Just When You Think You Know the Answers, Kirk Cousins Changes the Questions

Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Rowdy Roddy Piper was one of the biggest bad guys in professional wrestling in the 1980s. While his popularity was through the roof, his biggest mechanism was a segment known as “Piper’s Pit.

The segment would feature various wrestlers who used the talk show platform to promote their upcoming match or storyline. Inevitably, Piper would grill his guests mercilessly. Piper served as an instigator and ultimately got what he wanted. According to Piper’s famous tagline, just when you think you have the answers, he changes the questions.

Forty years after “Piper’s Pit” debuted, the segment lives on. After months of twists and turns, the Minnesota Vikings have believed they have what it takes to keep Kirk Cousins from leaving in free agency. But just when you think you have the answers, Cousins changes the questions.

The Cousins drama began last summer when Cousins and the Vikings could not come to terms on a contract extension. After leading Minnesota to eight comeback wins in 2023, Cousins figured he deserved a huge reward and opted to play out the final year of his contract just like he did in Washington.

The Vikings stumbled to a 1-4 start. But Cousins played some of the best football of his career, leading to wins over the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers without Justin Jefferson.

The win over the Niners seemed like one of the crowning achievements of Cousins’ tenure in Minnesota. He won in front of a primetime audience against a team that would go on to win the NFC championship without his top target.

The following week changed everything when Cousins dropped back to pass and ruptured his Achilles at Lambeau Field. The locker room was dejected. Many players, including Dalton Risner, poured their hearts out for a player who had led them to three consecutive wins.

I looked up to that man more than I’ve looked up to a lot of people in a long time. The man of character that he is, the man of faith that he is. The first thing I did when I came back in here was check on him and the first thing that he asked was, ‘Did we win?’ I’ve known the guy for five weeks but that’s a pretty special human being for a really selfless human being and someone that I would strive to be like for sure. So, I’ll be praying for that dude for sure.

But even with Risner’s praise, there were questions to be answered. Did Cousins play his final snap for the Vikings? Would Cousins be the same player after suffering the injury? Would he still be able to get his big contract in free agency? Or would his price come down to the point that he could return to Minnesota?

The questions shifted when the Vikings tried to replace Cousins on the field. Joshua Dobbs continued the five-game winning streak. But when Cousins left, it was like when Creed closes their show with an epic version of “Higher.” The Vikings eventually benched Dobbs, Nick Mullens threw a ton of picks, and Jaren Hall wasn’t ready to contribute. Even on the sideline, Cousins remained the belle of the ball.

Cousins fired up high school gymnasiums and led the Vikings out for their Christmas Eve game against the Detroit Lions. One week later, Cousins dusted off his “Kirko Chainz” persona, blowing the Gjallarhorn and riling up the crowd for a New Year’s Eve showdown with the Green Bay Packers.

The questions shifted again. As The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski pondered, how could they let this guy leave?

Through all of the ups and downs of his tenure with the Vikings, through all of the changes at offensive coordinator, through the regular-season victories and playoff defeats, Cousins has always wanted to stay in Minnesota. As the Vikings limp toward the finish of a season that…will likely end without a playoff berth the path forward has never been more apparent. …The Vikings have to bring Cousins back.

A season-ending loss to the Lions led to more questions as the Vikings cleaned out their lockers. Would Cousins stay in Minnesota? What does he want in a new contract? And would the Vikings be able to keep him with their long-term plan in place?

It turns out that Cousins’ motive was all about respect. He talked about his time with a coach in Washington who told him, “It’s not about the dollars, it’s about what the dollars represent.” The quest for that money could prove challenging, but the Vikings could lavish him with respect in the public eye. Besides, you don’t throw rocks at a man holding a machine gun – or their chances of remaining competitive in 2024 and beyond.

It played out again when the Vikings held their annual Combine press conference. Adofo-Mensah stood at the podium and called Cousins “a great leader” and “someone we can win the ultimate prize with.” O’Connell went a step further, telling Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that he wanted Cousins back.

“[Cousins] knows how I feel about him,” O’Connell said. “I’ve held no secrets there. He knows how the Minnesota Vikings feel about him. I believe Kirk wants to be a Viking, and we’re going to try to make that the outcome.”

Florio later pointed out that other quarterback-needy teams like the Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Denver Broncos hadn’t publicly given Cousins the same respect, leading to yet another question in this drama.

Is the grass really greener on the other side?

“My assessment of the situation is that they have a number they are willing to extend and that if [Cousins] is able to find anything else that he likes better, he is free to take it,” Florio told KFAN’s Paul Allen on Thursday. “[The Vikings] are very clear-eyed about it. They are very confident. They use the phrase…’He has earned the right to bet on himself.’ And they believe when the time comes for him to go see what else is out there, he will learn whatever else is out there is not better, that the grass will not be greener in Atlanta or Las Vegas or back in Washington.”

Aside from their comments, the Vikings have built a strong case for themselves in other ways. In the latest NFLPA grades, only the Miami Dolphins ranked higher than Minnesota. They have a world-class facility and stadium, and a head coach and owner who earned an A-plus rating from their players.

They have a fanbase that adores Cousins, a locker room that respects him, and reside in the same Midwestern region where Cousins’ family has their roots. The answers appeared to be in front of him – until WSB-TV’s Zach Klein came in with his speculation.

“All eyes, all arrows, everything points towards [Cousins,]” Klein said to 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. “[Falcons owner] Arthur Blank has basically told this front office, ‘Do what you’ve got to do, pay what you’ve got to pay, get it done.’ Everybody I’ve talked to – agents, other coaches and scouts, guys around the league – that’s the feeling of what they are hearing. The Falcons will put all of their attention on [Cousins] moving forward.”

The report hit like a coconut to the back of Jimmy Snuka’s head. Would Cousins really leave? Could the Falcons be the team that throws enough money at Cousins to pull him away from Minnesota? Will the Vikings break their own rules and give Cousins an offer they can’t refuse? How far are they willing to go to keep him in Minnesota?

Even when Cousins makes his decision, it brings another wave of questions. What is Minnesota’s plan if Cousins decides to come back? Is there a quarterback qualified enough to succeed Cousins in this year’s draft? Will he be able to start right away? And can the Vikings continue to be highly competitive with — or without — Cousins?

It’s the type of grilling that Piper frequently gave his guests when they appeared on Piper’s Pit. It’s a captivating drama, and the questions are certain to change several times before the Vikings find the answers.

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