Insider Calls Out Vikings’ ‘Downgrade’ in Free Agency: ‘It’s a Gamble’

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota Vikings

Getty General manager Kwesi Adolfo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings took a step back this offseason, particularly in free agency.

That is the read on their going from Kirk Cousins, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, to Sam Darnold. Darnold is now on his third team since the New York Jets made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2018.

NFL insider Mike Jones of The Athletic notes the “downgrade” and offers some rumblings of the Vikings’ logic.

“They tried in vain to re-sign Cousins,” Jones wrote on March 22. “Now, the Vikings go from one of the most consistent quarterbacks to one of the most turnover-prone. Team officials are hoping that a season under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan as San Francisco’s backup helps Darnold finally live up to his potential as the third pick of the 2018 draft (Jets). But it’s a gamble.”

Darnold signed a one-year, $10 million contract in free agency. He threw two touchdowns to one interception in 10 appearances for the 49ers last season. He also posted the highest grade of his career, albeit in a backup capacity, per Pro Football Focus.

However, he also committed three fumbles, losing one, and absorbing six sacks.

That was an issue for Vikings quarterbacks last season, including Cousins, who had seven of the team’s 10 fumbles from the position.

“Darnold … has yet to show he has learned how to do a better job of protecting the ball than he did in New York and Carolina during the first five seasons of his career,” Jones wrote. “It’s possible, however, that Darnold could serve either as a temporary bridge quarterback or insurance policy.”

Darnold has 63 career touchdowns to 70 turnovers (56 interceptions and 14 lost fumbles).

It will be incumbent upon Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell – who hails from a branch of the Shanahan coaching tree – to get the most out of Darnold.

Vikings Scouting 2024 Quarterback Class Ahead of Draft

Josh McCown, Minnesota Vikings

GettyQuarterbacks coach Josh McCown of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings have shown a strong interest in the quarterbacks of the 2024 draft class in the wake of their potentially lackluster free agency. They have already sent Quarterbacks Coach Josh McCown to multiple pro days this offseason.

McCown was notably at Caleb Williams’ pro day. This is despite the now-former USC Trojan almost certainly heading to the Chicago Bears with the No. 1 overall pick.

McCown was also in close proximity to J.J. McCarthy during his pro day.

That may be an even more telling visit than the one to see Williams. There is speculation the Vikings are planning an “aggressive” trade up in the draft to select the former Michigan Wolverine and reigning national champion.

“In talking to NFL personnel while on the road at pro days this week, the feeling is still that the Vikings will be aggressive in trading up to the No. 4 or No. 5 spot to land the Michigan quarterback,” ESPN’s Matt Miller wrote on March 23. “One general manager I talked to this week said McCarthy is a top-six pick right now.”

The Vikings could have a ready-made trade partner to get there. Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort declared the No. 4 overall pick for sale.

Jones’ assessments of some of the other quarterback moves are more foreboding for the Vikings.

Former Vikings Quarterbacks ‘Upgrade’ NFC Rivals in Free Agency

Kevin O'Connell, Minnesota Vikings

GettyHead coach Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

Cousins was deemed an upgrade for the Falcons. They traded former third-round pick Desmond Ridder to the Cardinals and signed the former Vikings quarterback to a four-year contract worth up to $180 million in free agency.

That wasn’t all, though.

Joshua Dobbs’ going from the Vikings to the 49ers on a one-year, $2.2 million contract in free agency was deemed an “upgrade” for San Francisco.

Dobbs is replacing Darnold as the projected backup to starter Brock Purdy. That speaks volumes about Jones’ assessment of the new Vikings quarterback. Perhaps even more ominous is Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

Mullens and Hall combined to complete 67.2% of their passes for seven touchdowns (all by Mullens) and nine interceptions.

Each fumbled twice, but both of Mullens’ were recovered while Hall’s were lost.