Is It Too Late For the Vikings To Start A Succession Plan at Quarterback?

Photo credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ decision at quarterback has two directions. On one side, they can go with Kirk Cousins, the quarterback who is as consistent as a cup of Starbucks in the morning. On the other is the “Tunnel of Quarterbacks,” filled with plenty of options and a light at the end that could become a funhouse flashback to Christian Ponder.

Both avenues have their benefits and drawbacks. But like many things in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s competitive rebuild, the goal might be to merge the two paths and create a succession plan at quarterback.

With the offseason drawing closer, this seems to be the idea most Vikings fans favor. If Minnesota can keep Cousins while also finding his successor, the Vikings can put water wings on their new signal caller instead of throwing him into the deep end. But time is running short, and it’s fair to wonder whether it’s too late for the Vikings to install a viable succession plan.

It begins with the stability that Cousins brings at quarterback. While he has ups and downs, he’s the type of player who finishes with a .300 average at the end of a baseball season. That hitter could run into slumps along the way, but you know he will finish with an All-Star stat line that keeps his team in the hunt.

While someone like Carlos Correa has 162 opportunities to round into form, a quarterback only has 17 games to help his team. One bad performance can be the difference between home-field advantage in the playoffs and missing them altogether, which the Vikings found out when Cousins tore his Achilles last October.

The Vikings had a 4-4 record when they limped out of Lambeau with their quarterback done for the year. Cousins was putting up the best numbers of his career. The conundrum of whether to keep their signal caller was coming whether he got hurt or not, but that decision became complicated after watching Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens, and Jaren Hall try to take his place.

The final nine games swayed the public opinion that the Vikings should find a way to bring Cousins back. But a 36-year-old QB inherently comes with some risk attached, and it’s even more perilous coming off a torn Achilles. Even if the Vikings bring Cousins back, they still have to prepare for the future, which means drafting a quarterback.

The Vikings have had several young signal callers in their career, but they’ve never started a rookie quarterback in Week 1. The closest Minnesota came was during their inaugural season in 1961 when rookie Fran Tarkenton replaced George Shaw in the season opener against the Chicago Bears.

In a perfect world, the Vikings would like not to toss start a rookie in Week 1. There are plenty of options in this year’s draft. A trade-up for Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye would make sense. But that may not be available because the Washington Commanders (No. 2 overall) and the New England Patriots (No. 3 overall) both need quarterbacks.

Other prospects in this draft could also be part of a succession plan. Taking a flier on Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix, or Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy could be worthwhile if they can learn behind Cousins and eventually take over for him.

But Cousins isn’t the head of the negotiation table because he’s oblivious. Cousins probably knows the Vikings want to find their quarterback of the future and hinted that he wants long-term security in his next deal.

“It’s not about the dollars, but it’s about what the dollars represent,” Cousins said in a line that some Vikings fans may have had tattooed on their bodies by this point. “There will always be some of that but, at today’s point, structure is probably more important.”

This probably doesn’t mean that Cousins wants a five-year deal in free agency but wants to be locked in as the starter for more than one season.

Last year, the Star Tribune’s Andrew Krammer reported that Cousins was willing to take a “discount” in exchange for having his 2024 and 2025 salaries guaranteed. While the Vikings balked, this may have been the time to lock in on Cousins with their eyes set on taking his successor in this year’s draft. It would have allowed Cousins to finish out the deal and hand the keys to someone younger under center in 2026.

That could still happen if Cousins wants two years guaranteed, but it could be an obstacle if he wants to be locked in through 2026. In this case, the Vikings must seek other avenues to find his replacement.

Baker Mayfield is one popular name people are tossing around. However, the soon-to-be 29-year-old seems like more of a win-now solution than a quarterback stopgap. After leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the playoffs, Mayfield could get a deal similar to the three-year, $75 million contract that Geno Smith signed with the Seattle Seahawks. But with Mayfield being four years younger, it seems like Mayfield would ask for more security.

The Vikings could consider other veteran options like Ryan Tannehill or Gardner Minshew, but both players have their warts. Tannehill’s success on play-action could fit nicely into Kevin O’Connell’s offense. But, like Minshew, he seems to be more of a house of cards for a rookie quarterback to topple.

If both quarterbacks want stability, it could leave the Vikings to search for an immediate solution. Could Daniels or Maye be ready to start from Day 1? Or could the Vikings call the Chicago Bears over Justin Fields‘s availability if the Bears take Caleb Williams with the first-overall pick?

All of these possibilities have Vikings fans looking like the Larry David .gif from Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it’s a microcosm of playing quarterback in the NFL. Either your quarterback is the GOAT, or he needs to be fired directly into the sun.

Brock Purdy led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl. But he has detractors because The Avengers flank him on offense (Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle), and he has Thanos (Kyle Shanahan) calling plays from the sideline.

This happened overnight for Jordan Love. Most Vikings fans were ready to dance on the Green Bay Packers’ grave when Aaron Rodgers was heading out of town. But Love developed like Michaelangelo finding the secret ooze and turned into the type of quarterback Vikings fans dream of having on their side of the ball.

Even Cousins rode both ends of the spectrum. He was labeled as part of the problem in the final years of the Mike Zimmer era before putting on some chains, starring in a reality show, and turning the keys over to three replacement-level players after his Achilles exploded.

It all complicates Minnesota’s desire for a succession plan at quarterback. The only question left is whether the Vikings waited too long to carry that plan out, or if they’ll find a solution that suits their desires.

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