New Team Emerges as Trade Suitor for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins

Getty Kirk Cousins left practice with an undisclosed illness on August 11, 2022.

Should he stay or should he go? That’s the question the Minnesota Vikings front office is pondering when it comes to QB Kirk Cousins’ future with the franchise.

Trade speculation has swirled around Cousins for much of this season, which he will finish with just one year left on his contract. The New Orleans Saints, with an injured Jameis Winston and an underwhelming Taysom Hill, have previously been named among the possible suitors for Cousins, as have the Pittsburgh Steelers, with aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Added to the mix on Thursday by way of an ESPN report from staff writer Courtney Cronin were the Denver Broncos, a team with a compelling case to take a hard run at Cousins should the Vikings make him available this offseason.

Broncos Precisely the Type of Team Minnesota Could Leverage in Potential Cousins Trade

Kirk Cousins

GettyMinnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins was recently named a trade target for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Broncos have slogged through the season under the leadership of QB Teddy Bridgewater, but he is more placeholder than long-term solution. A playoff contender at 6-6 despite an often stalled offense, Denver is wasting years of a borderline-elite defense that is currently 9th in defensive ranking through Week 12, per Pro Football Focus.

The Broncos’ situation calls for a move at the quarterback position now, not just to realize their hopes of developing into a true Super Bowl contender, but also to simply compete in an AFC West Division already loaded under center due to the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr.

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Cousins would still be arguably the fourth-best quarterback of that group. However, he is capable of putting together games and in-season stretches during which he might be the best of the group — or even full years in which he’d be considered second on the list behind Mahomes.

NFL analyst and former defensive back Matt Bowen gave a breakdown of Cousins as a QB in Cronin’s article, published by ESPN on December 9.

“He doesn’t have scheme-transcendent traits,” Bowen said. “He’s probably a mid-tier No. 1, and you can win with a mid-tier No. 1 in the proper system where you can read it out from the pocket, hit the scheme throws, be aggressive when he has to or when he wants to, take the one-on-ones and sometimes play out of structure when it’s necessary. And Kirk can do all that for you.”

What the Vikings might want from the Broncos in a potential trade remains unclear, but the price would be steep. Starting quarterbacks with the perception of being good enough to win a title in the right situation remain few and far between in the NFL, and they are coveted.

That there are two other storied franchises (Pittsburgh and New Orleans) interested in Cousins, both with solid rosters and substantial successes in their recent pasts, means a potential bidding war. A bidding war means a higher price tag on a trade for whoever comes out the winner.

Vikings Case for Keeping Cousins

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GettyMinnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins.

If Cousins can do all that for Denver, or for Pittsburgh or New Orleans, then why would the Vikings not want him to stick around and keep doing it in Minnesota? The answer is complicated.

Fresh off a victory over the aforementioned Steelers in a must-win Thursday Night Football matchup, the pendulum on Cousins continues to swing between competing notions that this is a man who can finally lead the Vikings to the promised land and that Cousin’s cost is too high for the value he brings as a mid-tier No. 1, making winning at the highest level too difficult to achieve.

Good, but not all-time great; respected, but not feared; clutch, then surprisingly pedestrian out of nowhere — these are all legitimate descriptions of Cousins. And if they are all true, can Minnesota really justify paying the QB the $35 million base salary he’s owed in 2022?

As Cronin noted, the cap hit actually makes Cousins even more expensive than his actual contract, coming in at $45 million. That accounts for more than 21% of the team’s total salary cap. If they keep Cousins, Minnesota will be able to make some moves around the edges, but splash free agent signings are probably not in the franchise’s immediate future.

There’s also another notion to consider: Should Cousins finish out this season strong and lead the now 6-7 Vikings to the playoffs, and then follow that up with a stellar season in Minnesota next year, he will become incredibly expensive to keep.

Cousins is a free agent after 2022, and he already owns the 8th highest-paid quarterback contract in the NFL. A solid stretch over his next 20 games or so could push Cousin’s annual salary north of $40 million, which would tie the the Vikings’ hands in free agency even tighter. Not paying it means Cousins walks and Minnesota loses him and gets nothing in return.

Fate of Head Coach Mike Zimmer a Factor in Cousins’ Future

Mike Zimmer

GettyStar Tribune reporter Ben Goessling predicted an early-departure by Mike ZImmer if the team doesn’t turn their season around soon.

Vikings leader Mike Zimmer is believed by some to a lame duck head coach, playing out the string through the end of the season before Minnesota decides to go in a different direction. Zimmer’s future with the team, and who the Vikings front office might want to replace him, will also play a factor in whether Cousins is back next season.

“If the team moves on from Zimmer and/or general manager Rick Spielman, two parties who will forever be linked to the decision to bring Cousins to Minnesota, the Vikings may take a clean-slate approach,” Cronin wrote. “Many times, a new coach/front office will want to make its own decision at quarterback. It could be difficult for the Vikings to make the hire they want if the team commits to Cousins now.”

There are too many factors, too many complications, to predict with accuracy where Cousins will be come next season. But several of those questions are likely to be answered in the next 4-6 weeks — namely Cousins’ performance down the stretch as the Vikings push for a postseason bid and how the team’s success impacts Zimmer’s future.

All that is to say Minnesota will be one of the most fascinating stories in the NFL over the last month of the season for several reasons, as circumstances are likely to sort themselves out with an uncanny speed.

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Mark Salinas
Mark Salinas
9 months ago

Cousins is a stats guy not a winner/closer. Even up by 29 in the Pittsburgh game we all new it was not over. I would be SHOCKED if the Vikings win more than 1 or 2 games in the remainder of the season. It is time for the Vikings to cut their losses. Not sure why its even a question to move on from Cousins and Zimmer. Cmon its business not personal.

Carl Brodin
Carl Brodin
9 months ago

The Vikings need to trade Cousins and his salary to the Broncos for a heavy load of draft picks the Vikings would incur a 10 mil cap hit but that’s better than 35 mil. Then we should draft 2 CBS, 2 interior olineman, NT maybe another WR.

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