football-player football-score football-helmet football-ball Accuracy Arm-Strength Balance Ball-Security Ball-Skills Big-Play-Ability Block-Deconstruction Competitive-Toughness Core-Functional-Strength Decision-Making Discipline Durability Effort-Motor Elusivness Explosiveness Football-IQ Footwork Functional-Athleticism Hand-Counters Hand-Power Hand-Technique Hands Lateral-Mobility Leadership Length Mechanics Mobility Pass-Coverage-Ability Pass-Protection Pass-Sets Passing-Down-Skills Pocket-Manipulation Poise Power-at-POA Progressions RAC-Ability Range Release-Package Release Route-Running Run-Defending Separation Special-Teams-Ability-1 Versatility Vision Zone-Coverage-Skills Anchor-Ability Contact-Balance Man-Coverage-Skills Tackling Lifted Logic Web Design in Kansas City clock location phone email play chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up facebook tiktok checkbox checkbox-checked radio radio-selected instagram google plus pinterest twitter youtube send linkedin search arrow-circle bell left-arrow right-arrow tdn-mark filled-play-circle yellow-arrow-circle dark-arrow-circle star cloudy snowy rainy sunny plus minus triangle-down link close drag minus-circle plus-circle pencil premium trash lock simple-trash simple-pencil eye cart
NFL Draft

What Can Vikings Do About Kirk Cousins?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 19, 2020
  • Share

At this point, you have to respect Kirk Cousins. It wouldn’t be for good quarterback play; Cousins is far from the passer who had an NFL-leading completion percentage in 2015 (69.85%) or the Pro-Bowl caliber player we saw in the 2016 and 2019 seasons. What Cousins has done so masterfully well is finesse a contract that, no matter how badly he regresses, puts him in a no-lose situation despite the Minnesota Vikings losing at a historic pace. 

The Vikings’ 1-5 record following a 40-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday is their worst start since 2013, and their $33 million-a-year quarterback isn’t playing much better than the one-win record shows. Cousins leads the NFL in interceptions (10) and admitted he should be benched if things don’t change.

You could chalk this up to a team leader taking responsibility for their inept performances. Cousins is taking the pressure of some of the younger skill players and focusing the blame on himself—and there is plenty of that to go around. Cousins’ admission, however, paints a different picture; it’s one that shows the impossible situation the Vikings are in. 

If Cousins doesn’t improve after the bye week, do they bench him in favor of backup quarterback Sean Mannion, who has two career starts? Does Minnesota cut its exponentially large losses and take a franchise-crippling $41 million dead cap hit? Or do the Vikings take a different approach and keep Cousins on the roster while simultaneously finding his replacement via the 2021 NFL Draft? If they want to avoid any difficult decision, Cousins could simply play up to the level a $66 million extension commands. 

“I need to correct it,” Cousins said. “I need to finish the season with a different story, regarding the interceptions, so that's something I need to improve with the remaining games we have. I don't know that I'd limit it to the interceptions. I think it's just the entire offensive performance. It's just, I need to be better, we need to be better.”

Cousins, who finished Sunday completing 24-of-36 passes for 343 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, has been streaky at best, and getting a mixed bag with his current contract is one of the biggest disappointments this season. Whatever Cousins’ expectations were coming into 2020, the thought of benching or even moving on from the recently extended passer was far from anyone’s mind. His decent performances in four games, including a string of good play from Weeks 4-5 despite finishing that stretch 1-1, still left much to be desired. When he has ruinous outings like he did Sunday, and previously against the Indianapolis Colts (which was another three-interception performance), it calls for a deeper look into why and how he commanded such a lucrative deal, because when a game starts with this:

Follows with this:

And includes this:

… the next logical step is a positional change. 

While quarterbacks across the league are throwing fewer interceptions, Cousins has matched the most interceptions thrown with the Vikings just over a quarter of the way into the season. He’s only three picks away from matching his career high (13) set in Washington in 2017. No passer would continue to keep a starting job playing this recklessly. But how effective would it be to bench Cousins when the fate of the quarterback, head coach, and general managers are messily intertwined? 

Cousins, seventh-year head coach Mike Zimmer, and general manager Rick Spielman were re-signed just months apart. After Cousins’ two-year extension, Zimmer was locked in through the 2023 season and Spielman penned his own extension a week later. It wouldn’t just be bad for optics if the Vikings sat Cousins, it would (or at least it should) put a spotlight on Zimmer and Spielman’s decision-making. 

Would Mannion be a better option and successfully bring this offense together? No, but at this point what do any parties have to lose? Cousins will continue cashing in huge game checks while the team’s brass can only hope for better quarterback play, and, if they get it, the Vikings could begin to turn their season around. It’s not like Minnesota needs more weapons around whoever is under center. The Vikings have two of the best receivers in the league with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen; Jefferson’s breakout rookie season, documented here and here, has been the most impressive part of this middling offense. 

It could, however, be easier for Minnesota to cut its losses. It would be absolutely embarrassing but so is the Vikings’ current record after investing so much into an offense that can’t put wins on the board. If they do cut Cousins, it would take a year (or more) to rebuild their offense; the dead cap hit is just too high. There is a slight way around this. While Cousins hasn’t done much across his career to show he’s capable of playing up to his price tag, Minnesota could still get good play out of him and also invest in his replacement. The only way the team could come out of this in the green would be by drafting a quarterback, who would have to be immediately good.

The Vikings have multiple options in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Draft Network’s senior draft analyst, Jordan Reid, named a few realistic options in the quarterback class.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

“Teddy Bridgewater was the last quarterback drafted in the first round by the Vikings, but through six games and holding a disappointing 1-5 record, the signs point to the team making another selection early on. Justin Fields brings a different dynamic in that he provides a sturdy build, strong arm, and brings a different dynamic due to his mobility. The combination of those traits is ideal in Gary Kubiak’s offense that centers around zone concepts and attacking the intermediate areas of the field. Fields’ presence as a dual-threat would fill a huge void under center after throwing for 41 touchdowns and only three interceptions to go along with 3,273 passing yards and 484 on the ground.

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

“There wouldn’t be too many better stories in the 2021 NFL Draft than Trey Lance not only becoming a first-round pick but being able to return home to play in the Twin Cities. Lance, a native of Marshall, Minnesota, set the nation on fire after recording a 16-0 record on his way to an FCS Championship while also totaling 42 touchdowns and zero interceptions during his first season as a starter. Lance’s game is a bit reminiscent of Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott in that he not only has the traits to be a highly successful passer on the next level, but he’s also very competitive as a rusher. Lance, only making 17 starts during his collegiate career, has a lot of aspects to improve on, but he’s an ideal candidate to experience a possible redshirt year in 2021 as the Vikings attempt to unravel what’s left of the Cousins dilemma.

Zach Wilson, BYU 

“Every year there seems to be a QB prospect that comes out of nowhere to shock the college football world as they surge up draft boards. Last year, it was Joe Burrow’s magical season, but this year’s candidate is BYU’s Zach Wilson. After suffering through shoulder and thumb surgery in 2019, he’s finally healthy and thriving in the Cougars’ offense. The true junior has a lively arm and is supremely accurate; he plays the game on edge as the ultimate risk-taker at the position. Wilson has a certain fun factor that he brings to the game and has been one of the biggest risers of the 2020 season.”

The Vikings are at the point where the only chance the entire regime has in avoiding a more detrimental outcome is for Cousins to play better. 

Cousins shouldn’t have as long of a leash as he does, but he could certainly pick things up after a week off. The Vikings could go back to the drawing board and figure out how to bring a spark back to the offense. 

Either way, Cousins’ checks will continue to clear, and, as the seventh-highest paid quarterback with only one victory this season, that’s a big win—for him at least.

Filed In

Related Articles

Written By

The Draft Network