Much to the dismay of many Minnesota Vikings fans, the team’s analytics-forward front office extended an expensive quarterback, Kirk Cousins, whom many consider unworthy of such a costly deal.
I’ve come around on the idea that Minnesota should look for a new starting QB. With the extension, the Vikings managed to get Cousins’ cap hit down to approximately $31.4 million this year, but that’s still too much money to allocate to a quarterback in 2022 who doesn’t have the last name Rodgers, Mahomes, Brady, Allen, or Prescott.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Just look at the Los Angeles Rams this year. Matthew Stafford had a cap hit of $20 million, not including the dead cap hit of $24.7 million that LA had to incur to move off of Goff. That’s a ton of money. But the Rams traded their future for the present, and the risk resulted in a Super Bowl.
Are we letting recency bias get the best of us, though? As many have pointed out, the Vikings tried to do a similar thing in 2018. After the Philadelphia Eagles beat them in the NFC Championship, Minnesota signed Cousins to a massive, fully-guaranteed deal. So we’ve already seen that situation play out with Cousins — still, credit to the Rams for making it work with their guy.
I’m not sure the Cousins extension was the right call, especially if they could have found a suitable trade partner. Given the current complexion of the roster, the Vikings likely aren’t a Super Bowl contender.
But let’s defend it for a while. Minnesota can’t get out of this deal at the moment. The Vikings have an aging roster, so lowering the cap hit to add other pieces can be rationalized. It’s not like Minnesota can release him — Cousins’ deal still has $35 million in guaranteed money.
The current quarterback draft class is also a point of concern. Yes, it’s hard to tell just how good a draft class is at any given position until they suit up and play for their respective NFL teams — just look at the 2018 quarterback class, for instance. Still, if the Vikings don’t like a quarterback enough in this current group, then I think having Cousins — an accurate, veteran QB — help develop the young talent on the offense makes some sense.
Here’s another factor: What if Minnesota still wants to trade him? Cousins has a no-trade clause in his current deal, but that could always be waived by the quarterback if he finds a suitable trade destination. Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune explains it here (H/T Michael Rand of the Star Tribune).
“I don’t think we’re done with it,” Goessling said. “The no-trade clause certainly gives him some leverage in the situation. … He got the no-trade clause, I think, because he wants to have some say in what happens. I don’t think it necessarily means he’s a lead-pipe lock to be the quarterback in 2022 and 2023. If he’s the subject of trade talks again in a year, you’re going to have to get him to say, ‘I’ll waive it for this team but not this other one.'”
With the Goff-Stafford trade, the Rams had to incur dead money and send away draft compensation. Yes, Cousins’ deal negatively affects the long-term future of the Vikings because they moved money to future seasons. But it also makes the contract slightly more enticing to take on for a team like the Carolina Panthers or Indianapolis Colts. Maybe this is actually the Vikings’ way of eventually trading Cousins.
Then again, Kevin O’Connell has been very upfront about his belief in the quarterback, at least publicly. Cousins gets an offensive-minded head coach for the first time in his Vikings tenure, one he had a working relationship with earlier in his career. No, I don’t think O’Connell will “unlock” Cousins, but I think he has room for improvement under a new regime.
It’s not the end of the world for the Vikings. All this does is make it slightly harder to build out a younger roster and gear up for contention down the road. But it doesn’t make it impossible.
I still think it would be best for this team to find a trade partner for Cousins. There’s no telling what the Vikings could do if they found a decent quarterback on a rookie contract. But even if they do that, Minnesota might not be hoisting the Lombardi in 2022. The team needs time, regardless of whether Cousins stays or goes. Should the Vikings try and get rid of him? Probably. But I still hope the case for sticking with him bears out.