This year the Minnesota Vikings used a top-75 pick on a quarterback for the first time since 2014 to draft Kellen Mond from Texas A&M. For the past several years they haven’t selected a QB until the final day of the draft, and this change in strategy could provide a glimpse into the future — one without Kirk Cousins.
This offseason, the Vikings pushed all their chips to the center of the table for next season, fortifying their defense with a series of one-year deals and rebuilding their offensive line. Picking a backup quarterback with high upside with their second-highest pick would seem a bit counterintuitive.
However, the Wilf family made a “strong recommendation” to find a Cousins contingency plan. On the Mackey and Judd on SKOR North podcast, Darren Wolfson said, “I am told by multiple people that ownership drove the bus,” he said, “not necessarily on that specific quarterback, Kellen Mond, but on the idea of taking a quarterback relatively high. And if it came down to it, even taking a quarterback in the first round.”
Wolfson even went as far as to say that if Mond shows that he can take the reins in 2022, the Vikings would not hesitate to move on from Cousins. “We need to see it at camp, in the preseason,” he said. “We need to hear some good things in September, October, November in practice. The hope would be [late in the 2021 season] that they have a healthy opinion if they want Mond to be their guy on opening day in 2022.”
Mond has a different skillset than Cousins. While playing in a pro-style offense in college, Mond displayed his dual-threat mobility and gunslinger mentality — two traits that piqued the interest of the Vikings’ brass.
“The Vikings, as we’d heard it back in 2018, preferred Cousins to Keenum because they wanted Keenum to resist the temptation to leave the pocket,” said Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, “under the belief that, if he’d stayed just a bit longer, bigger plays were there to be had than when he escaped.”
With Mond, the Vikings get a bit of both, but the key will be to strike a balance between exercising patience and using his legs to buy time.
The Vikings have one of the better rosters in the NFL, according to Mike Clay’s post-draft NFL unit grades. He ranked the overall roster ninth, with the defense at fifth and the offense at 11th. Cousins and company are running out of excuses, and if they struggle to take the next step in the postseason with this roster, will they ever take it?
The team’s inability to deliver in the clutch has prevented them from getting far in the Cousins era. And by paying him north of $30 million this year, they cannot put a better roster around him.
“You’re looking at $50 million after 2022,” NFL analyst and former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann said on May 3rd. “I mean, it borders on absurd.”
As it stands, Cousins’ 2022 salary cap hit of $45 million is hefty, currently the second biggest in the NFL behind Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. It’s in the Patrick Mahomes range. If the Vikings facilitate a trade of Cousins, they would save $35 million of that money. This is one of the biggest motivators to move on from him.
Wolfson said he feels like there is a possibility that Cousins may not finish his current contract with the Vikings, especially depending on how the 2021 season goes.
“I think we’ve hit a point where the Wilfs are a bit tired of cutting those big fat paychecks to Kirk Cousins,” he said, “we could potentially be talking about an end date with Kirk as soon as this time next year.”
While the Wilfs did not force Rick Spielman to draft a quarterback early, it was a strong recommendation that put the front office in the ownership’s good graces. However, it is important to note that ownership was not interested in rebuilding next season.
As the Wilfs outlined a plan for next year, the idea was to not get worse at the sport’s most important position. In the Athletic, Chad Graff recently reported, “The appetite for a rookie quarterback (or a veteran worse than Cousins) wasn’t there because they still believe their window to win the division is open.”
Simply put, the Wilfs did not want to start a rookie quarterback, but they wanted a contingency, a smooth transition from Cousins to the next quarterback modeled after what the Packers and Chiefs did with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, respectively. As ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reported, “[The Vikings] wanted one of the top quarterbacks, but they weren’t desperate enough to give up that kind of draft capital for a player who would be sitting behind Cousins for at least a year.”
Mond enters the franchise as it turns the tide. But one thing is certain: The Wilf family has a clear vision for the Vikings, one that may bring an end to the Kirk Cousins era sooner rather than later.