The Vikings’ One Big Mystery Begins
For the first time since 2018, the Minnesota Vikings may make a switch at QB1.
Other offseason items are important, too, like extending Justin Jefferson’s contract, building out defensive personnel, and re-signing Danielle Hunter. But none are as crucial as the club’s decision on Kirk Cousins, who is scheduled to hit free agency in two months.
The Vikings’ One Big Mystery Begins
The Vikings’ front office and Cousins discussed an extension last year, but no deal materialized. Then, Cousins guided Minnesota to a 4-4 record through eight games, tore his Achilles tendon, and missed the rest of the 2023 campaign.
Now, more than ever, the status of Cousins is the first domino inside a pivotal Vikings offseason. The franchise could extend Cousins by a year or two or let him walk via free agency to a team like the Atlanta Falcons. Those are the stakes.
Because he’ll return from a grim injury like the Achilles tear and turn 36 before the 2024 season kicks off, many believe Cousins will entertain a “team-friendly” deal to remain with the Vikings. That sounds wonderful in a vacuum, but the veteran passer has never allowed skimpy pennies into his bank account. In fact, Cousins is notorious for accruing guaranteed stacks of cash, almost more efficiently than any player in the NFL. Like ever.
So, why would he turn team-friendly now?
Meanwhile, with or without Cousins on the roster next September, Minnesota must draft a quarterback with 1st- or 2nd-Round draft capital for the first time in 10 years. The last guy was Teddy Bridgewater, an experiment ruined by injury. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell took over the Vikings two years ago, and continuing to attach their job security to Cousins year in and year out would seem a bit strange.
Owning the 11th pick in April’s draft, the Vikings must draft whichever quarterback they fall in love with during the draft lead-up. The time is now. Re-upping the Cousins Experiment annually hasn’t fully worked and probably won’t take off at age 36 and with a repaired Achilles.
If the Vikings say goodbye to Cousins, the $37 million in available cap space will stay intact — and possibly grow if Harrison Smith retires or player contracts are restructured. Retaining Cousins would slice an unknown amount from the $37 million and make adding new free agents a bit trickier.
Finally, Minnesota will have options at quarterback in the draft — again, with Cousins or without. Caleb Williams (USC), Drake Maye (North Carolina), Jayden Daniels (LSU), Michael Penix Jr. (Washington), J.J. McCarthy (Michigan), and Bo Nix (Oregon) are expected to go off the board in Round 1. The Vikings could move and shake into the Top 5 for someone like Maye or stay put and hope Penix Jr., for example, falls to No. 11.
But it all starts with the Cousins decision; team-building, that is. The Vikings must answer a fundamental question: Can we win a Super Bowl with Cousins in 2024?
If the answer is no, it’s time to let him walk in free agency and draft the next guy while starting the rookie quarterback contract clock.
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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).