There is still time for a Kirk Cousins turnaround with the Vikings

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) Kirk Cousins
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) Kirk Cousins /

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a disappointing season despite the best quarterback play they’ve had in a long time. Perhaps this could be the start of something good for Kirk Cousins.

When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract this was supposed to be the missing piece that pushed the team over the top and deliver to them to the promised land. The $26 million paid in 2018 resulted in a very mediocre and very disappointing 8-7-1 record.

To be honest, Cousins may not be the problem; after all, he came to Minnesota with a 24-23-1 record as the full-time starter in Washington. Statistically, he has an exceptional year for the Vikings. His 4,298 passing yards rank second only to Daunte Culpepper’s 4,717 yards in 2004. Cousins completed 70.1 percent of his passes, also second-best in franchise history behind Sam Bradford’s 71.6 percent in 2016. His quarterback passer rating of 99.7 is the fourth-highest in team history.

Cousins’ performance this past season was the best this side of Brett Favre’s historic season of 2009, proving that he did just about everything right in leading the Vikings offense—that is, everything except singlehandedly win games. According to Cousin’s profile page on Pro Football Reference, he did not have even one game-winning drive in 2018.

For a very long time, there has been a revolving door in the Vikings offense at quarterback. Over the past 11 seasons, only two players have started at least 10 games in consecutive years. That is not a recipe for winning.

Despite the frequent changes at QB, the quarterback play over the last three seasons indicates that general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer have done a good job of getting consistency between Bradford, Case Keenum, and Cousins. All three approached triple digits in passer rating and threw a combined 72 touchdowns with only 22 interceptions.

Thankfully past performance does not predict future returns and there’s still time and hope that Cousins can replicate the performance of former Vikings great—Fran Tarkenton.

Tarkenton came to Minnesota as a third-round draft pick in their inaugural season. After six seasons and a combined record of 27-46-4 as the starting quarterback, Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants.  He would eventually make his return five years later. While in New York, Tarkenton was slightly better with a 33-36 record. Still, when he made his way back to the Vikings in 1972 at the age of 32 his career record as a starter was only 60-82-4. It was upon his return to the Vikings when his Fall-of-Fame career really took off — but it started slowly. Division winners in 1971 with an 11-3 record, the Vikings, with Tarkenton dropped to 7-7 and fourth in the NFC Central Division. It ended a string of four straight playoffs appearances.

From in his second season, in his second stint with the Vikings Tarkenton strung together six straight winning seasons, leading the Vikings with a 57-20-2 record. Coincidentally, in his last season with the Vikings in 1978, his record was the exactly the same as Cousins; first season with the Vikings, 8-7-1.

Before returning to Minnesota in 1972, Tarkenton only had two winning seasons in 12 years, certainly not the pedigree that anyone would expect three Super Bowl appearances over the next four years.

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Perhaps Cousins, with three winning seasons to his credit, and two years younger than Tarkenton, can yet pull off just as an unlikely turnaround and take the Minnesota Vikings where they have not been since 1974.

In these barren winters sports days, it’s a positive thought to hang on to.