Connecting the dots on a Kirk Cousins trade to the San Francisco 49ers and a reunion with Kyle Shanahan is one of the easier scenarios to piece together for those who like to peddle in such speculation this time of year. Actually, the rumors have been out there for a while now. This would assume that the Niners were looking for someone to replace Jimmy Garoppolo, of course.
It also assumes that the Minnesota Vikings are at all interested in moving on from Cousins.
The conjecture on this juicy angle picked up considerable steam when it was widely reported that the Niners were one of the teams interested in acquiring Matthew Stafford. There were even some reports that the 49ers were close to getting a deal done. Alas, Stafford is on his way to the Los Angeles Rams now in the first of what might be several NFL offseason blockbusters
As Luke Braun brilliantly pointed out on Monday, the Rams essentially had to part with a first-round pick to get Stafford and include another first and third-rounder for the Detroit Lions to take Jared Goff and his hefty contract off their hands. And when you factor in that the first-round picks are delayed until 2022 and 2023, plus the fact the Rams should be a pretty darn good team the next few years, those firsts are more like second-rounders.
Nonetheless, the Stafford trade helped establish the trade value for really good – though not elite – NFL quarterbacks. It’s the same bucket where reasonable minds can agree to place Cousins. Some of his stats indicate he’s been better than just “really good,” but his inability to carry a team a la upper-echelon quarterbacks suggests those stats might be misleading to a certain degree. What? Misleading stats? Never!
Importantly, the Stafford trade also confirmed the notion that San Francisco is, in fact, in the market for a new quarterback. New reporting and speculation on this front continued this week – once again linking Cousins to the Niners.
The plot is thickening, friends.
The easy thing for the Vikings to do this offseason, as I’ve pointed out previously, would be to bank on the healthy return of their injured defensive stars, address some special-teams issues via free agency, and add some pieces in the draft. Sure, some players might either let go or restructured for salary cap purposes, but all-in-all a conservative offseason appears to be the most likely path forward.
Easy-peasy. Back in the playoff hunt.
If the Vikings were going to tear it all down and start a rebuild, the clues would already be apparent – starting with a new head coach. Mike Zimmer is still captaining the ship, and he’s not in the mood for a rebuild. There’s no appetite at Vikings’ headquarters for an overhaul, and they are in no position to make a splash in free agency given their salary cap situation. There are those who will try to convince you that the salary cap is a canard, that there’s always a workaround. To a certain extent, that may be true. On the other hand, there are a bunch of other teams that need no cap gymnastics to throw around money at free agents this offseason, putting them at a decided advantage over cash-strapped teams like the Vikings.
However, a boring and relatively quiet offseason isn’t the only path forward. It’s probably Rick Spielman’s Plan A. But Plan B or C could come into play now that a market for Cousins has been established.
Let’s not forget, the Denver Broncos’ new general manager is George Paton, who was poached from the Vikings’ front office last month. The Broncos were also reportedly in on the Stafford trade overtures, so a quarterback upgrade is also in the offing for them. Those dots are just as simple to connect as the Cousins-to-the-49ers scenario. Spielman and Paton are buddies and could hammer out a deal in relatively short order if both sides were willing.
Might a bidding war for Cousins ensue?
That would change everything. Screw the “boring offseason” plan. If you’re Spielman and you have one or two teams earnestly looking for a quarterback like Cousins, you have to at least entertain the notion whether you even considered moving on from him or not. In either scenario, San Francisco or Denver, Spielman could net some draft picks. And we all know how much Rick likes picks. Furthermore, the Vikings could free themselves from being hamstrung by Cousins’ huge, albeit market value, contract.
This would only be one of the big dominoes, of course. More would be needed if Cousins were to be traded. Would Handsome Jimmy G become the Vikings’ bridge quarterback to a rookie — someone they might be able to flip some newly acquired draft capital to move in the first round and acquire?
Or might the delicious, creamy nougat at the center of the Vikings’ offseason become a tasty trade bringing Deshaun Watson to Minnesota?
Suffice to say, if Spielman moves on from what I perceive to be a conservative Plan A for the offseason toward one in which Cousins is moved, things will be a smidge less “boring” at Vikings headquarters. Indeed, it would be quite the opposite.
Right now, let’s issue a Trade Watch, not a Trade Warning. The conditions for a Cousins deal are more favorable than they were even a few weeks ago. To be safe, Vikings fans should make sure their seatbacks and tray tables are in their full upright position and that their seat belt is securely fashioned. Things could (keyword: could) take off in a hurry.