We already know, two days into the Vikings offseason, that one topic is going to dominate Purple talk until September: is Kirk Cousins coming back? Should Cousins come back? Do the Vikings want him back? If he goes elsewhere, should the Vikings have brought him back?
He says, of course, that he wants to be back (and what athlete ever says anything else?) He even hinted that he might be willing to take less money to make it happen, though his agent probably would have some criticisms of that move.
The Vikings will be stuck in weird NFL-style salary cap jail no matter what; if you want your head to hurt, go look into Cousins’s current contract, which runs through 2027 but also voids on March 15, and somehow costs $28.5 million against the cap anyway in 2024, but $0 thereafter, and also from a pure accounting standpoint, all the money has already been paid. (Does any of that make sense to you? Good. It shouldn’t.)
But apart from the QB circus, there are three bigger problems that the Vikings need to worry about.
1. Kevin O’Connell might not be able to coach quarterbacks.
Whatever happens with Cousins this off-season, the Vikings are going to be planning for the post-Cousins era as well. For many people, the ideal situation is to draft a quarterback with the team’s first-round pick, which is #11 overall, but also re-sign Cousins so that the team can slowly transition to a new player under center.
The worry, though, is that we saw O’Connell’s work with three different types of quarterback this year, apart from Cousins. Nick Mullens, who’s been here since the beginning of 2022 - and thus presumably had the kind of apprenticeship that we’d all want for a new young quarterback - was pretty bad, in relief. Jaren Hall, a rookie who had the chance to sit for half a year before being thrown into the action, was awful. Josh Dobbs, picked up midseason, was pretty good to start with in an impossible situation - and got noticeably worse, the longer he worked with O’Connell.
This does not augur well for a future in which O’Connell is in charge of building up a new quarterback. He not only failed to do so this year, he failed three times.
O’Connell’s value as a head coach is that he’s a quarterbacks guy and a passing-game guy. If anything, the Vikings should have been well-positioned to thrive when their starter went down. Instead, everything spiraled down the drain.
2. The 2022 draft class may end up taking the team’s fortunes down with it.
With GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah making his first selections, the Vikings drafted four defensive players in the first four rounds - safety Lewis Cine, cornerbacks Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans, and linebacker Brian Asamoah.
Just two years later, Booth and Cine couldn’t get on the field, even when the Vikings had a defensive-back injury crisis at the end of the year. Evans got benched twice in the final two games. Asamoah, like Booth and Cine, was barely on the field. Booth only saw 13% of the defensive snaps in 2023; Asamoah got 36 in the entire season, and Cine got - not a typo - 8.
Duct tape, baling wire, and Brian Flores managed to get Minnesota’s defense into the top half of the league, in 2023. But magic tricks can only work for so long, and the reason the Purple defense is in the state it’s in, is mostly down to the failure of any of those draft picks to develop.
3. The team’s three most valuable players require someone to throw them the ball.
The Vikings have a faintly ridiculous number of weapons in the passing game - despite injuries, Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and TJ Hockenson all had 100+ targets and 900+ receiving yards. There were 33 guys in the entire NFL that had 100+ targets and 900+ yards, and Minnesota had three of them.
As much as any other team in the league, the Vikings are built around passing the ball. They simply do not have other options in this regard; their best running back is probably Ty Chandler, and while I’m a fan, the team doesn’t seem to see him as anything but a depth option. Only three teams in the league rushed for fewer yards this year; only four attempted fewer rushing plays.
Maybe the Vikings would want to balance things more, and make this team less about the quarterback. Given the questions at quarterback, it would seem not only valid but wise to think about this. But doing so would mean not using the personnel they’ve assembled, and also trying to make the offense into something it’s not.
So to sum up: any Vikings quarterback plan requires the head coach to improve significantly, and immediately, in a way that usually doesn’t happen. They can’t change how they play on offense because they don’t have the players, so they don’t have another option. They don’t have much cap space, and what they do have will need to be spent on more smoke and/or mirrors for defense.
So things are really looking up for next year!