Quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t exactly the most popular man in Minnesota. Signed to a massive contract in 2018, most expected the former Washington Redskin to be the missing piece on a roster that was otherwise ready to compete for a Super Bowl. However, Minnesota missed the postseason in two of Cousins’ three years with the Vikings, and never made it past the divisional round.
With quarterbacks on the move all across the league, some expect San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to make a push for Cousins. The team reportedly wanted Matthew Stafford, but apparently views Cousins as an upgrade on Jimmy Garoppolo. While some fans may welcome a change, the fact of the matter is that Kirk Cousins is the best quarterback option the Minnesota Vikings are likely to find.
Minnesota Vikings Should Keep Kirk Cousins At Quarterback
Kirk Cousins Is A Good Quarterback
From a physical standpoint, Kirk Cousins isn’t capable of terrifying a defense in the same way as somebody like Josh Allen. He’s not the biggest, fastest, or strongest athlete in the world, meaning that his style of quarterbacking isn’t quite as exciting as some other players around the league.
However, Cousins has been able to make the most of his physical toolset and become one of the NFL’s more effective passers. Again, nobody is saying he’s as good as Patrick Mahomes, but he’s easily good enough to bring the right team to Super Bowl contention. Since 2018, Cousins is 7th in PFF grade, 14th in EPA+CPOE composite, and 18th in EPA/play. He’s only getting better with time, as Cousins finished 2020 ranked 8th in EPA+CPOE and 10th in EPA/play.
Kirk Cousins has a reputation for not being a big-game quarterback, but that reputation is a little unearned. While he did struggle with that earlier in his career, the sample is so small that you really can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from the data.
Nobody denies that the human element of added pressure exists, but the players that are actively affected by this phenomenon have already been rooted out before making it to the NFL. Put simply, if you don’t have the mental fortitude to handle a big game, then you probably also don’t have the mental fortitude to perform well in front of scouts knowing that your entire NFL career is on the line.
In recent years, Cousins actually has played well when the lights shone the brightest. He orchestrated an overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in the 2019 postseason and had one of the highest fourth quarter PFF grades in the league last year.
Highest-graded QBs in the 4th quarter this season:
1. Tom Brady – 89.5
2. Kirk Cousins – 87.0
3. Patrick Mahomes – 86.4
4. Baker Mayfield – 86.0 pic.twitter.com/fxOXuaorfH
— PFF (@PFF) February 2, 2021
No Better Options
Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, but he’s not a great one. In today’s pass-heavy NFL, teams should be doing everything in their power to build the best passing offense possible. That starts with the quarterback, so the Vikings should pull the trigger if they believe they can find a true upgrade on Cousins.
Unfortuantely for the Vikings, that upgrade will not be easy to come by. Minnesota’s current backup is Sean Mannion, and nobody wants to see that for a full 16-game season. If the Vikings move on from Cousins, they’ll need to add a new face either through trade or the NFL Draft.
Currently, the Minnesota Vikings hold the 14th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which means that they don’t stand a shot at the elite quarterback prospects. While they might be able to land Trey Lance, that’s far from a sure thing and he’ll need some time to develop even if he falls to the Vikings. The best quarterback likely to be on the board is Mac Jones, and it’s hard to imagine him ever being better than Cousins.
Jimmy Garoppolo Is A Massive Downgrade
This leaves a trade as Minnesota’s most likely path to a quarterback, with Garoppolo himself being the most likely target. From a production standpoint, Garoppolo and Cousins have remarkably similar numbers over the past three years. Since 2018, Garoppolo ranks 13th in EPA+CPOE and 10th in EPA/play, which is essentially right where Cousins is. However, it’s worth noting that Garoppolo did this while targeting George Kittle and Deebo Samuel while also playing for arguably the best offensive mind in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus isn’t perfect, but they’re probably the best public metric available for evaluating quarterback play. Their grading suggests that Garoppolo’s production is entirely a product of Shanahan’s scheme, as his 75.6 grade over the past three years is the 22nd-best in football. Cousins, meanwhile, is the seventh-best quarterback over this timeframe with an 88.9 grade.
The film backs this up, as most of Garoppolo’s good plays are throws to wide-open receivers from clean pockets. This doesn’t even account for the injury factor, as Garoppolo has struggled to stay on the field since entering the league.
PFF Grade since 2018:
🔸 Kirk Cousins: 88.9 (7th)
🔸 Jimmy Garoppolo: 75.6 (T-22nd) pic.twitter.com/aW4TmiZO3e
— PFF (@PFF) February 1, 2021
Kirk Cousins might not be the perfect quarterback, but he’s the best option the Vikings have. Unless Minnesota wants to embrace a one-year tank, Cousins gives this team the best chance to compete, and it’s not particularly close.
Embed from Getty Images