Kirk Cousins became a member of the Minnesota Vikings in the spring of 2018 and has since led the team to a modest 25-22-1 (.531) record. In the first season, Cousins personally – and the Vikings as a team – fell short of lofty expectations. Minnesota finished with a winning record by the slimmest of margins at 8-7-1 (.531). That was the season that rookie kicker Daniel Carlson missed several kicks in Week 2 at Lambeau Field versus the Green Bay Packers. Had Carlson connected on one, the Vikings would have later reached the postseason. They were just one win away from the NFC’s sixth seed. That is not a “maybe,” it’s the cold-hard truth.
That unfulfilling season caused causal Vikings fans to grouse. Cousins was earning a boatload of money – all of it guaranteed. The following season was a bit more beamish as the team won a playoff game in New Orleans in stunning fashion. But the reputational damage to Cousins from the 2018 maiden voyage lingered.
And now VikingsLand is at a point with Cousins where the narrative about him cannot be wholly changed without a Super Bowl visit. He is probably the only quarterback in the NFL held to this standard. Players like Philip Rivers escaped this nationally-themed wrath for nearly 20 years. A different set of standards inexplicably applies to Cousins.
Trade rumors pertaining to Cousins – although squashed by Vikings leadership – have swirled this offseason. So far, all prittle-prattle about his involvement in a trade is false. Some reports placed Cousins on the San Francisco 49ers roster. Other whispers theorized the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, and Houston Texans as landings spots. All of it has been hearsay.
Evidently, the Vikings are quasi-committed to the 32-year-old. But how long will he stay in Minnesota?
Probably a minimum of two to three more years.
By the Numbers
Since Daunte Culpepper’s career with Minnesota ceased in 2005, the Vikings have searched high and low for a quarterback that could mimic Culpepper’s statistical production. For one single season – 2009 – Brett Favre answered the call and even made Culpepper look pedestrian. After that, Teddy Bridgewater was promising for two years before he, too, succumbed to a Culpepper-like injury.
The franchise settled on Cousins. After Culpepper [but before Cousins], the quarterback spot was filled by a myriad of interlopers. Interloping at quarterback is Vikings football – and such has been the case since Tommy Kramer retired in 1989.
In three years, Cousins has delivered 91 touchdowns. Minnesotans were pleased with Bridgewater when he tossed 14 scores in a season. Bridgewater was allotted a leash of romanticism whereas Cousins gets dragged around by the collar.
Cousins provides the passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, passer rating, and deep-ball prowess that fans have begged for in the last 30 years. He does his job. The weaknesses to his repertoire are evident – some fumbles and suspect pocket presence are the main culprits.
On consistency, however, the good outweighs the bad. Minnesota can rely on Cousins to author 25 to 35 touchdowns – like clockwork – per season. Nobody has replicated this since Culpepper. Based on consistency alone, Cousins will be in charge of the offense indefinitely so long as Rick Spielman has a job.
By the Dollars
In this situation, money might be more important than performance.
Cousins is a lock to do what he does – about 4,000 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. There is enough sample size to prognosticate this with integrity. But his yearly contract figure conversely fluctuates.
His cap hit in 2021 is $31 million. Next year, that is scheduled to balloon at $45 million. At that sum, yes, Cousins is overpaid. And that’s why Minnesota is unlikely to pay out $45 million for a single season’s work.
Between now and March of 2022, Cousins will probably extend his deal to 2023 or beyond for relief on the monstrosity of a cap hit. This will irritate the fussbudget crowd, but too-bad-so-sad. General managers and head coaches happen to enjoy quarterbacks that top 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns annually. So should you – especially as a Vikings dieharder engrained with quarterback hopscotch.
Just as the performance metric hints, the money suggests Cousins’ contract will be reworked to grant him more time in Minnesota – not float in trade-rumor purgatory.
If Not Cousins – Who?
Indeed, it would be neat if the Vikings employed Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, or Deshaun Watson. But they don’t.
If Watson was [somehow] dealt to the Vikings, he would later command about $50 million per season, and the trade would necessitate Minnesota sending an unprecedented trade haul to Houston. Both hypotheticals are less than ideal. Watson’s Texans finished 4-12 last season, so the man cannot single-handedly schlepp his team to prosperity. You know – like we ask of Kirk Cousins.
Spielman could try the rookie quarterback maneuver. Draft a young player at quarterback and hope he is closer to Josh Allen’s likeness than Josh Rosen’s. That is a gamble. If the Cousins experience does not net a Super Bowl, the Vikings are on tap for this strategy.
Signing a free agent from this 2021 class will get the purple and gold something like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton. If one believes those two are more exciting than Cousins, perhaps more Sundays on the couch actually watching football games is in order.
Cousins is the best thing going for the Vikings in the large scheme of quarterback possibilities. Despite some shortcomings — that Minnesota fans magnify because they watch every snap of Vikings football — he is a formidable starting quarterback.
And that’s why he will be around for at least a couple of more seasons.