The Minnesota Vikings are already in the midst of a championship window. That’s why general manager Rick Spielman made the big decision to pursue quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency just last year, following a 13-3 season that ended with an NFC Championship game appearance. It’s why the team locked down stars like wide receiver Stefon Diggs last off-season as well. Now, Head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings front office, and the team’s roster are primed to make another run in 2019. Making these moves last year signaled to teams and fans around the NFL, it is Super Bowl or Bust in Minnesota.
It would be easy to look to Kirk Cousins’ contract as the arbiter of this championship run. As a quarterback he is the centerpiece of his team, and his signing was the splash move of the 2018 offseason. Intended or not, Cousins was seen as the final piece to bring Minnesota to the next level. His three-year contract would seem to imply that the window of time for Minnesota to win it all is during those three years; 2018, 2019, and 2020. Zimmer’s coaching contract also expires in 2020, as does Spielman’s contract. This puts a convenient frame on Minnesota’s window of opportunity. Win a Super Bowl in the next two years, or bust out the chopping block to get rid of the quarterback, head coach, and front office. As conventional knowledge would hold, the Vikings have one two-year period to win it all. If they don’t, many believe they must burn it down and start the re-building process in 2021.
Looking beyond Kirk Cousins’ three-year deal paints a much different picture. A large majority of the team’s impact players outside of quarterback are signed past the 2020 season. Minnesota’s first round draft pick Garrett Bradbury doesn’t have much flexibility to determine his contract due to the rookie wage scale, but his deal will expire in 2023 if the team picks up his fifth-year option. Tight end Kyle Rudolph’s recently signed contract expires in 2023. So to does the contract of linebacker Eric Kendricks, linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and edge rusher Danielle Hunter. Wide receiver Adam Thielen’s extension signed him to the team through 2024, but the team gains no dead money hit by hypothetically cutting him in the final year. Essentially Thielen’s deal expires in 2023 with an addition one-year team option stacked on the end.
If Cousins’ contract exemplifies a three-year window ending in 2020, the rest of the team provides a structure from then until 2023, when the core of the team reaches the end of their deals. Situational pieces like whoever is playing at running back or slot corner are interchangeable during these periods. Yet the core of driving Minnesota’s success – their star receivers and edge rushers – are signed all the way through. The only real question regarding the second period is that of the quarterback.
The quarterback discussion in Minnesota has been explained to death over the past year. It usually equates to keeping Cousins if he wins a championship in Minnesota, and moving on from him if he doesn’t. This is not unreasonable. Cousins has explicitly stated that he wanted a short-term contract to “double-dip” should he be successful in Minnesota, and the team is under no obligation to spend double on him if there is no valuable return. What is unreasonable is to suggest the Vikings should burn down the organization if Cousins fails.
Again, much of the team is solidified in place past Kirk Cousins’ contract. Diggs, Thielen, Hunter, Barr, Kendricks, and others will still be on the team in 2021 even if Cousins departs. It would be an absolute waste of talent to start a rebuild with them still under contract. Instead, they should retool, not rebuild, with a rookie quarterback. In this situation, the Vikings should spend whatever draft capital it takes to move up and grab their quarterback of the future. With solid drafts in 2019 and 2020, the Vikings can feel comfortable giving up assets for a star quarterback. It is very possible that quarterback will be the Vikings only need in 2021. Thus begins the second championship window, lead by the same star players and coaching staff with a new, young quarterback on a cheap deal. The Eagles, Rams, and Seahawks have recently established their own championship windows with a solid foundation, good drafting, and a star young quarterback. The Vikings can reload in the same way, and Spielman has set the team up well to avoid crashing into the earth at the turn of the decade.