The Case for a Kirk Cousins Extension

As soon as T.J. Hockenson was stopped short on 4th & 8, the annual debate began among Vikings fans: what to do with Kirk Cousins? 

Despite being one of the most statistically productive quarterbacks in Vikings history, Cousins has his fair share of doubters. There is also a strong contingent of Vikings fans that defend the man, regardless of how the most recent season ended. Thus, the “Kirk Wars” have become an annual event dating back to 2018. 

The Case for a Kirk Cousins Extension

The 2023 offseason version has become especially spicy. Cousins enters the final year of his fully guaranteed contract after leading the squad to its first divisional title and most wins since 2017. 

Given the sneaky no-trade clause that Cousins lobbied for via the contract extension last offseason, there are three paths that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah can take with his QB1: let him play out the last season of his contract, trade him to a team that he approves of, or extend him. 

For all that Cousins has done on and off the field in Minnesota, a contract extension is warranted for Captain Kirk. Say what you will about his tucked-in white tee shirts, borrowed chains, or lack of social-media-worthy plays not involving Justin Jefferson; the man has earned the right to continue quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings. And they’ll be better off if he does. 

He Can Still Spin It

The Case for a Kirk
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Like clockwork, Cousins turns in statistically elite seasons year after year. Although 2022 was arguably worse than his previous years, No. 8 still performed as one of the league’s best quarterbacks. 

Despite the dip in traditional stats, he was “at his best when his best was required” (one of his head coach’s favorite phrases). Tying NFL records for 4th-Quarter Comebacks and Game-Winning Drives (8 each), Minnesota’s quarterback consistently delivered with his team’s back against the wall. 

A known subscriber to the TB12 nutrition method, Cousins evidently takes pristine care of his body. Kirk is always available. Since he became Washington’s full-time starter in 2015, he has only missed one meaningful game (2021 Week 17 at Green Bay due to a positive Covid-19 test). 

So, despite the fact that he will be entering his age-35 season, a short-term extension shouldn’t be too big of a risk for Minnesota. Considering that 2023 will be Cousins’ second year in an offensive system that he finally “turned a corner” in during the Week 14 game at Detroit, one can expect even more consistency from him moving forward.

Keeping the Window Open

Is Justin Jefferson the NFL's Best WR? Or More than That?
Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

As the Vikings look to continue the new era ushered in by their new leaders, building around and appeasing their franchise players will be paramount. The good news for Cousins’ future in purple? His connection with Justin Jefferson is one the best in the league. 

They also seem to like each other.

With only one year remaining on Jefferson’s rookie contract, the Vikings are sure to be busy working with No. 18’s representation on his first big extension. He’s been on the record stressing the importance of winning over his individual accolades. If the All-Pro receiver is to sign an extension in Minnesota, he must be convinced that the franchise is committed to winning now. 

This starts with securing the quarterback position. Cousins and Jefferson have proven to be a lethal combination since the star receiver first burst onto the scene in 2020 Week 3 against Tennessee. Their chemistry has improved each season: Jefferson’s targets, receptions, and yards have increased from one season to the next.

If Minnesota doesn’t prove to Jefferson that they are interested in winning now by extending Cousins, they could lose Jefferson on the open market in 1-2 years. Possibly more devastating, however, would be securing a Jefferson extension only to waste his prime years in purple with a non-Cousins subpar QB.

Not only does the Vikings’ superstar receiver want to win, but the time for winning is also still ripe. With Tom Brady’s recent retirement and a looming Aaron Rodgers trade to the AFC, the NFC is as open as it will ever be. 

What’s the Alternative?

Sep 11, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports.

If winning now is indeed the path that Kwesi and Kevin decide to take, Cousins almost certainly has to be the man under center for the next couple of seasons. 

First of all, there isn’t a better alternative. Unless the Vikings were to pursue Lamar Jackson in free agency and find an approved trade partner for Kirk, any upgrade at QB this year or next would likely cost Minnesota more capital than they can reasonably part with. 

Some fans have been clamoring for a Cousins-for-Trey Lance trade with San Francisco. Lance is an unproven commodity and has only started five games over the last three seasons, dating back to his last year at NDSU. The Vikings would risk wasting a generational talent at wide receiver with a question mark throwing him the ball. 

Another option would be to let Cousins play out his final year and pursue their QB of the future in the 2023 NFL Draft. With the 23rd selection, it’s unlikely the Vikings will find a QB who could take over the franchise after just one season behind Cousins. Moving up to grab one of the coveted QBs – Levis, Young, Stroud, Richardson – will likely cost Adofo-Mensah more than he is willing to part with, especially since Kwesi will surely want to use his draft picks to shore up Brian Flores’ defense.

Oct 15, 2021; Ware, United Kingdom; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores during a press conference at Hanbury Marriott Manor and Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Possessing a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback in his mid-30s with only one career playoff win is a good-but-not-great position to be in while competing for championships. But with little 2023 draft capital, massive needs on defense, Jefferson’s future in purple hanging in the balance, open season in the NFC, and frankly, no better options, extending Kirk Cousins for two additional seasons through 2025 gives Minnesota a chance to compete now. 

Thus, the “Kirk Wars” can be marked on the calendar in pen for the next three years. Minnesota will continue its search for the next QB1. But for now, the captain’s chair is occupied. 

Notes: Contract details were sourced from Spotrac. Statistics were sourced from Pro Football Reference.

Will is a husband, father, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.