Editor’s Note: This article is (hopefully) the conclusion of a season-long series on the play of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and the fans reaction to his season, which I’ve humorously titled the ‘STOP BEING MEAN TO COUSINS YOU GUYS’ pentalogy, rather… hepatology.
You can read the other entries here:
Okay. I admit that the frequency and quantity (and I’d like to say quality) of my Kirk Cousins related articles may make it seem like I have a bias. I was one of the first people in Vikings media to call for the team to sign him, after all. However, I did say before the season that I wouldn’t defend/make excuses for him if he didn’t end up doing things that I’d hoped he would in the article I wrote about the Vikings needing to go “All in” on signing the then free-agent quarterback.
But, I also did say that I was officially off the “Bandwagon” after the Bears game this season.
Point being; I get it. Sort of.
I understand that Cousins has had… Let’s call them mixed results during his time under center as a Viking. I was as disappointed about the 2018 season as anyone. That having been said, I believe I’ve found the reason that Cousins both had a disappointing 2018 and a slow start to the 2019 season. While I had inklings around the time I streamed the above video, it took his emergence and MVP-level play for me to really see it clearly. Now that that’s happened, I feel comfortable putting the remainder of my credibility on the line to say that he is in fact the franchise quarterback the Vikings hoped he’d be when they signed him to a then-record deal last off-season. Perhaps more importantly, I also feel comfortable enough to say that this is the checkmate that I need to finish my season-long series about Cousins’ performance and the fan reaction to it.
So, strap in! This is a long article, because complex questions require complex answers. So, like those of you who have made it through ‘The Irishman’ on Netflix, take your time and come back after anger naps.
The Vikings dispatched the Detroit Lions at home Sunday, and while it was every bit the low-stress affair that I’d hoped for in my pre-game edition of our daily live Vikings news show, purpleUPDATE Live(!). And while it was every bit the (semi-)statement game that we’d hoped, it wasn’t necessarily the firing on all cylinders example of offensive prowess that we’ve become accustomed, with some exceptions, this season. So, I understand that this isn’t the best time to write this article, and I also understand that the majority of my articles the past few weeks have been about the same topic, Kirk Cousins. However, as the season progresses and Cousins continues to knock down narrative-after-narrative that the Never-Cousiners use to explain away his success, I feel compelled to write these articles as I let the Vikings zeitgeist dictate my think pieces, not the other way around (yet…).
And that’s just the thing(s) that brought me to this piece.
For the majority of my 35 years on this planet, we’ve been waiting for a franchise quarterback. A quarterback that was either developed post-draft or, failing that, young enough to play beyond a season or two i.e. Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Jeff George, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, etc. We’ve had a couple of potentials in that time, sure, in Brad Johnson, Dante Culpepper and/or Teddy Bridgewater. Whether it was timing or injury, those quarterbacks never quite fit the bill.
There’s been a fair share of busts in that time, as well. Christian Ponder or Tarvaris Jackson were examples of that. Sure, T-Jack had his moments, but if he was the answer the team would’ve never pursued Favre (or others). There were mediocre placeholders, as well, in Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or even Gus Frerotte. Point being, this team has never had the quality or consistency needed to succeed in the old NFL, let alone the pass-happy NFL of today since Tommy Kramer.
Speaking of the old days, the stat that often reference is the fact that the Vikings haven’t had a quarterback play full back-to-back 16 games season since 1978. While that doesn’t necessarily mean what it sounds like (as you could have an injury-prone franchise guy who plays 15 games a season, theoretically), the most negative interpretation of that stat is the reality that we’ve been dealing with our entire lives as millennials.
Enter Kirk Cousins.
Now. I’ve written about Cousins a lot the last couple weeks, starting with whether or not the Broncos comeback win was his best as a Viking and ending with the most recent entry, whether or not his contract was, in retrospect, a bargain. The reason that I’ve written about him is that he remains the one constant in the Vikings zeitgeist that people seem to disagree on the most. That’s what is so surprising, though, is that while people disagree about everything (hence 99% of Twitter), it’s that they disagree about the one thing that we’ve wanted to badly our entire lives.
Whether or not Cousins is the franchise quarterback we’ve been searching for.
Now. The term “franchise quarterback” means different things to different people. For example, it could simply mean a quarterback that you build your team around, which is a time-based metric. That idea doesn’t mean that your quarterback is elite or good enough, although it does mean that he is at least good enough to not only not be replaced by another quarterback but rather (and perhaps more importantly) that you don’t try to replace them in the first place.
Then there’s the definition of a franchise quarterback that I think most Never-Cousiners are using is the more restrictive version, the one that at this point seems like they’re demanding perfection. To them, Cousins was at first just plain bad. Then, he was putting up numbers but they were garbage time numbers. Then, they were legitimate numbers that lead to wins (and thus weren’t garbage time stats), but they weren’t wins against good teams. Then, they were wins against good teams but they weren’t examples of Cousins “putting the team on his back”. Then, when he did that against the Broncos (and despite the final score, I’d argue the Seahawks, or really the entire post-Bears run where the defense has played worse-and-worse, up until today’s win against the Lions), it was an example of “never having to been in the position in the first place” to need him to do just that.
That Broncos game is a good example, as was the Chiefs and Seahawks game, of what I truly believe the issue has been in terms of the most recent two losses this team has accrued, which we will talk about in a minute. But, it can be sort of maddening as someone who really has no skin in the game (I don’t typically have a problem, at least consciously, admitting when I’m wrong as when you are in this line of work you’re going to be wrong A LOT), to see people who have wanted something so bad do everything in their power to explain it away when they actually have it. Or at least the closest thing to it we’ve ever had.
So, I wanted to step outside of the Vikings bubble for a second and see what other teams or writers from other teams thought about Cousins. I recall what the national narratives about Cousins were at the time the Vikings signed him. There wasn’t one school of thought there, either, but things at least felt more objective… Not objective, but at least less visceral or emotional. I came across this Tweet from over the weekend that explains how people on a national level feel, but these people aren’t writers.
They’re actually anonymous scouts from teams across the league. Which, should give you a general idea at least how other teams feel about Cousins.
Those inside the game view Kirk Cousins different than a lot of fans:
➖NFC East exec:
“A top QB. One of the best. Look at his numbers.”
“Top-five QB (physical talent).”
➖AFC South scout:
"There are 20 teams that'd want Cousins.”
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 8, 2019
While that might not mean great things about re-signing Cousins after the 2020 season (as he smartly signed a shorter extension knowing that his 2018 contract would set the market, which would then increase dramatically as other more established and ingrained quarterbacks used his deal to get even larger deals), it does mean that Cousins is clearly good enough to get signed by other teams. Let’s go through these one-by-one, quickly. Then we can go through my final point, which is an answer to the question: If he’s so great, why haven’t the results been consistently great?
1) “A top QB. One of the Best. Look at his numbers” – An Executive from the NFC East
First of all, despite the fact that the NFC East is the crap of the NFC this season, they have some established quarterbacks as well as some young up-and-comers. Dak Prescott was often argued as the better quarterback in the MVP-contest earlier this season and by some Never-Cousiners he was actually the one they pointed to as THE MVP (before Lamar Jackson took the lead and never looked back). Carson Wentz has had issues staying healthy and hasn’t looked like the lock to be one of the guaranteed next-generation superstar QB’s that he seemed in his rookie campaign, but he’s definitely locked in for the next 15-years (assuming his body holds up).
That leaves the Giants, who have a rookie quarterback in Daniel Jones that they’re attempting to build a team around. The same can be said about the Washington Redskins, who have the hyper-talented but super inexperienced Dwayne Haskins at the helm (after benching one of the poster boys of the ‘What If’ argument typically deployed by the Never Cousinsers, Case Keenum (who, I should point out, is on his second team in his second year)). That having been said, clearly this praise isn’t coming out of Washington (for obvious reasons).
That means either Philly, New York or Dallas said that Cousins was one of the best QB’s in the NFL. While I have my feeling that it’s New York, that means that there’s nearly a 70% chance it’s a team that has one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s also important to point out that this is coming from a scout that most likely faced Cousins twice a season. I know, people will say, but the numbers are padded or from yards after the catch!
Yeah. No. Not this year.
2) “Top-Five QB (Physical Talent)” – AFC Scout
I can already see the comments. “He said physical talent, not results!” i.e., “He meant potential, not outcome!”
Now, this one jumped out to me immediately as, and I don’t want to toot my own horn, I said that Cousins had the potential to be a top-five quarterback in the league with this Vikings offense. Again, I actually wrote that exact thing in my first article about Cousins from last off-season, titled ‘I’ll Say It, The Vikings Need to Go All-In on Cousins’. While that’s different than what was said here, it’s actually the key difference.
In 2018, even, Cousins had one of the best statistical seasons in team history (or at least one of the most balanced). For the first team in team history, the Vikings had a quarterback with over 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns, under 10 interceptions and over 70% completions. While you could argue that the first two came in garbage time, the latter two obviously didn’t or couldn’t.
2019, though, has been astounding. While these Tweets are from last month they still sum things up relatively well. This Tweet from Ian Rapoport shows just how well Cousins has played since Week 5.
— 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
This Tweet shows how impactful that play has been on Stefon Diggs, which also highlights another jewel in the crown that is the argument/reality that Cousins is in fact not only our franchise quarterback but also an elite quarterback (that being that Cousins has done most of this without his favorite target in Adam Thielen):
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 it can oftentimes be hard to separate the quarterback from the statistics, I think that it’s safe to say that Cousins has proven that he is statistically a top-five quarterback in the NFL. Considering that he also has top-five physical capabilities (as he is lethally accurate down the field), it’s safe to say we should just call him top five at this point in his career. Whether or not that means it’s him, the players around him or the system is moot as what matters is what the Vikings paid a premium to bring him in for, to elevate this offense to match the elite level of the defense and it’s safe to say he’s done that.
3) “There are 20 Teams that’d Want Cousins” – An AFC South Scout
Maybe it’s just how my brain works, but I can hear the comments on this one as well.
“That means 12 teams DON’T want Cousins! That means he’s the 13th best QB in the game!”
I’ll admit it. This isn’t the best quote here. However, there are established quarterbacks on that many teams and it’s safe to say that this shows that Cousins can’t be as bad as people say he is because if two-thirds of the league are willing to not only bring Cousins in but bring him in at the contract amount everyone likes to talk about.
Also, keep in mind that he most likely meant that 20 teams would bring him in right now. There are teams like the aforementioned Redskins that have young quarterbacks that are much cheaper and that they’d most likely want to at least try to develop before replacing them with a 31-year-old Cousins.
I promised that I’d end this piece by explaining why Cousins hasn’t had consistently elite results. I think a stat from today’s game (courtesy of Courtney Cronin of ESPN) explains that rather well. Against the Lions today, Cousins was “12-for-12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on such throws in the first half, the highest number of play-action completions in any half since ESPN started tracking that data in 2006.”
You didn’t read that wrong.
What does that have to do with his entire career as a Viking? Well. It’s all about how you use Cousins. I understand that you may not have to say that about every other elite quarterback, but it’s not that simple. Some teams simply have the personnel to execute certain plays better than others and even elite quarterbacks are better in certain formations than others. Cousins happens to be amazing at play-action passes and at rolling out in general, but especially to his left. We’ve seen that this season. He doesn’t thrive out of the shotgun, however.
For reasons that I presume were to keep Seattle’s defense in the nickel for as long as possible, the Vikings ran Cousins out of the shotgun more often than not Monday night against the Seahawks, for example. In the Chiefs game, the Vikings also deviated from the sort of plays that otherwise have created amazing results. In 2018 it was hard to really know what worked and what didn’t because the Vikings were a mess.
They had strife and no consistency between their head coach and their first offensive coordinator, then they only had a handful of games after that coordinator was fired to attempt to learn and establish Kevin Stefanski’s offensive philosophy. Beyond that, you had one of the worst offensive lines in team history as well as a major injury to your stud second year running back in Dalvin Cook.
Do any of those things scream success to you?
This season they had a new system to learn, which was a mix of Stefanski’s and Gary Kubiak and his teams’ philosophies. The offensive line was learning Rick Dennison’s zone-blocking scheme, as well. So, it’s not hard to see why it may have taken a few weeks/games to really know what specifically worked best for Cousins and the rest of this offense.
We now know what works and while you can’t just do the exact same thing from week-to-week, when it comes to the playoffs and playing other great teams you’re eventually going to have to be better at what you do best than the other team is at stopping it. It feels like the Vikings attempt to get “Too Cute” (a phrase that they’ve used multiple times when they’ve lost a big game, which is typically also a game in which they deviate greatly from their status quo), they always end up losing. It’s become something of a meme on my daily Vikings news/audience participation show, purpleUPDATE Live! to the point that we’re literally selling shirts with that phrase on them.
That’s not to say that Cousins is a perfect quarterback, either. No quarterback is perfect. Hell, the Patriots are struggling right now and the Packers just beat the Redskins by FIVE POINTS at home. But, and I know this is a VERY low bar, but I can genuinely say that I’m fully confident (obviously) that Cousins is the closest thing we’ve had to a perfect or franchise quarterback that this team has had. I loved Teddy, too, but he never performed on the level that Cousins is right now. The only person close, outside of Favre, was Culpepper pre-Moss trade/knee injury.
The evidence is overwhelming at this point.
Perhaps it’s the fact that we haven’t had it that we can’t acknowledge when we actually do, but the fact is that it’s time that we start talking about Cousins as the franchise quarterback that he is because if there’s actually one thing that I’ve learned during my time both as a fan and as a content creator for this team it’s that the players and the team are a lot more cognizant of that content than you might think. I genuinely believe that the team would’ve never traded Randy Moss, for example, had there not been enough people that had turned on him for reasons I’ll never understand. I KNOW that the team sees articles, whether it be players or executives, as well.
This team does have real issues and they’re concerning enough to warrant discussion and frustration, but Cousins’ play is not one of them. Those concerns might be too great, too late in the season and they could end up meaning that this Vikings team doesn’t make it past their first playoff game. If that’s the case and Cousins gets a lot of heat for it, he very well could say (with cause) that he isn’t getting support in Minnesota, a place he chose over a larger stage and paycheck in New York. When it comes time for him to re-up after 2020, he could end up taking more money over the loyalty he feels to Minnesota and if he doesn’t feel like that people are meeting him halfway, he could leave.
While it’d be very Vikings of us to run off our first real chance at consistency and quality at the quarterback position since the Jimmy Carter administration, we don’t have to. So, let’s stop not just ignoring, but actively and sometimes angrily denying, what is right in front of us and focus on the good and what is really bad with this team as it stands.