Matthew Coller is an experienced football writer who covered the Vikings for 1500ESPN and Skor North for four years. Also a published author, Coller writes a weekly Vikings column for Bring Me The News, and you can find more of his work at Purple Insider.
Since it will be a long time until we know how the 2021 draft class works out, what we hope for going into the NFL Draft is that we come out with plenty to talk about.
The Minnesota Vikings certainly took care of that.
In one weekend, the Vikings appear to have solidified their offensive line (just in time for Kirk Cousins’s fourth season in Minnesota) and given themselves a potential succession plan from Cousins, who has been a part of trade rumors all offseason.
At very least drafting Kellen Mond and reportedly aiming for Justin Fields was confirmation that the Vikings are thinking about a different future at QB.
At the same time, passing on Mac Jones with the 14th overall pick and choosing to trade down and draft Christian Darrisaw told us that they weren’t willing to take any available stab at their next quarterback. Instead they got a top prospect at a major position of need who can be expected to start right away and give Cousins a better chance to win.
It’s worth mentioning that the Vikings also nabbed a high-quality guard prospect Wyatt Davis in the third round, which quite likely sets them up with their best interior group since 2017. What the Vikings have done by drafting Darrisaw and Davis is set up the bones of the offense to be strong going forward no matter who is playing quarterback.
The offensive line is set. Weapons are in place. Defense has improved. Future quarterback is there looking on. Welcome to 2021, your official make-or-break season for Kirk Cousins.
While the Vikings’ quarterback has two more years on his contract, his situation in Minnesota is reaching a pivot point because of the team’s overall performance over the last three years and his contract situation.
The Vikings went all-in on Cousins in 2018, signing him to an $84 million contract with the expectation that he could keep them at the top of the NFC after reaching the NFC Championship game in 2017. That didn’t happen in 2018 but after winning a playoff game in New Orleans in 2019, they doubled down on that decision, only to see the roster fade and the team finish 7-9 last year.
While Cousins has put up impressive numbers each year, the Vikings didn’t sign him for good QB ratings and PFF grades. Is it fair to put a team’s win-loss record on the back of the QB? Most of the time the answer is no. Cousins, after all, did not build his own struggling offensive line. But in this instance, they paid top dollar to be in the playoffs every year.
Any time a team comes short of their goals, the quarterback will be in the spotlight. That is especially true when they carry price tags that force the team to use every trick in the book just to get under the cap each year. The Rams were in the same situation with Jared Goff, who was in the Super Bowl in 2018 and then got traded to Detroit this offseason. Even if he played relatively well, the bar is set higher when you cost an arm and leg.
And Cousins is set to cost all of the appendages next year. His deal holds a $45 million cap hit, which was probably by design to create a pseudo deadline for the Vikings to make a decision on his future. They could sign him to a contract extension to lower his cap hit and keep him in place for the long haul or trade him and take on a measly $10 million dead cap hit. Letting Cousins play out his deal through 2022 is possible but the Vikings would be wiser to recoup draft capital from a team that wants to acquire him.
Combine the shortcomings in the W-L column and the contract and add the fact that the NFL just added four dynamic athletes at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields and you have plenty of reasons for the Vikings to be considering moving to a QB who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash.
But what passing on Mac Jones told us is that Cousins will have his day to prove they made a mistake by thinking about moving on. He’s got almost everything a QB could ask for in order to put together a special season. If it can’t be done, then the combination of his skillset, the way the Vikings want to play and the money it costs to keep him will have proven to be too many roadblocks to get back to the NFC Championship game.
It feels like the evaluation of Cousins in 2021 won’t be any more complicated than whether they win or not.
There’s finality in all of it and little room for gray area when the team shows its cards. Next year will be like the big showdown in a Marvel movie. How about that for a draft giving us something to talk about?