Things haven’t gone as planned for the Minnesota Vikings and their quarterback.
After falling 38-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship three years ago, the Minnesota Vikings decided to not bring back Case Keenum, and instead, they brought signed free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million.
While Keenum had a good year in 2017, it made complete sense as to why the Vikings went hard after Cousins. And even though Cousins has never been a great quarterback, he has been a good one throughout his career. This season, however, has been much different.
Keenum has gone on to be a one-year wonder as he is now already on his third team since leaving Minnesota. He did perform well in 2017, but the Vikings defense was the main reason for the team’s 13-3 season. Former Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, an improved offensive line (thanks in part to Keenum’s mobility), and the rest of the NFC North not being good all played a part in the team’s success in 2017.
Did the Minnesota Vikings make the right move in 2018?
Sure in hindsight it might have been better for the Vikings to just re-sign Keenum for $18-$20 million a year in 2018 instead of giving Cousins $84 million and then perhaps draft a quarterback with an early-round selection in 2018 or 2019. But at the time, it was understandable why Minnesota made the move to sign Cousins.
Looking back, re-signing Teddy Bridgewater for cheap could have also been a smart decision for the Vikings to make too. But Bridgewater was coming off a very bad injury and no one knew if he could ever return to playing like he did before getting hurt. He certainly has been looking good for the Carolina Panthers this season though.
Minnesota probably did not expect Lamar Jackson to be available at pick No. 32 in the 2018 NFL Draft either and there are never any guarantees with rookies especially at quarterback (remember guys like Christian Ponder, Ryan Leaf, Matt Leinhart, Jamarcus Russell, and others?).
During his first two seasons with the Vikings, Cousins played well as he threw for a combined 56 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He has been a good quarterback in his pro career and he has put up good statistics, but the one main issue for him has been performing well in the biggest games and moments.
Cousins certainly deserved some of the blame for Minnesota missing the playoffs in 2018 and not making it past the divisional round last year. However, he did come up big during the Vikings overtime playoff win over the New Orleans Saints last season.
He does not deserve blame though for the poor play-calling from former Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s play in 2018, along with the offensive line taking a step back following the tragic passing of Tony Sparano and guard Nick Easton missing all of the 2018 season.
Cousins was never worth $28 million a year, but that is how the market works for quarterbacks. Since his arrival, his contract has made it tougher for the Vikings to add more talent to the roster.
Minnesota made the decision to extend Cousins for two additional years this past offseason. His cap number dropped from $28 million to $21 million this year, which helped. But during the next two seasons, his cap number jumps to $31 million and $45 million respectively.
Sure, the decision for the Vikings to sign Cousins, in the beginning, was understandable, especially since they were a game short of the Super Bowl in 2017. But Minnesota’s decision to extend him is already looking very costly.
Even though Cousins mostly got more blame than he maybe should have in the past two years, this season has been much different.
After six games, he has thrown 11 touchdowns and league-high, 10 interceptions. Yes, his protection is still not very good, but his decision-making has really gone downhill too. He has never been a great decision-maker, but this year he has been even worse. Cousins has been forcing things more than ever before.
The Vikings defense also struggled this season, especially without Danielle Hunter. In the end, you win and lose as a team. This year, however, Cousins deserves more blame for Minnesota’s failures than the previous two seasons.
Vikings executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski has done a great job managing the team’s salary cap and maybe he will pull off another cap miracle. But it certainly will be much tougher this time.
The best decision likely would have been to let Cousins play the final year of his contract out this season and then perhaps bring him back cheaper next year. One thing is for certain though, Minnesota needs to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Vikings could let a rookie passer sit for all or most of 2021 and then maybe make him the full-time starter in 2022. Whoever they draft may not even be able to perform at Cousins’ level, but the younger quarterback certainly would not cost very much the first four years.
The worst decision in Minnesota’s franchise history will always be the infamous Herschel Walker trade. But this extension for Cousins might be the second-worst, or at least very close to it.
One has to wonder if Rick Spielman’s time as the Vikings general manager will be over soon due to this poor decision.