Kirk Cousins returns to DC for the first time since signing with the Minnesota Vikings when the NFC North leaders take on the Washington Commanders in Week 9. While the statistical production has experienced a noticeable dip thus far under Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings’ signal-caller has been playing efficient football with a 100-plus passer rating in the past two games. And with general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah green-lighting the trade for 2020 Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, expectations have risen for Cousins and the offense.
A vast majority of Skoldiers can’t seem to help themselves from having a constant wandering eye as it pertains to Cousins and Minnesota’s quarterback situation — and who could blame them? Cousins has personified mediocrity throughout his professional career and has a propensity for crumbling when a sliver of adversity and/or pressure in the pocket rears its ugly head. It’s worth mentioning that Cousins put a temporary dent in this narrative following his 17-yard scamper into the end zone on third down last week against the Arizona Cardinals. O’Connell’s initial reaction to Speed Demon Kirky spoke for all of us.
But as we reach the halfway point of the 2022 season, it’s worth revisiting this ever-so-popular Cousins conundrum. And with the trade for Hockenson, what does that mean for Cousins in Minnesota beyond this season? With Justin Jefferson set to make a potentially historic amount of money with his upcoming extension this offseason, how will the Vikings be able to afford Cousins while also paying their superstar wide receiver?
Considering that Minnesota decided to part ways with its first selection on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft, it will be that much more difficult for Adofo-Mensah to move up in the draft for someone such as Will Levis — should the polarizing Kentucky quarterback experience a slide in the first round. Could the Vikings go full San Francisco 49ers and pay a king’s ransom by trading multiple future first-round picks to move up considerably for a quarterback? Possibly. The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans made the playoffs in 2016 before both organizations deemed it necessary to move up in the 2017 draft for their respective faces of the franchise in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
The other component that needs to be considered when discussing moving on from Cousins is simply how many NFL teams would realistically want to trade for him in 2023. The former Michigan State Spartan will be 35 years old next season, and any team that decides to trade for him (after June 1) will be on the hook for a $30 million cap hit after the Vikings eat $6.3 million in dead cap in ’23 and $12.5 million in ’24. After watching the Indianapolis Colts’ self-sabotage display over the past two years following trades for Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan, will teams be more reluctant to trade for an aging quarterback? Do you think the Denver Broncos are enthusiastic at the moment over their decision to trade for soon-to-be 34-year-old Russell Wilson?
In all seriousness, who would even be interested in trading for Cousins after this season?
- Would the Carolina Panthers really trade for a quarterback in three consecutive offseasons?
- Does Cousins tickle Mickey Loomis’s fancy in New Orleans?
- Is Cousins the answer in Tampa Bay if/when Tom Brady retires in a few months?
- Are the New York Jets ready to pull the plug on 2021 second-overall pick Zach Wilson?
- How are the Pittsburgh Steelers currently feeling about 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett?
- Is Kyle Shanahan still infatuated with his former quarterback in Washington?
- Speaking of Washington: Would Jeff Bezos and Jay-Z be interested in a Kirky reunion?
As it stands now, it’s difficult to identify a different team that makes sense for Cousins in ’23. Not to mention that Cousins would have to sign off on any trade — he’s in possession of a No-Trade Clause after his most recent contract extension.
The Hockenson trade appears to be a ringing Cousins endorsement for not only the rest of this season but also for 2023 — when Minnesota’s newly acquired tight end will still be under contract in Minnesota. Theoretically, having a player like Hockenson should make life that much easier for Minnesota’s polarizing quarterback. With O’Connell’s recent reliance on protecting Cousins through Minnesota’s running game, getting Hockenson in space off of play-action concepts will allow the former Detroit Lions tight end to be at his best by picking up chunk yardage after the catch. It’s eerily similar to what George Kittle provides Jimmy Garoppolo and San Francisco’s offense.
The no-trade clause is the biggest factor in all of this. Skoldiers can come up with an infinite amount of scenarios that would allow the Vikings to move on from Cousins after this season. But ultimately, the decision is Cousins’. Is it possible that Cousins has already made his intentions clear with Minnesota’s front office that he’s not interested in a trade? Absolutely. Hence the decision by Adofo-Mensah to give him a player in Hockenson that will help Minnesota’s quarterback play to his strengths by emphasizing the run game and getting his playmakers the ball off of play-action.
Hypothetically speaking, even if the Vikings select a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft, why would Cousins prefer to play elsewhere next year? He has to have enough confidence in his chances of beating out a rookie quarterback in training camp. And he’d be hard-pressed to find a better situation than he has in Minnesota with Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Hockenson, and Christian Darrisaw. And since he’s already set to make over $36 million next season, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Minnesota will be Cousins’ preferred locale in 2023.
Regardless of how it makes you feel, Vikings fans should be operating under the assumption that Cousins will be Minnesota’s starting quarterback when next year rolls around.