Sam Darnold has become the latest quarterback rumored to be taking over the Vikings to begin the post-Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota. NFL.com’s David Carr suggested that since Cousins hasn’t been getting the job done, and the situation in New York seems irreparable, the teams should consider a deal that would send Darnold to the Vikings. Carr had this to say about the potential trade:
“The Vikings are in a world of hurt financially when it comes to their rapidly declining quarterback. Kirk Cousins signed a two-year, $66 million contract extension in March, but it seems highly unlikely that the team would part ways with him this offseason, given that doing so would result in $41 million in dead money counting against Minnesota’s salary cap in 2021, according to Over the Cap. Might the Vikings trade for a QB with a high ceiling who’s still playing on his rookie contract? They’re going to have to do something, because Cousins isn’t getting it done, and backup Sean Mannion hardly seems like the answer.”
While Darnold has dealt with a whole litany of issues since entering the league, including mono, disgruntled teammates, and even ghosts- there are those who believe that Darnold stands as a much better quarterback as we have seen. As I’ve chronicled before, the Jets are an unmitigated disaster. So, the thinking is that Darnold could yet develop into a star on a different team.
However, I’m not sure that he would actually be any better with this Vikings team as is. Sure, Darnold would have much better receivers to throw to in Minnesota, but not much else is all that different. In fact, some things are surprisingly worse, and sometimes, much worse.
According to Pro Football Focus’ grades, the Vikings’ offensive line is actually significantly worse than the Jets’, with four of five Vikings’ starters posting worse positional grades than the Jets’ starters. Vikings’ center Garrett Bradbury is the one starter who has posted a higher grade through six weeks (66.6) than Jets’ center Connor McGovern (48.0).
The Vikings also have the fabled dynamic duo at safety in Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith. However, it’s definitely arguable that Jets safety Marcus Maye has been just as good as either of them this year.
The Jets have also had one of the best cornerbacks in the league this season, Brian Poole. His PFF coverage grade of 88.8 is the third highest in the NFL. The Vikings highest graded cornerback to play every game is Cameron Dantzler…at 52.8. Otherwise, it’s Mike Hughes at 56.7, but he’s missed the last two weeks with injury.
I would give the Vikings an edge with their linebacker unit because Eric Kendricks has stepped up big time in the absence of Anthony Barr, but after that, there’s not much difference. Yannick Ngakoue and Ifeadi Odenigbo make the Vikings edge rush better than the Jets, but the Jets interior rush is far superior to the Vikings, anchored by John Franklin-Myers and Folorunso Fatukasi.
Darnold vs Cousins
Now, to the actual quarterbacks themselves. Both have been objectively awful so for this year, but it’s really hard to say that one is worse than the other. Let’s look at those offensive line stats again. If you believe any part of PFF’s grading system, then the Jets offensive line is better than the Vikings. It’s also better if you consider how many times Darnold has been pressured, hurried, hit, and sacked. All four numbers are lower than Cousins’.
Even given Cousins having a worse o-line, his accuracy numbers are better than Darnold’s. Cousins has a bad throw percentage of 14.9% good for tenth best in the NFL, and Darnold’s bad throw percentage is 19.1%, eighth worst.
Then there’s the elephant in the room that Cousins is owed $66 million over the next two years. In order to get Darnold, the Vikings would probably have to give up some of their high value picks in the upcoming draft. Is it really worth giving up some of those draft picks to get a quarterback that may not be any better than who the Vikings have…while paying their backup $66 million?
These picks could be used to fill in the massive holes that the Vikings see all over the field on the offensive line, in the secondary, and maybe they could even find their future quarterback to learn under Cousins the next two years.
Sure, Cousins is certainly not the long term answer in Minnesota. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to jump ship right now and bank on a young quarterback with just as many issues. Especially with a draft coming up in which the Vikings have a whopping nine picks.