Vikings

What Matthew Stafford's Success Means For Kirk Cousins

Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

When Matthew Stafford tossed that moon ball on Sunday afternoon, he might as well have been launching himself out of the NFL’s tier of mediocre quarterbacks.

His pass landed into the hands of Cooper Kupp. And one field goal later, the Los Angeles Rams were in the NFC Championship game. Long known as a quarterback with great stats whose teams had minimal success, Stafford finally exorcised his demons and gave hope to another middling quarterback.

Kirk Cousins enters an offseason of uncertainty. Despite putting up stats worthy of a franchise quarterback, the Minnesota Vikings have posted a .500 record since his arrival. With a $45 million cap hit, the Vikings need to decide if Cousins is worth keeping around.

Luckily for them, Stafford’s success could mean the Vikings are sitting on a gold mine.

Stafford was in a similar position as Cousins is now at this time last year. He had just wrapped up a season with Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions. Entering his age-33 season, Stafford wanted no part of another rebuild and asked Detroit to trade him.

The Lions traded him to LA, Stafford found himself with a lot of luxuries he never had in Detroit. The Rams assembled an elite offensive line to protect him. They had a stable of running backs to support the ground game. He even had an elite defense to bail him out when needed. But the most significant piece was the coaching staff.

Stafford had wasted away in Detroit under the guidance of Jim Schwartz, Jim Caldwell, and Patricia. His offensive coordinators were Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter. Even when he had Calvin Johnson to throw to, the leadership was lacking on the sideline.

Things changed with Sean McVay at the controls. Stafford put up the stats that have become his trademark, but the Rams also won games. They won a division title and then throttled the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs. Even after blowing a 24-point lead, Stafford made the big play, leaving the Rams one victory away from the Super Bowl.

Cousins stans will look at this and ask, Why can’t this be Kirk? It’s a valid question.

Cousins put up gaudy stats over the past four seasons but never had Stafford’s support system in L.A. In 2018, John DeFilippo’s play-calling sabotaged their season. In 2019 and 2020, it was a defense trending toward a rebuild. This year it was the offensive line. And all of this happened while he was playing for a head coach who didn’t want him.

But this offseason, all of that can change.

By extending Cousins, the Vikings can get his cap number down. With several cuts elsewhere, Minnesota can create enough money to make some improvements on both sides of the ball. After hiring an offensive-minded head coach, the Vikings can hope to get lucky in the draft and get over the top in a division that may not have Aaron Rodgers next season.

However, that’s only one side of the argument. While the Vikings could bet on Cousins for another year or two, this could also be the time to cash in on a valuable asset.

When the Lions traded Stafford last offseason, they did so in a market that was starving for quarterbacks. With several teams looking to upgrade at the position, Detroit’s new regime landed a pair of first-round picks and a bridge quarterback (Jared Goff) to help lay their foundation.

That return is especially appealing when you consider the market for quarterbacks this offseason.

The Denver Broncos could be looking to keep up in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. The Las Vegas Raiders could want an upgrade over Derek Carr. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be desperate to replace Ben Roethlisberger. And the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts will want anyone but their current quarterback.

Once we know where Rodgers is playing next year, these teams (and potentially more) will be willing to start a bidding war to get a signal-caller. Dangling Cousins in front of these sharks will make Jaws look like a children’s movie.

It seems improbable that a team would be willing to sell the farm for Cousins. But it only takes one team to look at their situation and decide that Cousins can do what Stafford has done for the Rams.

Taking advantage of this market is the best option for the Vikings. We’ve seen Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, and Mahomes lead their teams to sustained runs in the playoffs. Their team took a swing in the draft in each instance, and the rookie contract allowed them to build a supporting cast.

Any return the Vikings could get in a Cousins deal gives them the same options going forward. They can take a quarterback in this April’s draft, wait for a more talented crop in 2023, or use those picks to make a blockbuster trade of their own.

Stafford’s success has helped Cousins’ stock go up with whichever path they choose. It’s just a matter of how they want the dividends to payout.

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Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

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