hold the 13th selection.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projects Richardson to go No. 9 to the Carolina Panthers, though Minnesota could sneak ahead of them if they like Richardson enough to package the No. 13 pick with some extra draft capital.
“I wouldn’t play Richardson in Year 1. He needs time to develop. He’s not an NFL-ready thrower. But he is an awesome talent, a raw quarterback in a 6-foot-4 frame who would be one of the league’s most electrifying runners as soon as he steps on the field,” Kiper wrote on January 25. “His size and physical tools cannot be taught, and NFL coaches will want to work with him and try to take him to the next level.”
If Minnesota is willing to wait a year, head coach Kevin O’Connell could spend that time prepping Richardson to lead the Vikings into the next evolution of NFL football with a mobile quarterback at the helm and the best receiver in the game at his disposal.