Vikings enter offseason as Cousins’ potential return at QB weighs on other pressing needs

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

EAGAN — Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings have entered another pivotal offseason, revolving around the club’s still-uncertain plans at quarterback.

Will a mutual desire to maintain the relationship weigh heavier in this complicated equation than the constricting ramifications of the salary cap? Clarity remains at least a couple of months away. What’s certain is that both sides are carrying feelings of unfulfillment into 2024.

Cousins and his teammates packed up equipment and memorabilia and exchanged autographs and hugs in the locker room on Monday after finishing 7-10 and relinquishing the NFC North title they won handily last season with a 13-4 record.

Email newsletter signup

Cousins’ contract is set to void in March, making him a free agent. His absence from a torn Achilles tendon reinforced the reality that there’s no other viable option on the roster for the long term. Even if there were no questions about his return, he’ll be 36 before next season.

“I don’t think you do can your job as a leader of an organization without saying, ‘What’s our succession plan? What do we have down the pipeline?’” Cousins said.

Cousins, who had enough qualifying attempts to finish third in the NFL in passer rating (103.8) despite playing in only eight games, didn’t directly answer a question on Monday about whether he would sign with the Vikings for less money than what he could get in a new deal on the open market.

But his confidence in the offense under coach Kevin O’Connell and his family’s comfort in Minnesota — not to mention throwing to Justin Jefferson — have made obvious the preferred place to finish his career.

“God has blessed me financially beyond my wildest dreams, so at this stage of my career the dollars are really not what it’s about,” Cousins said, before referencing a profound perspective one of his previous coaches shared with him: “It’s not about the dollars, but it is about what the dollars represent.”

The uncertainty of this offseason reminded Cousins of his last high school game in Holland, Michigan, when he had no college scholarship offers. His career will work out the way it’s supposed to work out, Cousins has long believed in conjunction with his devout Christian faith.

“Nothing has taught me more than this injury of the importance of just letting go and trusting and seeing where things go,” Cousins said.

Cousins has been ahead of the projected recovery timeline. He’s not worried about having to sell himself.

“The league needs quarterbacks, and if you’re trying to talk yourself out of a quarterback, then I can’t help you much,” he said, smiling. “The Achilles is going to heal, and it’s on track, and I’m a pocket passer, and there’s a lot of time before next season. So for a lot of reasons it doesn’t concern me.”

Draft position

The Vikings have the 11th overall pick, likely in range for one of the top quarterback prospects or at least close enough to move up a few spots for one. This is the same position they were in 25 years ago when they drafted Daunte Culpepper.

The Vikings don’t currently have a pick in the third round. That’s owed to Detroit for the 2022 trade for tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Stat watch

Jefferson finished 19th in receiving yards in the league (1,074) despite playing in only eight full games and parts of two others because of injuries. Hockenson missed the last two games with a knee injury but still ranked 14th in the NFL with 95 receptions.

Danielle Hunter finished fifth in the league with a career-high 16 1/2 sacks and tied for fifth with teammate Josh Metellus with four forced fumbles.

The Vikings had a minus-12 turnover ratio that was second-worst in the NFL. The completion percentage (70.3%) by opponents was the highest allowed in the league. Special teams took a step back, too. Ryan Wright slumped, ranking 30th in punts inside the 20-yard line (28.8%). Greg Joseph was 28th in the NFL in field goal rate (80%) among kickers who averaged one or more makes per game.

Schedule set

In addition to their usual home-and-away set of games against the three other NFC North foes, the Vikings in 2024 will face the AFC South (hosting Houston and Indianapolis and visiting Jacksonville and Tennessee) and the NFC West (hosting Arizona and San Francisco and visiting the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle) next season. The games determined by their third-place finish are at home against Atlanta and the New York Jets and on the road against the New York Giants.

Next steps

The quarterback decision will shape the plan for every other position on the roster, with resources limited under the salary cap and in the draft, but cornerback continues to be a position lacking depth. The defensive line could use help, too.

Hunter is another critical player poised for a megadeal in free agency. The next two best edge rushers on the roster when healthy — D.J. Wonnum and Marcus Davenport — are unsigned as well. Dalton Risner, the only offensive lineman who didn’t miss any games due to injury, gave the Vikings a boost at left guard. He’ll be a free agent, along with linebacker Jordan Hicks and wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Signing Cousins would take away the ability to bring back several of those others.