Eagerly Reentering Kirk Cousins Legitimacy Conversations

KIrk Cousins
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, Vikings Twitter was in an uproar over a tweet from Eric Eager, who said, “Dalton is a better value at $10.5 million than Kirk Cousins is at $31 million.” This tweet seemed like a wild take that was just out there to anger anyone who has a positive view of Cousins, but he then followed it up this morning with a very valid point.

While I disagree with the original tweet, the article linked here brings up many good points about the Vikings since the fateful 38-7 loss in the 2018 NFC Championship game. The Vikings thought they were a QB away after that loss and paid a premium price for a good-but-not-elite quarterback. And with only one playoff appearance in the three seasons with Kirk, there are valid questions about whether or not that move was the right decision or not. With a good sample size of what the Cousins-led Vikings have been, it’s time to look back and see if the signing was indeed the best option at the time. 

The Context

To look at the context of the Kirk contract, it is crucial to look at why he was signed. The Vikings were coming off a 13-3 season and a trip to the NFC Championship game. They had the best defense in the league and a talented roster, with players such as Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and rookie Dalvin Cook who had missed most of the season. There was understandable hype around the Vikings, and the organization might have bought into it as well. They gave Cousins a fully guaranteed 84 million dollar deal, believing that the surrounding cast would not regress and he would be able to be the missing piece.

Looking back, believing that the surroundings would not regress was a bit of a bold assumption. In the three seasons since then, we have seen the faults of the signing. While Kirk has overall played well as a Viking, he hasn’t shown he’s capable of carrying a depleted roster that a quarterback such as Aaron Rodgers can. With defensive regression, poor offensive line play, and injuries, the Vikings roster has not been as good as advertised. Hindsight might be 20-20, but defensive regression should have been expected. We have consistently seen over the past couple of years that defenses usually don’t sustain their level of play in consecutive years. Just look at the Jaguars and the Bears. Even the Legion of Boom regressed eventually. For this reason, the Vikings were very misguided in the reasoning for paying Kirk. Even if they have the quarterback stability that the franchise has lacked for decades, the process was flawed and is the main reason why the Vikings are where they are today. 

It’s tough to say if signing Cousins was indeed the best move at the time, but Eager makes a lot of good points in his article about how the Vikings could have spent less at the QB position to make up for their other roster holes. It’s easy to suggest in hindsight that the Vikings could have drafted a QB in the 2018 draft or signed a cheaper middle-ground QB, but it’s hard to believe that the Vikings would be just as competitive right now with a QB such as Dalton instead of Cousins. There is no guarantee that a rookie QB in 2018 would have prospered in the Vikings’ environment. Poor o-line and a regressing defense could have been too much pressure for a young player and caused failure. However, the Cousins signing was the path with the smallest margin for error. For someone who believes Kirk is a good quarterback, this is tough to admit.

Results

As we’ve discussed, the Kirk signing was a result of a flawed process. To make up for that move, the Vikings had to have nailed their free agency and draft signings. In the first two years of the Kirk era, the Vikings failed miserably. In the 2018 and 19 drafts, there were many missed draft picks, which played a role in the Vikings’ regression since 2017. Mike Hughes, Jayln Holmes, Garrett Bradbury, and Alexander Mattison were all drafted with their first three picks in those drafts. For one reason or another, these players have been in backup roles or just not lived up to their draft status. While Brian O’Neil and Irv Smith Jr. have been good picks, it doesn’t make up for the fact that 4/6 of their first three picks in each of those drafts were misses. Out of the free agents the Vikings have signed in 2018 and 2019, only Sheldon Richardson provided good value – and he was gone after a year. 

The Vikings have been misusing their resources, and as a result, failed to put the roster around Kirk that was promised back when he was signed. There is some promise, though. The 2020 draft has looked to have multiple hits early, and with free-agent signings of Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Patrick Peterson over the last two offseasons, the Vikings might turn things in around this season. 

Final Outlook

2021 is a do-or-die year for the Vikings. There must be a deep playoff run this year, or else we can officially label the Cousins-era as a failure. Disappointment in 2021 would also mean that the Vikings should clean house after this season. It may be unfair to blame Kirk for the organizational mishaps during his tenure, as he has been a good quarterback in most of his games as a Viking. However, there is only one goal in this league. The elusive Lombardi Trophy that no Viking fan has ever been able to cherish. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman have done a great job keeping the Vikings competitive during their tenure, but outside of 2017, they have never been true Superbowl contenders. 2021 is the final chance. With the 2020 draft class coming back for year two, and many players coming back from injury, as well as the free-agent signings – this is a team that should be expected to compete in 2021. There are still many holes on this roster, specifically on the offensive line, but at this point, the time has run out. The Vikings can win with Cousins, but with what they have done since then, it’s is tough to see them doing so.