The Carolina Panthers rang up new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah Monday to inquire about the quarterback, per a February 21 report from Judd Zulgad of SKOR NORTH. The report also included news that the call “went nowhere,” but that is not entirely unheard of during an opening salvo that ultimately leads to a legitimate trade negotiation.
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus named an eventual deal between the franchises as one of 15 trade proposals to keep an eye on this offseason.
The hope is that [Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo] can cater the offense to his quarterback’s skill set. While his up-tempo, West Coast-style offense with the quarterback in shotgun has not been one that Kirk Cousins excels in … perhaps McAdoo can make some tweaks in a pivotal year for everyone in Carolina.
From Minnesota’s perspective, new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and new head coach Kevin O’Connell start fresh, working through a down 2022 season while building around phenom wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Carolina gave up most of its 2022 draft capital for quarterback Sam Darnold, among other moves, but if any general manager wouldn’t fall for the fallacy that is placing a time value on draft picks, one would think it’s Adofo-Mensah.
The trade would send Cousins to Carolina in return for the Panthers’ first-round round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft (No. 6 overall) and a second-round selection in 2023. The Vikings would incur a dead cap hit of $10 million, the cost of Cousins’ annual signing bonus, while the Panthers would be on the hook for the quarterback’s $35 million salary in 2022. Cousins will become a free agent following this season.
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Vikings Have Leverage in Potential Cousins Trade With Panthers
The Panthers make a potentially prosperous trade partner for Cousins for several reasons. The first is that Carolina has been simply bad for two seasons under head coach Matt Rhule (10-23) and has been unable to find a reliable starting quarterback. Both Sam Darnold and Cam Newton proved unsuccessful under center last year, and both lost their jobs. If Rhule and company can’t find a solution quickly, they may suffer similar fates.
“[They are] quarterback-desperate — panicked, I’m sure,” Zulgad said of Carolina’s leadership. “I think if Matt Rhule and the Panthers don’t have a successful 2022, he’s probably going to be fired because that has not worked out.”
“The Vikings supposedly [told the Panthers] ‘Hey, let’s put a pin in that conversation. We don’t plan to move him now,'” Zulgad continued. “But it makes sense that you would then try and drive things a bit.”
Carolina’s pressing need under center matches an equally pressing need in Minnesota to make a decision on Cousins’ future. Under current circumstances, even short-term options the Vikings can execute will bring long-term consequences. Keeping Cousins for next season probably means Minnesota must extend him for several more to come.
As SKOR NORTH reported earlier this week, Cousins is “not interested” in a pay cut. The Vikings, on the other hand, may not be interested in continuing to pay a quarterback $45 million per season in exchange for losing records and squandered playoff appearances.
Keeping Cousins through the end of his expensive deal and letting him walk for nothing next offseason amounts to throwing a trade asset in the trash, but dealing the QB to a desperate team like the Panthers represents the highest return value the Vikings are ever likely to see.
Vikings Kevin O’Connell Expresses Interest in Retaining Kirk Cousins
Despite his high value to the Panthers, the Vikings’ incoming leadership has openly expressed interest in retaining Cousins.
“I know he’s already under contract, and I’m excited to coach him. We’ve already started thinking about how we’re going to build those systems for him and our other quarterbacks,” O’Connell said during his introductory press conference. “I’m anticipating Kirk being a part of what we do.”
Minnesota’s new head coach may feel that Cousins’ PFF player rating of 88.2, which was good enough for sixth in the NFL among 37 qualifying players at the position, is good enough to build around long-term — even at what would presumably be a massive annual figure. But O’Connell may also believe that more value under center gives the Vikings their best chance to improve the entire roster and, by extension, their on-field results.
He would likely make the same public comments in either scenario in order to maintain leverage in any potential trade negotiations to come.