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The Vikings have a Critical Kirk Cousins Decision to Make

While what the Vikings do at quarterback is going to define their offseason, the Kirk Cousins decision isn’t going to be an easy one for them to make.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins

Identifying a franchise quarterback is a constant struggle that NFL teams routinely have to deal with. Then even when a team finds a quarterback they feel good about, it becomes a challenge to properly surround them with the required talent while keeping them happy financially. On average teams face a major inflection point at the position every 3-4 years. The Vikings find themselves at such a point this offseason with the Kirk Cousins decision looming.

With Cousins, the Vikings have to answer all the same questions that always get asked about quarterbacks. Is he the guy, or should we move on? If he is the guy, how much should we pay him, and for how long? It feels like ancient history now, but it’s the position the Ravens were in this past offseason with Lamar Jackson. Prior to signing him to a draft day extension, it truly felt like they were going to move on from him. Now Jackson is on the cusp of winning another MVP award and potentially a Super Bowl this season. Imagine if the Ravens had gone in a different direction! It just further underscores exactly how difficult and critical the decision the Vikings have in front of them is. Let’s take a moment to analyze the arguments for and against the Vikings keeping Cousins next season and beyond.

The Argument for Keeping Kirk Cousins

1. Kirk Cousins is Currently One of the Best Quarterbacks in the NFC

Part of the Kirk Cousins decision Minnesota needs to weigh is the quality of the quarterback position around the conference. Simply put, the overall landscape at the position in the NFC isn’t great right now. The vast majority of the top quarterbacks currently reside in the AFC, and that likely won’t change anytime soon. That makes Cousins substantially more valuable to NFC squads like the Vikings, who aren’t directly competing against the Patrick Mahomes’ and Josh Allen’s of the world. The Vikings were well on their way to competing for a 2023 playoff spot prior to Cousins’ injury. If they bring him back, the lower barrier for playoff entry in the NFC should make them betting favorites to at least return to the postseason in 2024.

2. Kevin O’Connell and Justin Jefferson Want Cousins Back

In 2023 Kevin O’Connell and Justin Jefferson both found out what life looks like without Kirk Cousins under center. Neither seemed to be overly pleased with that picture. Since his injury, both KOC and Jefferson have been extremely vocal about wanting Cousins back with the Vikings in 2024. From the KOC’s point of view, Cousins is a great fit to run his high-volume passing attack. His scheme puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make quick decisions, and not everyone can execute it. Just go watch some of the disastrous performances from the three backup quarterbacks Minnesota cycled through in the second half.

Cousins has always been adept at juggling avoiding turnovers while staying aggressive in pushing the ball downfield with accuracy. That makes him both an ideal fit for the offense and ideal for maximizing Justin Jefferson’s playmaking ability. Jefferson was on a record-shattering pace to start the season when paired with Cousins. He was still sensational with backups down the stretch, managing 1000 yards despite appearing in only 10 games. However, the degree of difficulty for him went way up, and he was routinely put into harms way due to bad ball placement. Jefferson even got sent to the hospital after getting hit on a high throw from Josh Dobbs in Las Vegas. Jefferson is likely to get paid this offseason no matter what happens with Cousins, but his otherworldly statistical pace could take a big hit if Cousins doesn’t return.

3. Appealing Alternatives are Lacking

If the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins this offseason, they’ll need to go out and find a replacement. With the 11th overall pick in the draft and a lack of options on the market, it’s not an ideal situation for Minnesota to find itself in. With the amount of quarterback-needy teams ahead of them in the draft, moving up isn’t feasible. So, if they want to go with the rookie route it would have to be a reach on a second-round talent. That would present an enormous amount of risk for a team with an offense loaded with skill position talent.

The best veteran alternative on the market is likely a trade for Justin Fields. It would be unfathomable to think that the Bears would trade him in division, so that’s not really possible either. After Cousins, the best likely free agent quarterback available would either be Russell Wilson or Jimmy Garoppolo? That’s not exactly a duo that inspires much confidence. This might be the most compelling case for a Cousins return to Minnesota.

The Argument Against Keeping Kirk Cousins

1. Cousins Could be too Expensive

The Kirk Cousins decision could easily become purely a business decision for the Vikings front office. Even if Cousins is willing to take the aforementioned discount, the number could still be too steep. Much of that is due to Cousins being the crowned jewel of the free-agent quarterback market this offseason. Considering a quarterback like Daniel Jones got north of $40M annually on a multi-year deal with the franchise tag potentially looming, it’s not crazy to think Cousins could eclipse $50M annually on the open market.

There will be teams that will talk themselves into being a Kirk Cousins-type quarterback away from Superbowl contention. And all the other top quarterback prospects on the market are going to be gone early in the draft or could cost a high draft pick in the case of Justin Fields. The bottom line is that if such a team emerges and is willing to overpay on a long-term deal, the Vikings would likely be out of the bidding.

2. Cousins is Aging, Immobile, and Coming off a Major Injury

This part of the argument won’t garner too much debate. Kirk Cousins is clearly moving into the twilight of his career going into his age-36 season. When talking about his future, he’s starting to consider his legacy and has thrown around the word retirement. It also remains to be seen how he’s going to respond physically after the first major surgery of his career. Granted, the fact that Cousins has never been mobile to begin with might mitigate some of that risk. In theory, he should be able to recover all of what made him a great passer from the pocket However, in a game that is increasingly being dominated by quarterbacks that can routinely extend plays, it’s worth wondering if the Vikings aren’t better off going in that direction as well. Cousins’ age and physical limitations are simply going to be working against him moving forward.

Verdict: Keep Kirk Cousins if the Deal is Reasonable

The Kirk Cousins decision could be one of the most excruciating this front office ever has to make.  If they do decide to move on from him and the succession plan ends up being a disaster, it will cost a lot of people in Minnesota their jobs. That’s why, even with Cousins’ limitations, the front office has to make an effort to bring him back. The biggest question will be if they get him to agree to a likely below-market deal. If the Vikings want to ensure they can be competitive in 2024, they have to hope the answer is yes.

Reasonable Extension: 3 Years $120M fully guaranteed

Main Photo: [Brad Rempel] – USA Today Sports


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