When Should the Vikings Start J.J. McCarthy?

Minnesota Vikings 2024 NFL Draft. Watch as QB J.J. McCarthy addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Friday. The Vikings traded up one spot on the draftboard with the New York Jets for McCarthy.

Kirk Cousins was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings during the previous six seasons. Even before he left for the Atlanta Falcons and suffered a season-ending injury last season, it was obvious Minnesota needed to find a long-term answer at quarterback soon, given that Cousins will be 36 years old once the season starts. He was also an impending free agent.

When Should the Vikings Start J.J. McCarthy?

Sam Darnold was signed to replace him, but he, of course, is not the long-term solution.

Minnesota selected Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy last week after trading up one spot. Cousins’ new team drafted Michael Penix Jr. two spots ahead at No. 8, which surprised many, including the former Minnesota quarterback.

The question now is when the former Wolverine will see the field. It will not be a shock if Darnold starts all or most of the season. The best-case scenario would be to let Darnold start the whole season. If he has a good year, it would not be a bad idea to bring him back and let McCarthy sit all of 2025 or maybe most of it. Once it is 2026, though, they should start him in Week 1 regardless. They would need to know by then whether he is the guy or not for the franchise.

Minnesota Vikings 2024 NFL Draft. Watch as QB J.J. McCarthy addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Friday. The Vikings traded up one spot on the draftboard with the New York Jets for McCarthy.

Minnesota reportedly is “extremely wary” about rushing him via Kevin Seifert of ESPN. That is the exact approach they should use with him — no reason to rush him at all.

Since Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota has had plenty of trouble finding a long-term quarterback solution. Tommy Kramer played for them from 1977 to 1989, appearing in 129 games (110 starts). While he was a good quarterback, he was not what Tarkenton was and could not always stay healthy. Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder did not pan out. Even now, Teddy Bridgewater could have been the starter if not for the horrific knee injury in 2016. He would never be elite, but he could have been very good.

Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, and Brett Favre had some very good seasons with the team, but all were short-term solutions. Daunte Culpepper looked to be the guy, especially after his incredible 2004 season, but he struggled the following season and then suffered a major knee injury. He was later traded.

Sam Darnold
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Cousins played very well in his six seasons but was never going to be the guy for about ten years or so, given he signed with them at age 30. The team also only made it to the playoffs twice in his six seasons, and he won only one playoff game. Not all on him, though, certainly.

It will be very interesting to see what kind of future McCarthy has. One thing is for certain. He will definitely benefit from a supporting cast that includes Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockenson, Brian O’Neill, and Christian Darrisaw. Having a former NFL quarterback as a head coach will help, too.

While it would be best to sit him all season, if Darnold gets hurt, they absolutely should consider starting him. Yes, Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens are not stars by any means, but it would not be a bad idea to have either man start ahead of him this year if Darnold is hurt. They can definitely throw McCarthy in during the fourth quarter whenever there is a blowout.

Minnesota is set up very nicely for the future, with plenty of young talent and $86 million of cap space in 2025. Fellow first-round pick Dallas Turner could be a very good pass rusher.

They just need McCarthy to pan out. He does not need to necessarily be elite. It will be enormous for this franchise if he can even be near or at Cousins’ level but on a rookie deal. They can win with him playing at Cousins’ level after his rookie deal, too, while it, of course, would be even bigger if it happens during his rookie deal.

new qb
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Again, he certainly has the right resources around him. How much they go to his advantage is something all Vikings fans are eager to find out. It will likely take time to find out the answer, but not too much time.

Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah says McCarthy reminds him of Alex Smith. Smith was a decent quarterback, so if McCarthy were at his level, it would certainly be much better than having a bust at the position. Minnesota would need him to be even better, though, if they are going to compete for Super Bowls.

Minnesota did go 13-3 with Case Keenum in 2017 and made it to the NFC Championship, but average quarterback play does not always get you that far. Sometimes, even elite quarterbacks do not take you that far every year or most years. McCarthy’s winning pedigree in college gives some people reasons to be optimistic about him, but that does not always translate into the NFL. Tim Tebow is a perfect example.

purple rumor mill
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) signs autographs during the national championship celebration at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Fans have been starving for a franchise quarterback for too long, and seeing their biggest rivals, the Green Bay Packers, having Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and now Jordan Love has made them feel that way even more so.

Maybe McCarthy will, in fact, be leading this team for many years to come and could someday finally lead this franchise to a Super Bowl victory. Or he could be another Jackson or Ponder, and Minnesota will again be in this position three or four years from now.

Fans are keeping their fingers crossed hoping he is the guy indeed.