The Vikings’ Free Agent Options at QB

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The 2023 season is in the rearview mirror, and everyone involved with the Minnesota Vikings should be focused on ensuring a more successful 2024. What does a successful 2024 look like? That depends on some of the decisions Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is about to make, namely at the quarterback position.

The Vikings’ Free Agent Options at QB

Run it back with Kirk Cousins on a big contract, and the Vikings have to be making noise in the postseason to justify that move. Alternatively, draft a rookie in the first round, and the young QB and the team need some grace to figure things out. Where does that leave the Vikings free agent options at quarterback?

It’s pretty slim picking in this year’s free agency for quarterbacks, and the lone standout option is the man who has spent the last six seasons in Minnesota.

Outside of Cousins, some options are worth consideration for a team like Minnesota if the incumbent QB1 leaves town and the Vikings draft a rookie in the first round. Nick Mullens is under contract for the 2024 season, and the shot-callers in Minnesota might view him as sufficient alongside a rookie. He showed the ability to move the chains in 2023, but his knack for turning the ball over proved detrimental to the Vikings winning games with him under center.

If Cousins chooses a new destination for 2024 and the Vikings cannot move up the board for one of the consensus top 3 options — Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels. Instead having to pick from the next tier — Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr, and JJ McCarthy —Minnesota might look for a short-term option to keep the competitive part of their competitive rebuild alive.

There’s a group of over-30s quarterbacks available that the Vikings should strike off the list immediately. None of Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, or Tyrod Taylor are moves the Vikings should be looking at. If Minnesota does look to make a move, it needs to be a player who can win games for as long as it takes for a rookie to come through.

The Favored Option

Options at
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Sam Ehlinger (4) and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II (10) sit on the sideline Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, during a game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. © Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Gardner Minshew is my favorite option in this year’s FA class. Long removed from the MinshewMania of his rookie season in Jacksonville, Minshew had a resurgence in Indianapolis. After significant playing time in just two of the first five games, Minshew became QB1 after rookie Anthony Richardson’s season was ended due to a shoulder injury. Minshew came to Indianapolis after two seasons in Philadelphia to help the transition to a rookie QB with potential, but not seen as the finished article.

The Vikings could find themselves in the same position, while Minshew’s reputation as a high-end QB2 who you can trust to start multiple games surged after a good season with the Colts. The season ended in disappointment for the Colts as defeat to the Texans saw them drop out of the playoffs. Just one game separated the two teams and the Jacksonville Jaguars in a closely contested division. In the games Minshew either started or played a significant role in, the Colts had a 9-6 record (9-8 was the end-of-season record).

Minshew finished the season with 3,305 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He also added 100 rushing yards with three touchdowns and seven first downs, finishing the season with a QB rating of 84.6. Minshew has the character that a fan base can get behind and wouldn’t break the bank. A contract around the $8 million mark, with incentives for playing time, should do the trick.

The Probably Out-of-Reach Option

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The best QB on the market outside of Cousins is Baker Mayfield. The former first-overall pick’s move to Tampa Bay proved inspirational as Mayfield had a career year leading the Buccaneers to a division title and a playoff win. There were career highs in regular season stats for starts (17), completion % (64.3), passing yards (4044), and touchdowns (28). Mayfield’s success in Tampa Bay should see him land a good contract around the $25 million a year mark for multiple years. 

I’d be surprised if Tampa Bay didn’t bring him back and try and build on his first year. They are too far out in the draft at 26 to go after a top QB. The Bucs lost OC Dave Canales after just one season after he was hired by division rival the Carolina Panthers.

Liam Coen is the new OC in Tampa, a position he held for the LA Rams when Mayfield was there in 2022. Coen was full of praise for how Mayfield came into LA during a difficult time and galvanized the squad. Mayfield back in Tampa isn’t yet a certainty, but it is a good bet. The Vikings shouldn’t be looking to pay the sort of money it will take to lure Mayfield, either.

The Alternatives

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Other options the Vikings can look at include players like Sam Arnold, Drew Lock, Marcus Mariota, and Jacoby Brissett. When looking at these players, you must decide how much more they offer than the already contracted Mullens.

Mariota is an intriguing option. After getting a second chance to be a starter in Atlanta for one season, he backed up Jalen Hurts in 2023. Brissett has been on four different teams for the last four seasons — starting 16 games. He played in just three games — without a start — for the struggling Commanders but would be my top option if the Vikings want to bring in a veteran presence with good leadership skills.

If it’s bringing in a talent that is still young with time to unlock more potential the Vikings are after, then Darnold and Lock are the options. Lock has started games in all four seasons since he was drafted but has never proved himself as a legitimate QB1. He helped Seattle to a win over Philadelphia and seems to be settling into a career role as a high-end backup. Darnold was the 3rd overall pick back in 2018 but never lived up to expectations in an often struggling Jets offense. 

A second chance in Carolina only lasted two injury-hit years, though he helped the Panthers to a 4-2 record when playing in 2022 — two more wins than they managed in 2023. A move to San Francisco as a backup to Brock Purdy saw Darnold land in the best position of his career regarding the team and coaching staff he had to work with.

There wasn’t much playing time for Darnold, but he did step in for an injured Purdy to complete a win over the Baltimore Ravens, followed by his only start on a narrow 21-20 defeat to the Rams. With accuracy having been his issue during his pro career, an improvement in this area over the last two seasons gives hope he could still come good in the right place within a well-run offense — like Minnesota.