As every Vikings fan who was never cool with the idea of the team signing quarterback Kirk Cousins (a group I’ve dubbed the Never Cousins-ers (Topical!)) has most likely shouted at you at some point, his (then) record-breaking three-year con…-tract runs through next season. For some, that date can’t come soon enough as in their minds the Vikings will then somehow kidnap Teddy Bridgewater, bringing him back to the team that he started his professional career with and thus increasing their chances that they’ll run into him at the mall, which will eventually lead to them becoming best friends and the best man at Teddy’s eventual wedding… To them, a wedding ordained by none other than Case Keenum.
I poke fun at those folks, because a lot of the hatred for Cousins derives from an unrealistic anger that itself then stems from their love of Teddy Bridgewater (despite the fact that, you know, he isn’t the Vikings quarterback). Those people also preferred Case Keenum to Cousins, despite the fact that he’s been benched for the second time in as many seasons, by his second team. The fact is that Cousins is the Vikings quarterback for at least the next season and-a-half, the question is whether or not he will be the quarterback for the purple after that point.
The jury was still clearly out, at least for those that didn’t fall into the aforementioned group, before the start of the 2019 season. 2018 was widely considered to be a wasted year thanks to the lack of any investment in the interior of the offensive line, which lead to the worst guard combo in the league and subsequently one of the worst run games in the NFL. Add to that the discord between Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and then offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and you had the recipe for not only a wasted season, but also a wasted opportunity to at least learn what your new $84 million dollar quarterback was best at in terms of this offense and it’s roster.
With everything going wrong last season, it was hard to really know how to best utilize Cousins as he was often just trying to get rid of the ball before getting sacked. That’s not the best way to learn how his skill set best works with the skill-sets of your super talented wide receivers, tight end or running backs. I strongly believe that that reality is part of the reason why Cousins had a slow start to his 2019 campaign, as well. We’ve seen, really since Week 5 of this year, that the Vikings are using Cousins completely differently than they did last season.
They’re moving the pocket more and using more heavy personnel packages than any team in the NFL, which screams Gary Kubiak, I know. That should mean that they wouldn’t have been able to run those formations last season and thus learn these things, but had Cousins not been playing for his literal life last season we could’ve learned that he actually played well outside of the shotgun (that they ran constantly in 2018) and that he wasn’t the statue-esque QB that people tagged him as.
All of this really is just the longest introduction ever to my main point of this piece- and that’s whether or not Cousins has earned an extension beyond 2020. It was widely reported at the time of his contract signing last off-season that Cousins was looking for a shorter deal (than other typical quarterback contracts that can be up to seven years long) as he was pulling the NFL version of a LeBron James and ensuring that he’d be able to cash in yet again after the 2020 season.
It was a smart move, in theory, as Cousins’ then record deal was immediately bested by the deals of other NFL quarterbacks who used Cousins’ contract as the market setter that it was. While I was a big advocate for Cousins coming to Minnesota and clearly have defended his performance along the way, I still am realistic enough to know that he hadn’t accomplished anything near what quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson have.
So those that scoffed at the above numbers should realize that this is a quarterback drive league. That regardless of what you think or thought of Cousins, a quarterback of his caliber and age hadn’t hit the free agent market in a very long time (something they used as an example as to why signing him was a mistake, while ignoring that it was the Washington ‘Skins that allowed him to leave) and that on average NFL teams get around $10 million more each season in terms of their salary cap (meaning that by the end of his three-year deal, Cousins’ deal would leave around the same amount left in the Vikings cap as 100% of their 2018 cap). Regardless, the point is that Cousins knew that his deal would set the market and then if he performed well, he would be able to cash in on the new market after 2020.
That might sound greedy, but it’s smart and in a league where teams can rip up “contracts” left and right, it’s hard to bemoan a player for making as much money as possible whilst in his prime. So, the real question becomes whether or not Cousins has done enough as of the writing of this piece to justify an extension beyond 2020. That’s the point, that we’re talking about it as of the writing of this piece. Because as we know in the NFL, the week-to-week league, things can change drastically in, you guessed it, a week to week basis. So, there’s A LOT of time before the end of next season, but obviously Rob Brzezinksi and company like to get deals done sooner rather than later, so it’s an important question to ask.
I’ve clearly shown my hand and so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m going to say a resounding HELL YES to that question. I’m 35 years old and in my life the Vikings have never had a quarterback start all 16 games in back-to-back seasons. That record goes back well before the year I was born (1984) and into the late 1970’s, and beyond that the Vikings have never had a franchise quarterback in that time either.
The closest they’ve come was obviously Daunte Culpepper, whose career was cut short thanks to a devastating knee injury in the 2005 season. Culpepper’s 2004 was astounding, though, as he threw for 39 touchdowns and would’ve easily been the league MVP if not for Peyton Manning’s 49 touchdown campaign that same year. Brad Johnson is also a good candidate for that role, although if the team had a ton of confidence in him they would’ve kept him around after his lost his job to Randall Cunningham (especially considering they followed up Cunningham with journeyman Jeff George).
Outside of that a few projects like Tarvaris Jackson, the team has mostly gotten by with a mixture of draft busts like Christian Ponder, Hall of Fame quarterbacks on their way out of the league like Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, a few AWFUL veterans like Josh Freeman and … Donovan McNabb, as well as Spurgon Wynn, veterans who were okay-to-good (in spurts) like Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Gus Frerrotte, as well as and again those that potentially could’ve been franchise guys like Culpepper and Teddy Bridgewater. The list of Vikings quarterbacks just this decade should be enough to show you that of course the Vikings should work on resigning Cousins to a deal.
Let’s take a look at the number of starting quarterbacks since the Packers traded a first-round pick for Brett Favre in 1992, as obviously the Packers have had two starting quarterbacks since then (outside of a couple missed games from Aaron Rodgers). Since 1992, the Vikings have had the following quarterbacks play a game for them, Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Brett Favre, Joe Webb, Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill, Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins.
Sure, not all of those were considered “starting” quarterbacks and were only filling in as needed. But removing those stop-gap QB’s, the Vikings have had nine quarterbacks since 2009 (as compared to the one in Green Bay). Oh, and I should mention that the “one” in Green Bay is a quarterback that the Vikings had not just one but TWO opportunities to draft. The silver lining there is that both of the players the Vikings drafted ahead of Rodgers ended up not only being Ring of Honor recipients, but they funded and built US Bank Stadium with their bare hands. Those players? Jesus (who declared early out of Nazareth) and a Frankenstein made up of parts from Randy Moss, Fran Tarkenton, Cris Carter and the T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park. This may come as a surprise but I’m joking, they took Troy Williamson and Erasmus James.
But back to Captain Kirk. He is statistically a top-three quarterback this season with numbers, especially since Week 5, that are strangely identical to the numbers that 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes. This Tweet is a few weeks old but you get the idea:
— Look at Cousins the last 4 games and how he’s come on
— Compare Cousins’ start to that of last year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes through 8 games. 🤷🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/fukVUTipzc
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 25, 2019
Or let’s take a look at how Cousins’ performance has improved the game of those around him , something that is typically an indicator of performance, for obvious reasons. However, Cousins did have the label of “not making those around him better” during his time in Washington. That was something that I always found hard to believe considering that in 2016 Cousins was < 100 yards from a 5,000 yard campaign with receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Both eclipsed 1,000 yards that season, and while both had hit that mark previously, neither came close in the seasons since (with Garcon especially languishing for the two seasons he remained in the league).
Both Diggs and Thielen have benefited from having Cousins under center (despite their complaints earlier this season). Cousins broke records last season, beginning the year with 100 yard game after 100 yard game. Diggs? Let’s ask PFF:
Stefon Diggs ranks on deep passes (20+ yards) this year
T-1st in Receptions
1st in Yards
1st in TDs
4th in catch %
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) November 23, 2019
While the above-listed… List isn’t enough to checkmate a conversation about extending Cousins (as I can already hear/read people saying that we shouldn’t settle simply because we’ve waited a really long time for a franchise QB), it’s a big part of it and I’d argue that we’re pretty far from settling with Cousins. I argued before last season that Cousins could be an elite quarterback statistically with the right system because of the talent that can be found elsewhere on this Vikings roster and I feel pretty validated in that statement considering the numbers he’s putting up this season.
In an article from last off-season titled “I’ll be the One to Say it, the Vikings Need to Go All-In on Kirk Cousins“, I said the following:
“… the net positive between bringing in someone who very well could become a top-5 quarterback in the league considering the weapons that would be at his disposal as a Viking, seems to point towards the Cousins-lead Vikings being the team that could actually get over the “hump”…”
Elsewhere I stated that I was on the fence as to whether or not to be more direct about my excitement about the prospect of a Cousins-lead Vikings offense, stating that I was on the fence about whether to say “Top Five” or “Top Three” and that I meant “Top” as in statistically as well as in terms of the MVP race. Again, I feel pretty validated about that at this point.
Now, a lot of people responded to this topic during yesterday’s purpleUPDATE Live! by stating that the Vikings should at least wait until we see what Cousins can do in a playoff game before re-signing him for another X amount of years and that’s something that I don’t agree with either, for a couple reasons. The Vikings could be one-and-done this year and while that’d be far below expectation, the reality is that at this point I’m a lot more fearful of that happening because of a game plan/coaching issue that an execution issue from Cousins.
Take the first half of the Broncos game as an example. Cousins was 11-of-12 in the first half, however he had under 60 yards passing. Because of that, people pointed to the first half as a negative for Cousins (when I wrote my article “Was Sunday Cousins’ Best Game as a Viking? Does it Matter?”). The reality is that half, like the Chiefs game, was a game plan situation more than anything else. If your quarterback is completing nearly all of his throws but the offense is being held in check, outside of him simply dumping the ball off to the running back in lieu of passing it to wide open receivers down the field, something is wrong with your game plan.
It took half-time adjustments (namely going into a hurry up offense) for the Vikings offense to really start humming. The Vikings also didn’t call any plays to get Cousins out of the pocket and either throwing on the run or right after running in the first-half, something they did do in the second half to great results. The 54-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and the go ahead touchdown to Kyle Rudolph were both throws that came after a delayed play-action bootleg to Cousins’ left. While you can’t run those plays all the time, clearly they’ve been working for this team and when you have players as talented as Stefon Diggs, ‘Bisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., and the soon to return Adam Thielen, sometimes you just have to run plays that other teams expect and just have faith that your guys will be able to beat the opposing teams’ players.
When it comes to the success (or lack thereof) in this year’s playoffs you have to look at the other side of the argument as well. Let’s say the Vikings don’t resign Cousins after 2020. That’d mean they’d have to spend a high pick on a replacement in next year’s draft, a pick that is shaping up to be towards the end of the 20’s. Then you have to hope that that player pans out, something that the Vikings clearly haven’t had the best track record with (see above). That quarterback would have a year to learn from Cousins, who by your own logic would be teaching him the wrong things since he’s an $84 million dollar “bust”. Then from 2021 and beyond the Vikings would be relying on a young quarterback to lead an aging defense that has core players locked in, for the most part, until 2023.
Considering the parameters of the window(s) of opportunity that the Vikings find themselves in right now and the success they’re having this season with Cousins (success that should only continue as Thielen returns and young players like ‘Bisi Johnson and Irv Smith Jr. get better and better (not to mention the addition of Josh Doctson as a down the field threat)), success that’s only been hampered by some dubious coaching decisions… Wouldn’t the simpler solution be to move on from someone else whose contract is set through 2020? Both Vikings general manager and their head coach Mike Zimmer have contracts that expire at the end of the 2020 campaign.
Should they fail in the playoffs this year and next, perhaps it’d be time to make an admission that while Zimmer has done great things with this team, namely in taking a 3-13 unit and putting together an on-paper roster that is rivaled by no one in the NFL, perhaps he’s taken them as far as he can? We’ve seen Zimmer’s teams struggle against teams that are helmed by elite offensive minded head coaches (the Eagles’ Doug Pederson, the Rams’ Sean McVay, the Chiefs’ Andy Reid, and even the Bears’ Matt Nagy, to name a few) and in big games.
If this Vikings team yet again stalls in the playoffs, perhaps it’d be time to look at bringing in (or promoting) and offensive minded head coach. Sure, assistant head coach Gary Kubiak has said that his head coaching days are behind him (and that offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski has a “bright future” ahead of him), but perhaps he could get the itch again or he’s just saying that because he doesn’t want the media to say that he’s looking for another opportunity or should things with the Vikes regress, the head coaching gig.
Some have said that replacing Zimmer would mean “blowing up” this Vikings team. Again, the core of this Vikings team is locked up until 2023 or beyond and while the players on the defense, especially, have for the most part been hand-picked by Zimmer to fit in his system, whose to say that defensive coordinator George Edwards wouldn’t stick around? Especially if Zimmer’s replacement was promoted from within. Regardless, that’s a long ways away from right now and it’s hard to speculate on this sort of thing as we don’t know what’s going to transpire from then-to-now.
We do know, though, that Cousins is playing better, statistically (and otherwise), than any Vikings quarterback since Favre and one of the best seasons in franchise history. He’s everything we’ve been waiting for and any argument to the contrary is mostly based on some sort of bias that most likely stems from people’s love for Bridgewater or Keenum, or their scoff-ery at his contract. While Bridgewater and Keenum were also seemingly the QB’s that we’ve been waiting for, they couldn’t make every throw on the field (in Teddy’s case, he was still young and learning (and working on adjusting his throwing motion to remove the side-arm aspect and thus get some air under the ball for passes over 20/25 yards)) and thus couldn’t take advantage of all the talent around him.
As we’ve seen, finding a replacement for Cousins isn’t as simple as some are making it out to be either. I’ve waited my entire life for one (that didn’t end up getting catastrophically injured) and to just assume that the Vikes can find his replacement via the draft is wishful internet logic, as is the idea that they could find someone via free agency (especially since Cousins’ $84 million dollar contract set the market, a market that is now a lot spendier for quarterbacks of Cousins’ talent).
So, really, the only thing that should dictate whether or not the Vikings re-sign Cousins beyond 2020 is and should be the financials. You can make all the justifications you want (he’s playing bad opponents, he isn’t doing it when it “matters”, he won’t return my phone calls!), but the reality is that we as Vikings fans should know more than any other fan-base that finding a quarterback of Cousins’ caliber is very, very difficult and regardless of whether or not you were for the move last off-season shouldn’t matter anymore.
What should matter is that the Cousins and company seem to be getting stronger and stronger week-to-week and with their best player, Adam Thielen, returning from injury after the Bye they may be an offense that is impossible to stop. That’s a different way of saying that Cousins gives this team the best chance to win a Super Bowl that it’s had since 2009 and that the team should do everything in it’s power to keep Cousins around beyond 2020.