Vikings

3 Teams the Vikings Can Use As A Model To Build Their Roster After Extending Cousins

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

This offseason has been a whirlwind for the Minnesota Vikings. What was supposed to be a new beginning increasingly looks like the same team that trudged off the field to boos last January.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s free-agent moves haven’t inspired confidence. Kevin O’Connell is beginning to make everyone believe he was serious about Garrett Bradbury. The Vikings still haven’t signed a legitimate starting guard.

Despite the slow start to free agency, it might be a move that preceded the new league year that scares fans the most.

The decision to extend Kirk Cousins has been the biggest head-scratcher of free agency. The Vikings had a chance to end four years of frustration by either trading Cousins or letting him play out the final year of his contract. Instead, Minnesota kicked the can down the road and locked themselves in through the 2023 season.

Cousins carries a $31.4 million cap hit this season and a $36.2 million next season, so it’s not hard to see why the Vikings can’t afford top-tier free agents. But Adofo-Mensah may have three teams in mind that could help him build the roster he wants without burning everything to the ground.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

For most of their existence, the Chiefs were like the Vikings’ spirit animal in the AFC. From 1992 to 2012, the Chiefs finished with seven to nine wins in nine seasons. Outside of a couple of pop-up years, Kansas City was always in the hunt, but they didn’t have enough skill to break through the glass ceiling.

However, the Chiefs hired Andy Reid after going 2-14 in 2012. Most teams in this situation would reach for a quarterback, but Reid decided to trade for Alex Smith instead of selecting a player from a weak draft class.

Smith, a former No. 1-overall pick, wasn’t a franchise quarterback, but he was good enough to keep them afloat. In five years as Kansas City’s starter, Smith went 50-26 and led the Chiefs to the playoffs four times.

The Chiefs didn’t advance past the divisional round in those appearances. But Smith allowed them to be competitive while they built up the roster.

They spent the last few years accumulating talent. The Chiefs drafted Travis Kelce in 2013 and Dee Ford a year later. They added Marcus Peters in 2015, and Tyreek Hill showed up the following year. Suddenly, there was a core to complement their quarterback, and the Chiefs decided to strike by trading up for Patrick Mahomes in 2017.

With a strong supporting cast around him, Mahomes sat for a year before taking the league by storm in 2018. The Chiefs turned Smith into more assets and went to four consecutive AFC Championship games and two Super Bowls.

If the Vikings don’t see a star quarterback in this year’s draft, they can wait a year to draft one and use Cousins as a stopgap while they build out the roster.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens have been the NFL’s model of consistency. They have posted only two losing seasons during Harbaugh’s tenure and executed a seamless transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson.

The process began when Harbaugh arrived in 2008. The Ravens had just fired Brian Billick and ended the Kyle Boller era. By taking Flacco in the first round of the following draft, the Ravens had their franchise quarterback and started building around him.

General manager Ozzie Newsome was meticulous in constructing the roster. Newsome was already armed with an elite defense and built the offense through the draft. The Ravens went to the playoff four consecutive seasons before finally reaching the Super Bowl in 2012. With a white-hot Flacco leading the way, the Ravens won their second Lombardi Trophy.

But that’s not what Vikings fans should take away.

Flacco’s play began to tail off after signing a 6-year, $120.6 million extension. Still, the foundation was in place to upgrade at the position. The Ravens struck in 2018 when Jackson slid to the back of the first round. With the risk minimized, Baltimore traded up to get Jackson and allowed him to observe for most of his rookie season.

When Jackson entered the starting lineup, the Ravens took off. Baltimore posted a 25-7 record during his first two seasons and became one of the best teams in the AFC.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Buccaneers may be the one team on this list that actually hit rock bottom, but their plan netted them a Super Bowl when they built a foundation to plug a quarterback into.

For years, the Buccaneers whiffed on draft picks. Mike Evans, the only notable contributor, was stuck catching passes from Mike Glennon. The Bucs were a laughingstock when they took Jameis Winston with the No. 1-overall pick in 2015, but they started gathering the talent they needed to get back into contention.

Chris Godwin arrived in the 2017 draft before Tampa Bay cleaned house in 2018. Vita Vea, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead joined the party, and the Bucs tripled down with Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Jamel Dean in 2019.

Tampa Bay was suddenly a playoff-worthy team, but Winston’s performance dragged them down. When Tom Brady became available in the offseason, the Buccaneers pounced. By adding Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield in the draft, and an All-Madden team in free agency, the Bucs ran through the NFC and won the Super Bowl.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE VIKINGS?

In all three examples, each team had a reliable starter at quarterback. That quarterback was good enough to lead them to a respectable record but never was able to get them over the top. Although Cousins has his moments, he also is a quarterback that falls into this category.

Re-signing Cousins doesn’t allow the Vikings to go crazy in free agency, but it will enable them to build a long-term foundation in the draft. That’s something that Rick Spielman didn’t do. Cousins commanded a healthy chunk of the salary cap during his first four seasons in Minnesota, and Spielman’s misses came back to haunt him.

No member of the 2016 draft class remained with the team past 2019. (Mackensie Alexander returned as a free agent in 2021 but did not remain with the Vikings.) The 2017 draft brought Dalvin Cook but not much else. The Vikings cut the cord too early with Mike Hughes, and Bradbury might be one of the biggest busts in franchise history.

If the Philadelphia Eagles took Justin Jefferson ahead of Minnesota in the 2020 draft, it’s terrifying to wonder where the Vikings would be. Fortunately, that’s not the situation.

It’s clear that Adofo-Mensah believes that the Vikings can be a competitive team in 2022. While that doesn’t mean they’ll contend for a Super Bowl, Cousins can help steady the ship while Adofo-Mensah builds the roster.

With just four years on his deal, this is the best path for Adofo-Mensah to take. If he hits on his picks, the Vikings could have a foundation that could be a quarterback away. That quarterback could be in the 2023 draft or free agency. Wherever it is, Cousins’ extension will allow Minnesota to strike.

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