We’ve all watched Drew Brees solidify his name atop the record books this season, surpassing Peyton Manning in terms of total yards in an individual career, while also eyeing both Brett Favre and Manning on the all-time touchdown pass list (he’s currently about 90 touchdowns away from tying Manning). Brees, 39, may very well play into his 40’s, breaking every other record in the book, showing mainly the San Diego Chargers that they made a huge mistake in overlooking him while he was there. And that’s the point of this article. Watching Kirk Cousins this season, after seeing how he was treated in Washington, D.C., has made me feel like perhaps the Vikings have finally landed their own version of Brees—a good decade-plus after they missed their opportunity to do just that.
Brees has always been the underdog. A QB that some said coming out of college was too short to play the position, or that didn’t have the proper arm strength to make all the throws in the NFL. Those theories didn’t seem to actually work for anyone who watched Brees play in college. He nearly single-handedly put Purdue on the map as a great football program (I still think that Kyle Orton has Brees to thank for his entire… “career”). Brees stands six feet tall with cleats and a helmet on, and while that’s a good three inches shorter than Kirk Cousins who is listed at 6′ 3″, they both have similar body types and both went to Big Ten schools. Like Brees, Cousins also helped elevate the program at Michigan State. He was a large part of the decade of success that Michigan State had against its “Big brother” Michigan. Despite that, though, both quarterbacks fell out of the first round. Brees due to concerns over his height and Cousins was basically brought in as an insurance policy for Robert Griffin III, who was taken in that very same draft.
Think about that… Cousins was basically told (on what should’ve been the best night of his life) that he was going to be a back-up his entire career. That’s actually up there with Aaron Rodgers having to sit around for a couple of hours to get his name called in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Those similarities made me want to compare the start to Brees’ career with the start of Cousins’ career. Clearly we all know what happened with RGIII and Philip Rivers and how these players ended up where they are now, with one caveat being, again, that the Vikings had some people in their front office who had some experience with Brees. I distinctly remember Sid Hartman talking about that before the 2006 season. I had really hoped the Vikings would bring in Brees as I’m a complete homer when it comes to the Big Ten, and also because I felt that Brees had a lot to offer to an NFL team. Clearly that didn’t end up happening, and the Vikings have started what seems like 20-plus quarterbacks since then. That was, however, until they landed Cousins this off-season—a signing that shows that they at least are capable of learning from their mistakes.
To start, I broke down the length of time each player was with their previous team before coming to their new team. Brees was with San Diego for a total of five seasons while Cousins was with the ‘Skins for six. I’m also taking Cousins’ numbers through six games and showing them as is, while also using them to project for the rest of the season. In doing so, I found one difference, one major difference, which is, because Brees had a really great (Pro Bowl) 2004 season, the Chargers franchised him in 2005 and then offered him a contract. For Cousins, despite the great numbers that he put up in 2016 and 2017, Washington didn’t offer him another contract. However, it could be argued that the contract the Chargers offered Brees (5-years, $50 million) was worse than not being offered anything at all.
In looking at the time each QB had with their original teams, I wanted to focus solely on seasons in which the QB played a majority of the games, as well. That means that we’ll be looking at Cousins’ from the 2015 season onward (as he played all 16 games those years, as compared to his first three seasons in which he played in a total of 14 games). The same goes for Brees, whose first season only had one game played and zero starts. After that, he started every game in his sophomore season. He missed five games in the 2003 season and then he started 31 games across his final two seasons in San Diego, a city which is German for something that slipped my mind.
Let’s take a look at Brees career:
A few things of note. Brees’ best individual stats are the 72% completion rate he had last season, the 5,476 yards he had in 2011, the 46 touchdowns he had in that same year and the career low of eight interceptions he had last year, as well. While in San Diego, (across three of his final four seasons, as he only played in 11 games in 2003 so those numbers were emitted as they would’ve dragged his averages WAY down) Brees averaged:
63.63% Completions/3,338 yards/22.667 Touchdowns/12.667 Interceptions
Now, let’s take a look at Kirk Cousins’ career:
Take a look at Cousins’ last three seasons in Washington, where he started all 16 games each year:
67.33% Completions/4,342 yards/27 Touchdowns/12 Interceptions
Finally, let’s take a look at the numbers that Brees had during his first season as a Saint and compare them to the numbers that Cousins has had this year (through six games and through the projected rest of the season). Brees went 356 of 554 for a completion percentage of 64.3%. He threw for 4,418 yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 26:11. It was a breakout year for the “undersized” quarterback with a “bum shoulder.” Similarly, Cousins has also had an amazing start to his career in Minnesota, with a completion percentage of 71.2%, 1,921 yards passing and a touchdown to interception ratio of 12:3. If you use math(s for our UK reader, singular) to see where Cousins would end up if he kept this rate of magnificence going, he’d end the season with the same completion percentage, 5,122 yards passing and 32 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions.
While that seems unrealistic, take into account Brees’ time in New Orleans—a time where he hasn’t always had a very good (or even mediocre) rushing game, up until recently anyway. Brees has had multiple seasons of over 5,100 passing yards and many seasons of more than 32 touchdowns. I believe Cousins will be able to obtain those marks as the Vikings have the best one-two punch at wide receiver in the NFL and something similar at the running back position. The Vikings offense is the definition of a pick-your-poison situation. Because of that, as well as Cousins’ ability to read defenses and spread the ball around, I genuinely believe that we’re at the beginning of what should be an amazing tenure for Cousins in Minnesota.
Before the season started, I asked on the purpleJOURNAL Podcast whether or not it was possible for Cousins to hit 5,000 yards passing this season and whether or not that would mean good things (as it could mean the running game imploded). So far, because of injuries to the line and to Dalvin Cook, at least up until the Cardinals game, that seemed to be the case. However, it wasn’t really a bad thing. Consider how great the passing game has been at picking up chunk yardage and first downs. While I do think that’ll slow down a bit, Cook’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield should add another wrinkle to this powerful Vikings offense and very well could push Cousins over the 5,000 yard mark for the season. While Cousins is 30 years old and thus older than Brees was when he got to New Orleans, it’s not looking like he’ll be able to challenge any of the records that Brees is currently surpassing. However, he very well should be able to break all sorts of Vikings records, and based on the way he’s been playing thus far this season, it’s looking like he might just be the guy to actually break the one thing that this team has had looming over its head since 1961— the curse that has made winning the Super Bowl impossible.
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