A lot of digital and literal ink has been spilled over Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins since the Minnesota Vikings broke the bank/how NFL contracts are done before the 2018 season. Before we start, I’ll put my credibility on the table and say that not only was I the first person in Vikings media to call for the Vikings to go all-in for Cousins, but I’ve wrote A LOT of articles defending Cousins since he spurned the New York Jets for the Purple.
In fact, I wrote an article at 2am last Sunday morning doing just that by asking ‘If Cousins needs everything to be “Perfect” to be effective, how has the offense improved since Week3?”. Talk about your all-time bad timing!
That is still a valid question, though, as Cousins deserves some credit for the offensive turnaround up until the second biggest nightmare of a game against the Falcons because more than one thing can be true across multiple games in the NFL. By which I mean, Cousins could have played well in Wee/ 3/4/5 and bad in Week 6.
Cousins may be labeled a garbage time specialist, and there is truth to that label, but he’s also the second most accurate quarterback in league history and you can’t be a(lmost a) full percentage point ahead of the third person on that list by only being accurate when your team trails by two scores in the fourth quarter (especially when you’re coming off of back-to-back seasons with a greater than .500 record).
So, while many have said that either the initial Cousins deal and/or the extension are so atrocious that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman should be axed (but not head coach Mike Zimmer, who some have pointed out this week “never wanted Cousins in the first place” because of a quote from the 2018 NFL Combine).
“The thing that I told Rick (Spielman) was, when we sat down in meetings, I said, ‘look, we’ve won this many games in these many years because of this football team.’ Because we’ve played really good on defense for the most part. This year, obviously, we played so much better on offense and we were able to go further than what a lot of people thought we would. So it’s important that we continue to put the pieces in place on defense.
What I don’t want to do is say, ‘okay, (here) is this one thing – we’re going to do this and we’re going to take away from the rest of the things that have gotten us to this point.’ So that’s the other thing.
Rob Brzezinski, our cap guy, does an outstanding job of saying, ‘okay, if we do this, then we’re going to have to give up here. If we do this, then we’re going to have to do this. If we do this, we can add here or we can add there.’ So I think all of those things come into play.”
Many of those things? Didn’t happen, at least not until after the 2019 season, where as we saw this season, most any marginal QB contract would’ve still lead the Vikings to bleed veterans like the opening scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Remember that Cousins’ 2020 cap hit was reduced to $21 million after his extension.
If Cousins’ deal hampered the Vikings’ ability to compete or keep talent, who did they lose in 2018 or 2019? How did they keep Anthony Barr? Danielle Hunter? Sign Sheldon Richardson AFTER Cousins signed?
So, the idea that Cousins’ deal broke the team or restricted their ability to sign offensive lineman (as I’ve seen ad nauseam on our social media this week). The thing is, though, draft picks cost the same regardless of position, so… The real problem that I have, at least to start, with how the team handled the Cousins deal is that they knew that he didn’t perform well under pressure (although I’d argue he’s done pretty well considering how atrocious the line has been in regard to protecting him) and they invested a historic amount of money in him and then did nothing to protect that investment.
Not just once. Or twice. Or even when they had a third shot with a record breaking amount of draft picks this past April. They just kept doing what they’ve been doing, and somehow because Cousins (who had a 26:6 TD:INT ratio behind the 27th ranked pass blocking unit in 2019, a unit that was so bad that he literally had to rollout of the pocket to simply move the chains through this nifty thing called the forward pass) only won one playoff game and then didn’t clone himself five times to also play offensive line against the 49ers, this is all his fault.
Despite starting the 2018 season by breaking records with Adam Thielen and carrying the team whose defense was in utter disarray until at least Week 5. Who knocked down every negative narrative about him outside of his Monday Night Football record (which many have pointed out is as worthless a metric as it is not his fault as he actually plays BETTER in prime time games).
Cousins has performed better than any quarterback since 2009 Favre, then 2004 Culpepper before that and everyone hates him because he’s maximizing his income? Sure, he had an awful game last Sunday and in Weeks 1 and 2, but there seems to be a lot of cognitive dissonance as to how Stefon Diggs wAs the best deep ball receiver in the league last season, or how Justin Jefferson has emerged as an absolute Moss-ian beast while, what, a Jugs machine is throwing him balls?
Keep in mind that this is after a week where people applauded Ezra Cleveland’s 43 PFF rating as a good game.
The other main issue here is the extension itself. If the team knew that the team was going to be this… THIS, then why resign Cousins at a rate that’ll (with the projected COVID caps of the next few seasons) take up near 40% of the cap when combined with the extension of Dalvin Cook until 2022?
I get that we’ve been unable to draft/develop a franchise quarterback since before I existed, but it’s moves like this that ensure that the Vikings never end up getting a top draft pick to find one of those “sure thing” quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence.
Sure, it’s the job of the GM/head coach to be as far from a top five draft pick, but if this was meant to be Zimmer/Spielman 2.0 then why would you mar any real chance to build (or some would say rebuild) a contender by tying up that much cap space in a veteran QB who you refuse to protect?
Self preservation? Perhaps. Or maybe they thought that with Dalvin, Thielen, Jefferson, Rudolph and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, the offense could be good enough to compensate for a young, bad defense.
But then why wouldn’t you look at how amazing Cousins played for a large stretch in 2019 despite having zero pocket to throw from (his numbers almost exactly mirrored Patrick Mahomes’ 2018 MVP numbers, despite that) and, I don’t know… Spend a mid-round pick or two on someone who has actually played guard before?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cousins is the problem. But when you refuse to protect him you really give him no chance to show whether or not he isn’t, and while I think he’s performed admirably considering, these things all catch up to QB’s eventually.
So, they broke the bank for a QB and then refused to use a second to fifth round pick on interior offensive lineman to protect him across three drafts and a ton of picks. Then they extended him and did more of the same, and now people are defaulting to narratives Cousins showed he can and has beat despite the fact that he’s had to run for his life to do just that.
That is more on Spielman and Zimmer than Cousins and is a big reason why they shouldn’t run the team anymore.