Vikings

Recent Reporting Is Forcing Fans To Envision A Life Without Kirk Cousins

Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Scouting Combine will take place in Indianapolis this week. For Minnesota Vikings fans, it will most likely bring a much clearer picture of who Minnesota’s starting quarterback will be next season. Kirk Cousins’ contract voids on March 13, and Minnesota is armed with the No. 11 pick along with the draft capital to trade up. Therefore, they may be heading in another direction at the position.

This week will tell us a lot about Minnesota’s future at the quarterback position. Although both sides have shown an interest in an extension, Cousins’ camp may want more guaranteed money than the Vikings are willing to offer. Whether you want the Vikings to re-sign him or not, recent reporting has forced fans to envision a life without Kirk Cousins.

Last year, Nick Mullens, Joshua Dobbs, and Jaren Hall reminded us what it’s like to have uncertainty at quarterback. Their unsteady play and catastrophic mistakes can be painful to watch and nearly impossible for a team to overcome, especially for an entire season.

We are only a handful of years removed from Minnesota’s veteran journeyman-type quarterback carousel of Case Keenum and Sam Bradford types. It seemed like Vikings fans pinned their Super Bowl hopes to a quarterback Minnesota found off the scrap heap every offseason. Although the Vikings were mostly competitive, a playoff berth was as close to the big game as most were willing to expect.

In 2018, Cousins signing with Minnesota at age 30 was the long-term solution most fans had wanted. Whether or not he lived up to the expectations and hopes of the fanbase is something we can debate forever. But we can’t argue that stability at quarterback makes it easier to win NFL games, and at least Cousins gave the Vikings that.

Before his injury last year, Cousins had only missed one game with the Vikings. He ranks third all-time in passing yards in franchise history, and he’s second in touchdowns and second in completions. Only Tommy Kramer and Fran Tarkenton have more wins with the Vikings than Cousins. You can’t compile those stats without staying healthy and being a reliable decision-maker. Cousins was able to do both.

After Cousins injured his Achilles and was lost for the season, Vikings fans watched Nick Mullens throw an interception to a defender he was nearly sitting on. Seeing a backup-caliber quarterback thrust into a starting spot brought back painful memories. This franchise brought us Donavan “bounce pass” McNabb, the Josh Freeman game, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, and Joe Webb in the playoffs. It is highly unlikely Vikings fans will face the kind of quarterback performances we witnessed last season. However, it’s a glimpse back into a world without stability at the position.

A reliable quarterback is the most highly sought-after commodity in today’s NFL. The Kansas City Chiefs were able to build their team around the stability provided by Alex Smith for several seasons. When they found their quarterback of the future in Patrick Mahomes, they were in a position to let their future star develop for a year without feeling the need to force him into the starting spot to salvage a season. When they felt Mahomes was ready, he was plugged into a playoff-caliber roster.

That would have been a much more difficult, if not impossible, task without the consistency of Alex Smith. NFL teams looking for a starting quarterback for 2024 will have no issue paying top dollar for Kirk Cousins, a free agent who, like Alex Smith, has proven he can play consistently and competently. Especially when the other options are Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Ryan Tannehill, and the prospects in the draft.

In addition to the other available quarterbacks, or lack thereof, there are several reasons Cousins could choose to play someplace else next season. To start, he will almost certainly be offered more guaranteed money by teams other than Minnesota. The Vikings have said they are not interested in a similar deal to the fully guaranteed ones Cousins has inked with the team in previous seasons.

Cousins could head to Denver to work with Super Bowl winner Sean Payton, or maybe the warmer weather and extra guaranteed money will be enough to get him to Atlanta? Perhaps the most intriguing option: He could finish his career back where it started in Washington as the bridge/mentor to the young quarterback the Washington Commanders will almost certainly pick at No. 2. There will be several options available to Cousins, and the Vikings might be the only team that won’t meet his asking price. But after six seasons, over $185 million, and only one playoff win, can you blame them?

Playoff success has been the most glaring shortcoming of Cousins’ tenure in Minnesota. The Vikings have only won one playoff game since Cousins arrived in 2018. Tarkenton had six playoff wins as a starter, Kramer had two, and Dante Culpepper had two. To put it into perspective, Jeff George and Cousins have the same number of playoff wins in Minnesota, and George played 75 fewer games for the Vikings. A new quarterback will not automatically produce playoff success. But it should be acknowledged that having a quarterback who can stay healthy and play consistently in the regular season does not make that team a Super Bowl contender.

In a perfect world, Minnesota can re-sign Cousins as a bridge, draft his replacement, and start a dynasty ala Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs. If that scenario is not possible – and it looks increasingly less likely Cousins will be around next year – Vikings fans need to start preparing themselves for an unstable journey toward the next long-term quarterback in Minnesota. Whoever that may be.

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Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

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