When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins in the spring of 2018, it was supposed to be a game-changer. After coming one game away from the Super Bowl, the expectations for Cousins were about as high as his salary. With weapons galore and a defense that would help take the load off, the stage was set for him to do what he couldn’t in Washington and lead the Vikings to their first NFC title since 1976.
The Cousins experiment has lasted two years and has resulted in plenty of ups and downs. Although the Vikings picked up a playoff win that locked him in as their quarterback through 2022, the beginning of the 2020 season has given us second thoughts. After a pair of offseasons to cater to his every need, the results haven’t translated to the field. This is why Minnesota wouldn’t be crazy to send him to the bench.
The Vikings entered this season believing they could be a contender in the NFC. While their defense was young, the faith that Mike Zimmer could give his new players a crash course made many believe that it would be adequate. Perhaps the Vikings would take a small step back, but nobody thought they’d be giving up over 35 points per game.
After two weeks, that’s exactly where the Vikings defense is. Without an offseason with on-field instruction, the Vikings’ cornerbacks have looked lost on the field. The defensive line also took a massive hit when Michael Pierce opted out and Danielle Hunter “tweaked” his neck. Throw in the season-ending injury to Anthony Barr and the Vikings need their offense to play at an elite level just to compete.
The problem is that Cousins plays at the level of what you put around him. Even if the Vikings were to provide adequate play at their most troubled positions, he has shown an inability to get the job done. The bigger problem is, adequate play is exactly what he has received in the first two weeks.
Against the Colts, the Vikings offensive line averaged 3.08 seconds for Cousins to attempt a pass. That number was the fourth-highest mark in Week 2, according to Pro Football Focus. This means Cousins should have enough time to do his job. Instead, he completed 5-for-18 passes (27%) with a clean pocket.
While Cousins performed much better with a clean pocket against the Packers (18-for-21, 85%), much of that came in garbage time with a performance up front that gave him 2.59 seconds to throw (ninth-best in Week 1).
A lot of this can be pinned on Cousins’ reluctance to trust his weapons and become glued to his pre-snap read. Instead of throwing passes up for Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson to make plays, Cousins has played like a college quarterback that just walked onto campus. In Week 1, this was a major problem on an important 4th-and-3 when Cousins chucked it to primary read Tajae Sharpe instead of a wide-open Thielen at the bottom of the screen.
This isn’t something that’s new for Cousins. During his time in Washington, his former coach, Jay Gruden, mentioned that Cousins needed to trust his players in situations where they weren’t completely wide open.
“I think there is going to be a point in time where he is going to have to give some receivers some chances that maybe look a little covered, but give them a chance to uncover or give them a chance to make a play,” Gruden said in November 2017. “That’s probably the one area that we can force the issue on a little bit to give these receivers chances down the field.”
If Cousins was a mid-20s project, there’s a chance that these issues could be worked out. Instead, he’s a 32-year-old quarterback in a position where his team needs his best possible play every week just to have a shot. In a best-case scenario, the Vikings could develop some elite players to help him out, but that could take more than the three seasons he’s currently signed up for in Minnesota.
This is why pining for a younger quarterback to take over makes sense. An idea to trade for Jameis Winston was turned down by many but makes sense considering he’s 26 and threw for 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. (Sure, he also threw 30 interceptions, but the reluctance to trust his weapons wouldn’t be an issue.)
It’s also why Vikings fans have their eyes turned to a 2021 draft class that includes Trevor Lawrence, one of the best quarterback prospects since Andrew Luck.
The truth is, there a few options to replace him. Sean Mannion isn’t the answer, and most teams aren’t going to part with a quarterback who is better than Cousins. But if the Vikings are going to want to win games in the future, they’ll need to find someone that can occasionally make something out of nothing. After two-plus seasons, Cousins hasn’t shown us that yet.