Free Agency Next Up with Cousins and Hunter Ranking High on Most Lists

Prediction for Vikings at Packers + 2003 Flashback
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With the Super Bowl and the 2023 season in the rearview mirror, the NFL focus shifts to the 2024 league year that begins with free agency on March 11, just four weeks away.

Free Agency Next Up with Cousins and Hunter Ranking High on Most Lists

Team GMs, player personnel staff, and coaches are in the process of deepening their dive into determining team needs and which free agents to target, along with the pre-draft work that commands much attention this time of year.

Media outlets are publishing their free agent rankings, and as expected, two Vikings—neither of whom can be hit with the franchise tag–rank high at their respective positions: Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter.

Both players surely rank high on team lists, too. That’s a cause for concern as Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah ramps up the negotiations with the agents for both key players. A big part of the reason I always wanted to extend our best players before they hit free agency in my GM years was my fear that all it took was one team out of 32 to make an astronomical offer that we either couldn’t match or would adversely affect our player budget if we did match.

Next Up
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Cousins looked like his Achilles injury is well on the road to full recovery as he danced last week at the NFL Honors show. It was a good move on his part to plant the seed with the Vikings and other potential free-agent suitors, and he should be good to go by June minicamps.

The Vikings’ four-time Pro Bowl QB ranked second overall behind Chiefs All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones on several media lists I’ve seen. He’s deservedly the top-ranked QB, ahead of Baker Mayfield, who had a fine season, and a bunch of lesser QBs, including Gardner Minshew, Jacoby Brissett, Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill, and none other than Josh Dobbs.

The edge rusher group has better depth at the top, with two players generally ranked ahead of Hunter, who is coming off his best season (16.5 sacks and a league-leading 23 tackles for loss). Jacksonville’s Josh Allen and Carolina’s Brian Burns are three and four years younger, respectively, than the 29-year-old Hunter, and they have not had two major injuries as Hunter did with his neck and pec injuries that cost him most of the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Allen did have 17.5 sacks last season (tied for second in the league), while Burns fell to eight sacks after having 12.5 in 2022 and will attract a huge offer if he’s not franchise-tagged as expected by the lowly Panthers.

Hunter has stayed healthy for two straight years, which should position him well for a big free agent payday with the Vikings or elsewhere as he seeks a contract that exceeds the four-year, $98 million deal Montez Sweat received from the Bears.

Sack Master
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It behooves the Vikings to step up and sign Cousins and Hunter before free agency opens (and not risk another team outbidding them) for the team to have the best chance to return to playoff status in 2024.

Super Bowl Reactions:

The game turned into an overtime thriller after a relative snoozefest in the first half that included a scoreless first quarter and a 10-3 49ers lead at the break. Patrick Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from a 10-point deficit as he did four years ago against the Niners in another Super Bowl failure by Niners Coach Kyle Shanahan.

His decision not to kick off at the start of overtime was the wrong call with the rule change that both teams must possess the ball in O.T. regardless of whether a touchdown is scored on the first possession. If the 49ers had scored a TD and PAT on the first possession, the Chiefs would’ve gone for two after their TD, and the team with the ball second knows what they must do (as is the case in college football).

Other than that bad decision, there’s no shame in Shanahan losing twice in five years to the NFL’s best player and one of the most clutch of all time in the postseason. Mahomes now has an incredible 15-3 playoff record and is 3-1 in his four Super Bowls over the last five years. He won his third Super Bowl MVP in the game, which was well deserved with his playmaking down the stretch, especially on the 13-play, 75-yard game-winning drive in OT.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Mahomes’ biggest plays on the drive were an 8-yard run on 4th-and-1 from the K.C. 34 and a 19-yard scramble on 3rd-and-1 from the 49ers 32 to set up his 3-yard game-winning pass to Mecole Hardman. Mahomes completed all eight of his passes on that final drive.

Travis Kelce overcame a too-quiet first half with only one catch (resulting in few Taylor Swift camera shots) and an embarrassing sideline bump of Andy Reid in which Kelce screamed at his coach about taking him out too often. In the second half, he had eight catches for 92 yards, including a huge 22-yarder on 3rd-and-7 from the 49ers’ 33 with 16 seconds left in regulation to set up the tying field goal by clutch Harrison Butker (who also made a Super Bowl record 57-yarder in the third quarter).  

49ers QB Brock Purdy played well with 255 passing yards and no turnovers against a tough Chiefs defense. He led some clutch drives of his own, but his final two drives wound up with field goals to fall short. Mahomes completed 23 of 33 for 210 yards and 2 TDs (with 1 pick) before the second half, and O.T. and finished with 333 passing yards.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

I hoped the 49ers would win after seeing enough Chiefs’ celebrations over the past five years. But I made the right call in picking Mahomes to emerge victorious after mistakenly going against him in the previous two playoff games at Buffalo and Baltimore. He’s just too good in the postseason.

His three Super Bowl victories have him tied with Troy Aikman behind Tom Brady (7) and Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw (each with 4). Mahomes will continue chasing the GOAT Brady next season, and at only 29 years old, it’s a tough ask, but he’s in the hunt to tie or surpass Brady eventually.    

Now it’s on to the 2024 season, and the local spotlight is on the Vikings’ efforts to build another division title and playoff contender, hoping they can get to a Super Bowl soon after a 47-year absence. The good news is the Vikings won’t face Mahomes in the postseason (since he’s an AFC guy) until they make it to the big game.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl