The Cousins Decision Will Define Minnesota's Competitive Rebuild

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are entering a critical offseason for the third consecutive year. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have settled in as general manager and head coach, and they have a 20-14 record in their first two seasons — solid, despite the disadvantageous events of the past year.

The team has shown resilience. Last year, they only had two losses of more than one score despite losing Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury and Justin Jefferson missing seven games and parts of two more. Still, many fans have a negative opinion of Minnesota’s competitive rebuild. So, let’s take a look at those criticisms and decide whether or not they are fair.

One of the main complaints is roster turnover. Many pessimists taking a surface-level look at the stars that drive the Vikings accused them of “running it back” with the same core. As Luke Braun has made evident, this ill-conceived notion is false:

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have made this roster their own, with only the following players under contract for the ‘24 league year as of March 1:

Still, they must make decisions on impact players like Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, and K.J. Osborn, who are all free agents. However, the transformation of the roster’s makeup has been rapid and comprehensive.

Cousins’ pending free agency is the catalyst that will impact every other decision Minnesota makes. The 12-year veteran’s decision will shape the future of the franchise. If the Vikings can re-sign Cousins, they likely will not spend considerable resources pursuing a QBOTF.

Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the team has interest in retaining their long-time signal caller:

The feeling is the Vikings want to re-sign him. They’re certainly open to talks. They’ll initiate talks around the NFL Scouting Combine next week. Will guaranteed money be the sticking point? He’s always gotten his guaranteed money. Are the Vikings and the new regime willing to do that on a long-term or even short-term deal? They have to decide that in the next few weeks.

Cousins’ deal will void on March 13, triggering $46.75 million in dead cap over the next four seasons.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah navigated the Vikings out of the precarious cap situation he inherited, so they have the means to re-sign Cousins. Minnesota’s starter for the past six seasons has said he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Vikings. Given the advancements in modern medicine, he’ll likely have a few years of high-end play after recovering from his Achilles injury.

Cousins values security in his contracts. He has given himself financial security after having 99.09% of his career earnings guaranteed. Guarantees and deal length have been sticking points that halted progress on a long-term extension last offseason.

After a season-ending injury, it’s hard to believe the team is any more likely to offer Cousins a fully guaranteed deal. If Cousins demands a contract that goes beyond two years or is fully guaranteed, it’s unlikely that he will remain in Minnesota.

According to PFF’s study on surplus value in the draft, Minnesota’s most pressing need is the position with the highest return at the top of the draft. The organization is searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. With the option to look for a signal caller in a saturated draft, the team has the resources to aggressively pursue any option outside of presumed first-overall pick Caleb Williams.

The surplus value that one of the first-round selections would offer would allow the team to move further into the future with the roster reset Adofo-Mensah began in 2022. In the draft, the Vikings can target incredibly attractive options like Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, or J.J. McCarthy. They could be easily swayed by the potential to develop a talented prospect who could be the face of the franchise for 10 to 15 years after Cousins retires.

The resolution to the quarterback puzzle is the most critical piece in determining the allocation of resources to the team’s needs. The direction Cousins’ takes in free agency will shape Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s decision-making regarding the creation of a contending roster.

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