Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell Breaks Silence on Turning Down Kirk Cousins Extension

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Getty Kirk Cousins talks with head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings prior to a game against the Washington Commanders in November 2022.

While the Minnesota Vikings declined to offer Kirk Cousins a long-term deal to make the 34-year-old a Viking for life, head coach Kevin O’Connell hasn’t written off the veteran quarterback.

Speaking at the NFL owners’ meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 29, O’Connell addressed Cousins playing out the final year of his contract and the fallout in contract negotiations after the Vikings did not reach an agreement on an extension with Cousins.

“Kirk and I have had a ton of dialogue throughout the offseason, just really in anticipation and excitement of his year two in our offense. He actually brought this up to me, the last time he had the same voice calling plays in the same system in his ear was Sean McVay, 2015 to 2016,” O’Connell said. “This’ll be really cool for him to be in the same system, call the same formations, the same plays. I’m just excited to see him in year two and my goal is that 2023 is one of the best seasons Kirk Cousins has had playing quarterback in the NFL.”

Kirk Cousins Took a Significant Step Forward the Last Time He Had the Same Play-Caller

O’Connell harkening back to Cousins having the same voice in his helmet for the first time since McVay is notable when considering Cousins’ leap from Year 1 to Year 2 with McVay. Cousins threw for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his second year with McVay, earning the first Pro Bowl nod of his career.

For the first time in his career, Cousins capped back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances with Kevin O’Connell calling playing last season despite a down year statistically for Cousins. He threw a career-high 14 interceptions and posted the lowest passer rating (92.5) and QBR (49.9) of his career as a starter but earned the respect of voters by making plays when they mattered most, leading the league with eight game-winning drives.

Cousins will be playing in a contract year for the first time as a Viking. It will also be the first time he’s had the same play-caller during his time in purple and gold. If Cousins can make good on O’Connell’s goal of helping him have the best season of his career in 2023, Cousins’ future in Minnesota may go beyond his current contract.

Vikings Declined a Team Discount From Kirk Cousins

Amid an offseason of contract negotiations, Cousins, whose $159 million earned the past five seasons with the Vikings is the largest by any player in the league, wanted three more seasons in Minnesota and was willing to take a discount, Star Tribune reporters Ben Goessling and Andrew Krammer revealed on the Access Vikings podcast.

The Vikings declined the discount, instead opting for a contract restructure that freed up $16 million in cap space for one last run with Cousins before a potential pivot elsewhere at quarterback for the first time since 2018.

“The sense I’ve gotten is that they didn’t want to commit as long as what he was looking for. They wanted something shorter, he wanted something longer. My understanding is that 2025 was the issue,” Goessling said. “The question of how long would everyone guarantee it for. I think he wanted ’25, they were like ‘well, we don’t want to commit that long.’ He’d be 37 before the 2025 season so it gets to be later in the game than you want to fully guarantee a quarterback deal.”

Krammer added that Cousins was willing to take a discount despite an inflated quarterback market that saw New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones garner a deal worth over $40 million a year.

“I had also heard that he wasn’t asking for $40 [million],” Krammer added. “He wasn’t asking for that much, in terms of what Daniel Jones got, who is obviously much younger but much less accomplished. Cousins’ camp was kind of surprised I guess, from what I heard, at the Vikings not jumping or at least accepting what they were asking for.”