When the off-season began, the Vikings had three in-house options to re-sign: Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford or Case Keenum. Initially, they seemed destined to sign at least one of them. In fact, at the end of January, even I wrote that Kirk Cousins would be wise to sign with Denver, because they are a team that has the pieces to turn it around (and I didn’t figure the Vikes would be an option). However, as time went on, and more people thought about it, it grew clear that if a different option presented itself, the Vikings would explore it. Now, free agency has arrived, and Kirk Cousins is reportedly signing with the Vikings: a 3-year fully guaranteed deal in the range of $84-$86 million. So now, let’s collect my thoughts.
Kirk Cousins Is Worth It. Let’s start with Cousins. People are arguing that he doesn’t have the acumen to deserve such a contract, and I don’t understand it. I can’t say I’ve gone through and watched Kirk Cousins tape, but I think his stats do speak for themselves. My favorite one I have seen is that in the past three years, out of 36 qualified QBs, Cousins is third in Completion Percentage, fourth in yards per attempt, and sixth in passer rating. It tells me he’s accurate enough, pushes the ball downfield enough, and takes care of the ball enough. I also know that watching the Vikings the past couple of years, quarterbacks tend to have less pressure on them due to the strength of the defense. He doesn’t have to take as many risks, and just in case he does, he has shown the capability to push the ball downfield. That is something that Teddy or Keenum never did consistently. These small differences bring me to the conclusion that Kirk can win games, while Bridgewater and Keenum didn’t lose them.
On the flip side of stats, people say he doesn’t win enough games because his record the past three years is 24-23. Drew Brees’ record the past three years is 25-22, so are you telling me you wouldn’t have wanted him either? Case closed. He’s good and is worth top-10 QB money. And that’s what he got.
The Revolving Door. The Vikings have had seven quarterbacks start games in the past six years. This list includes: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Shaun Hill, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. Some of this is due to injury, and some of it is because they didn’t have another option. With that being said, the Vikings have made the playoffs in three of those six years. That part is impressive, and while you can get by and make the playoffs the way the Vikings have recently, you won’t see consistent success.
Meanwhile, the rest of this roster is good enough for consistent success. All it needed was stability at the quarterback position (and as I stated above, I believe Cousins is more than stability). There was a reason that Keenum, Bridgewater and Bradford were all thought to be options. If one of them was the obvious decision, then this wouldn’t have been a conversation. The fact that a conversation had to be had showed how little certainty there was that an in-house candidate would end the revolving door of QBs. The Vikings weren’t ready to try again. They wanted to end it. Cousins will.
Will I Miss Teddy? Yes. Rooting for this team without Teddy the past two years was different. I’ll even go as far as to admit that during Bradford’s first season there was always part of me that wanted him to fail so that upon Teddy’s return, the job was his without question. It felt like our time was going to be when Teddy came back. It seemed like the perfect story. Unfortunately, he never received the opportunity to show coaches and the front office that he was healthy. I can’t knock Spielman for moving on, in fact I agree with it, I just wish we he could’ve still been our guy.
As for Teddy the player, even when healthy, we couldn’t confirm he was the future (another reason we didn’t keep him). He definitely had, and still has potential. I also always hate that people conclude Teddy is a limited quarterback. He ran an offense that was built around Adrian Peterson, had the worst offensive line in the league and his number one target was Charles Johnson. Even with all that, he was also clutch in his one playoff start. If Blair Walsh makes that FG (sorry) the narrative is different. He’s not the “game manager with a weak arm.” He’s the guy who led a game-winning drive against the Legion of Boom in the playoffs in below-zero temperatures — and even then, you don’t know if the Vikings playoff run ends after that. I hope he goes to the AFC (early murmurs are the Jets) and has an awesome career. Part of me will be sad he doesn’t have an awesome career with us, but he’s a guy that deserves it. It’s a story to root for, and gives me one more player that I will always cheer for (unless it’s against us).
The Cap Space. Everybody and their mother is stressed out about the Vikings cap space. I don’t know how they’re going to keep everybody, but I’m sure they’ll figure out how to keep their studs. I don’t feel like playing with numbers, so for now let’s assume they can only keep 3 of the following 5: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs and Trae Waynes. For the sake of this exercise, let’s keep Barr, Hunter and Diggs. There are ways to get creative and there are ways that the Vikes will be able to keep more, but in addition to those players, the key defensive pieces that the Vikes have signed for the next four years include: Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. Add Barr and Hunter and you have six elite starters in place for the next 4 four years on defense. That is a strong nucleus to keep in place, while you continue to add ancillary pieces. I have never been alive to see the Vikings have too many good players, but they’re almost at that stage. If you draft great players, you have to pay them, and at some point, it’s going to be impossible to retain all of them.
In order to keep this ‘window’ open, the Vikes have to continue to draft well. That’s an obvious statement, but it can’t be overlooked. The best teams get the most from their rookies because they are low-cost options that outperform their salaries. We are now a team that has invested in a top quarterback, so we need to draft well, now more than ever. Should we not, we can be assured that a strong nucleus is in place for the next four years or so, and a window of four years with the same quarterback makes for uncharted territory in Minnesota.
Good or Bad Move? Time will tell, but it’s a move that had to be made. None of the in-house options were going to confidently be the answer for a roster that is among the best in football. I’m not currently head over heels excited about the deal, but I’m intrigued to see what the Vikings can do. I think this surrounds Cousins with the best offensive weapons of his career, in addition to the best defense he’s ever played with. It should make for one of the best teams in the league.
What worries me are unrealistic, or rather unfair, expectations. So, I’d like to defend Cousins and the Vikings front office preemptively (Unless Cousins is actually bad and we’re a middling team, then yeah we can blame them): The Vikings won 13 games last year, and it will be nearly impossible to do the same (especially looking ahead to next year’s schedule). If we win less than 13, I don’t want to hear about Keenum winning 13. Also, if Cousins doesn’t win in the next three years (I assume if all goes well, he’ll get more than three years) is he a failure? No. Some of the best quarterbacks of all time never won the Super Bowl, so it doesn’t mean he wasn’t worth the money if he doesn’t do it. Obviously the goal is to win the Super Bowl and hopefully he’s the guy that can put the Vikes over the top. If he does that, it’s a good move. Bring stability to a franchise that hasn’t sniffed anything close to it since Daunte Culpepper. I can’t wait for September, but for now, let’s get on board with the cliché early: I like that.