Kirk Cousins was wearing an olive mask, but it was clear he was smiling as a reporter pointed out that he was due $45 million next year. That’s a little over 20% of the cap for those keeping score at home.
“Looks like you’ve done your homework,” he said, chuckling to himself.
“It’s hard to have these conversations when I haven’t given it any thought and don’t know any of those numbers,” Cousins said, the mask hiding any indication of if he was telling a white lie. “But I know that I want to be a Viking, and that’s kind of the foundation of it all.”
He will have to compromise in some way if he wants to stay here. It isn’t 2018. Cousins isn’t a former fourth-round pick playing for a dysfunctional franchise that drafted him to be Robert Griffin III’s backup. One that never saw him as anything more than that. He will also not be signing with a team that had the No. 1 defense carry them to the NFC Championship.
We no longer expect Cousins to be Trent Dilfer or Joe Flacco, the above-average quarterback who leads a team with an elite defense to a Super Bowl championship. That was the bare minimum that the Vikings were asking of him at the time. And we all know that Rick Spielman expected him to be more than that. Now he’d be a stopgap. Insurance that Justin Jefferson experiences stability at quarterback that Randy Moss could only dream of.
Cousins is going to be 34 next year. Quarterbacks can play into their 30s because the league rules protect them, and Cousins is remarkably durable. But he’s no longer in his prime. He’s not entering his age-30 season like he was when he first signed.
We know who he is now, and that’s where the conversation starts.
Gather ‘round, my purple people. You periwinkle pessimists. You amethyst optimists. Everyone in between. We’re going to have a conversation for rational people who want to make sure Jefferson doesn’t griddy on out of here. If you think Cousins is worse than Drew Lock or Sam Darnold, please see yourself out. Those of you who think he’s a top-five quarterback need not enter. If you know Kirk’s address and are not his neighbor, I’m going to have you arrested.
We’re trying to determine here what he is and what the practical alternatives are.
Let’s start here: His replacement for next year is not on the roster. It’s not Sean Mannion. We should all agree on that after seeing his start in Lambeau. And despite the tone of Mike Zimmer’s odd rant about Kellen Mond after that game, he’s right – Mond is not ready. Yeah, he has a cannon arm and is mobile in the pocket, but Mond locks into his targets and throws inaccurately. He nearly hit a Green Bay Packers linebacker in stride for a pick-six on his third and final throw of the night.
Maybe you’re in the camp that says the Vikings need to move on from Cousins to fully flush out the Spielman-Zimmer era. A perfectly reasonable opinion. Fine. But then we have to talk about alternatives. No, North Dakota, Carson Wentz isn’t an upgrade. Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t, either. And the San Francisco 49ers probably aren’t going to do the fabled Kirk-for-Jimmy G swap, not now that they’ve climbed into the playoffs anyway. Tyler Huntley? Get out of here with that.
The Vikings can’t go into their new era with instability at quarterback. That’s the most surefire way to upset Jefferson and the rest of the receiving core, which is starting to come around. Adam Thielen, 31, was good when he was healthy this season. K.J. Osborn came into his own, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette gradually improved all season, culminating in a 100-yard performance in Week 18. There’s no reason to put them in a situation where they’ll regress because they’re playing with an inexperienced or incompetent signal-caller.
It’s worth considering what Jefferson thinks about all this. Going back to Week 18, Jefferson will be remembered for saying “It is what is” when asked about being 17 yards shy of Moss’ record. But he also slipped something else in that press conference.
“Our relationship has been growing ever since I stepped in the building last year,” he said when asked about his relationship with Cousins. “Things ain’t always perfect with us, but he’s the reason why I got these many yards. He’s the reason why I’m this type of player.”
I get the cynical side to this. What’s Jefferson going to say? That’s pretty honest, though. He’s not pretending like they always get along, but he’s giving credit where credit is due.
Despite all his shortcomings, Cousins is reliable. He goes through his reads and has the arm strength to make most throws. His numbers look Hall of Fame worthy, even if his struggles in big moments aren’t. Cousins is not the answer to the Super Bowl riddle, as we expected him to be in 2018. However, he’s an immediate solution for a team that needs one until they’re confident they’ve found the quarterback who is.