The Minnesota Vikings have done plenty of reshuffling this offseason, and there are still plenty of big decisions to be made. With a new general manager and head coach in place, a lot of the attention turns toward Kirk Cousins. Kevin O’Connell seems smitten by the idea of keeping Cousins around. But can he unlock Cousins the way the Los Angeles Rams did with Matthew Stafford?
On Monday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that O’Connell was very high on Cousins as the franchise quarterback during the interview process. Some in Minnesota don’t feel the same way. But it’s fair to ask if an offensive-minded head coach would make better use of Cousins’ talents.
It’s hard to imagine the Vikings swallowing the $45 million cap hit for Cousins in 2022. It would likely be a sign that they view 2022 Cousins’ last in purple if they do. That’s why an extension would make all the sense in the world. They don’t have to look far to see the impact an offensive-minded staff had on another veteran quarterback.
Stafford saw the coaching carousel spin around throughout his 12 years with the Detroit Lions. Some of those head coaches came from offensive backgrounds, like Jim Caldwell and Matt Patricia. But there was never any consistency. Stafford won a grand total of zero playoff games in Detroit. Now he’s won three in one year. However, the Lions never surrounded Stafford with competence and offensive minds like he has in LA.
O’Connell is a big part of that, serving as the offensive coordinator for the Rams through the Super Bowl before he transitions to Minnesota to be the head coach.
This year, Stafford is 3-0 in the playoffs. It helps to have Cooper Kupp around. But Stafford had Calvin Johnson for a long time in Detroit, and it still never manifested into playoff wins. The change of scenery helped more than anything.
In his four years in Minnesota, Cousins has known only one head coach, Mike Zimmer. Fans and media praised Zimmer for his brilliance in building up a defense and directing that side of the ball. But he lacked insight on offense despite having his massive stars.
Many quarterbacks would kill to have a trio of Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen. The possibilities should be endless with O’Connell coming into the mix.
Cousins was far from the problem for the Vikings in 2021. He put together another excellent season. Cousins may never sell people on the idea that he can lead a team to a Super Bowl, and their theory may be proven correct over time. But if there was ever a moment for that narrative to be tossed into the fire, it will be with O’Connell taking over.
Minnesota will now have a young, innovative offensive head coach. O’Connell has plenty of talent at his disposal. It isn’t meant to be if Cousins can’t make it work with O’Connell.
There can be no more excuses if the Vikings dish out an extension to Cousins. He’ll have one of the best wide receiver duos in the game, along with one of the most dynamic running backs. He’ll have a head coach who won’t turn a cold shoulder to him. O’Connell will be able to relate to Cousins far more than Zimmer did.
Stafford has objectively had one of his best seasons as a pro, and it’s resulted in a trip to a Super Bowl in his home stadium. Stafford was the pulse of the Lions for so long. It was admirable. McVay and O’Connell unlocked that next level to his game. They surrounded him with the structure that he never got in Detroit.
Cousins may not have received that yet in Minnesota, but it’s on its way when O’Connell takes over. O’Connell and the rest of the staff will try to mold Cousins into an even better product as they did with Stafford this year. If the key fits the lock, the Vikings could be lethal in 2022.