It seems like Adam Thielen has been best buds with every wide receiver the Vikings have had, past and present. Cordarrelle Patterson called him his “brother from another mother.” He was bummed out when Stefon Diggs was traded but quickly developed a rapport with Justin Jefferson. And in a year where the pandemic upended our world, Thielen’s genuine excitement when Chad Beebe scored a touchdown after muffing a punt against the Carolina Panthers in a game that he had to miss due to health and safety protocols was a feel-good moment we all needed.
What about Kirk Cousins, though? We’ll always remember Cousins throwing 43 yards across his body and Thielen’s incredible over-the-shoulder catch against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs two years ago. But their signature moment is from a 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears a year earlier when Cousins was showing the All-Pro receiver how to run routes. Cousins later apologized to Thielen, and for all we know, the two of them are fine. However, it seems more accurate to describe their connection as a working relationship rather than the brotherly bond Thielen appears to have with his fellow receivers.
Much like Thielen’s meltdown, much has been made out of a Justin Jefferson hot mic incident in a crucial Week 15 loss to the Chicago Bears last year. After an overthrow, Jefferson could be heard shouting, “Fuck, Kirk! Come on, throw the damn ball!”
Fans and media dove into the relationship between Cousins and Jefferson, and questions remain to this day. Can they co-exist? Is Jefferson a diva? Could this turn into another Diggs situation?
But we need to take a step back and look at this like the Thielen incident. This was a public display of disharmony between two teammates.
Was Thielen heard cursing out Cousins on a hot mic? No. But he’s articulating a similar message: Get me the damn ball when I’m open. We probably wouldn’t have even heard Jefferson in a normal season, but his voice carried in an empty U.S. Bank Stadium. Thielen was never treated like a diva after his sideline incident with Cousins, and Jefferson shouldn’t be, either. In fact, Cousins, or any quarterback for that matter, should be expected to get their best receivers the ball. For his part, Cousins apologized to Thielen back in 2019, and Jefferson has insisted that his exchange with Cousins is overblown.
Listen, if Jefferson was critiquing Patrick Mahomes, we could reasonably tell him to chill out. If Thielen felt Justin Herbert wasn’t hitting him down the field enough, maybe he just isn’t open. Cousins’ play, especially in crunch time, leaves room for criticism. It’s not like they’re attacking his character. For all his faults as a player, Cousins has always been accountable for his mistakes and appears to be a good teammate.
I’d be remiss not to mention Jefferson’s May interview with Colin Cowherd here. Jefferson didn’t hold back his opinions about his quarterback, saying he felt like former LSU teammate Joe Burrow had more swagger and was willing to take a hit. He also said that he wasn’t surprised about the rumors that the Vikings considered moving up for Justin Fields in this year’s draft. “We have to build on for after Kirk,” he told Cowherd, “or whatever the case may be.”
What is he saying that we don’t already know? Half the fanbase wants to move on from Cousins. The Wilfs green-lighted and may have encouraged Rick Spielman to take Kellen Mond in the third round. Is Mond a threat to Cousins right now? No. But the Vikings wouldn’t have taken him if their eyes weren’t wondering a bit. Jefferson is being honest with us, and that should be applauded.
It’s not like he’s doing a media tour bashing his quarterback. Deion Sanders teed him up to go off on Cousins during a Verzuz segment, telling him, “I ain’t crazy about your quarterback,” but Jefferson brushed the comment off. When Jim Rome asked him about the heat Cousins takes, Jefferson said, “He definitely takes a lot of heat, he takes more than he deserves,” while adding, “He’s the reason I had 1,400 yards.” Cousins’ name only came up in passing during Jefferson’s Good Morning Football appearance before the draft.
Catch Jefferson in an honest moment, and he’d probably tell you he’d love to be reunited with Burrow. Or catch Herbert’s long ball. Obviously, he would have been excited if the Vikings had traded up for Fields. He’s probably pulling for Mond’s success. But aren’t we all? Who isn’t wondering what Burrow could have done behind a better offensive line? Or why Herbert was the third quarterback taken. A year from now, we may question why Fields fell. And who isn’t hoping Mond succeeds? What team doesn’t benefit from having a quarterback on his rookie contract?
Jefferson doesn’t need to be gung-ho about Cousins all the time. He can demand the ball and discuss other quarterbacks. The Vikings would be best served to have a quarterback under center who they trust, and they were willing to throw the ball more. Jefferson has to maintain a professional relationship with Cousins as long as he’s here, but he doesn’t have to pretend that they’re like brothers.