Kirk Cousins Is … a Riddle?

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has experienced a once-in-a-lifetime summer.

He starred in Netflix’s docuseries Quarterback alongside Patrick Mahomes and Marcus Mariota. On Monday, Cousins was named the NFL’s 42nd-best per player voting in NFL Network’s NFL Top 100.

Kirk Cousins Is … a Riddle?

Also this week, Cousins was named a ‘Tier 2’ quarterback, according to The Athletic. Mike Sando published QB tier rankings and said the rankings were formed by “50 league insiders who placed 30 veteran quarterbacks into tiers included eight general managers, 10 head coaches, 15 coordinators, 10 executives, four quarterbacks coaches and three involved in coaching/analytics.”

Kirk Cousins Is
Dec 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports.

Cousins checked in as the league’s 12th-best passer — a fair ranking, on the whole, as he’s routinely accountable for 4,000+ passing yards and 30+ touchdowns like clockwork.

But The Athletic’s verbiage in describing Cousins’ tier placement was a bit odd; one league executive claimed the 34-year-old was a ‘riddle.’

Labeled Deep
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

“People have him down in Tier 3 and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ But the guy is a riddle. He plays almost flawlessly in the second half in the biggest comeback in the history of the league (against Indianapolis), which almost no one can do, and then one month later, in the playoffs, he’s got fourth-and-8 on the last play of the game and he’s hitting the checkdown five yards short of the sticks with the defender all over the receiver,” the unnamed executive explained about Cousins.

Cousins commented (on the Netflix show) on the infamous 4th and 8 play against the Giants that his choice was to take a sack or fling it to Justin Jefferson, who was double-covered. The Vikings made a forever memory tossing the ball to Jefferson against the Buffalo Bills two months before, so most fans would’ve preferred Cousins heave the ball to him or just take the sack. The checkdown to T.J. Hockenson was bad optics — or so the working theory goes.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a touchdown pass while being rushed by Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) as guard Ed Ingram (67) blocks during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Another Athletic source, an offensive coordinator, said about Cousins, “He will probably never win a Super Bowl, but he is just a damn good player who more times than not, they are at least even, if not a little ahead, of who they are playing from a quarterback standpoint.”

Many didn’t believe Matthew Stafford could win a Super Bowl in Detroit. Then, he switched uniforms with the Los Angeles Rams — accompanied on offense by Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell — and won the chip in 2021. Perhaps O’Connell has some Stafford-ish voodoo in store for Cousins — or Cousins could jaunt to a team like the San Francisco 49ers next offseason in free agency and attempt to prove the anonymous offensive coordinator wrong.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) waves to fans while leaving the field after the Vikings’ game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Overall, Cousins as a ‘riddle’ almost perfectly aligns with the public perception of his skillset. Some believe 4,000 passing yards and 30+ touchdowns each year don’t grow on trees, and fans would be utterly elated if a player like Vikings rookie Jaren Hall produced a similar statline. Others maintain Cousins flat-out isn’t very good, and the statistics are a mirage.

The next chapter on the riddle phenomenon kicks off in 41 days when the Vikings begin the regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by