Vikings agree to deals with ex-rival RB Aaron Jones and QB Sam Darnold as initial sub for Cousins

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings have their bridge quarterback for the post-Kirk Cousins era and a new ball-carrier who ought to add yet more fuel to their fiercest rivalry.

The Vikings stayed aggressive in free agency Tuesday by adding former Green Bay running back Aaron Jones and 2018 third overall draft pick Sam Darnold as a temporary replacement for Cousins.

Jones, who was released Monday by the Packers after they landed 2022 All-Pro Josh Jacobs, gets a one-year, $7 million contract, agent Drew Rosenhaus told The Associated Press.

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Darnold, who played last season for San Francisco, will get a one-year, $10 million deal, a person with knowledge of that contract told the AP. The Vikings also agreed to sign kicker John Parker Romo, according to a second person with knowledge of that deal. Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the contracts had not yet been finalized. The signing period opens Wednesday.

As Cousins agreed to leave Minnesota for Atlanta on Monday in a busy opening to the NFL’s negotiation window, the Vikings swiftly addressed their defense by agreeing to contracts with edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel and inside linebacker Blake Cashman.
Then they pivoted to offense.

Darnold, who went 13-25 as a starter for the New York Jets after they selected him out of Southern California, was traded to Carolina in 2021. He missed most of the 2022 season with the Panthers due to a sprained ankle, and after becoming a free agent last year, he joined the 49ers to back up Brock Purdy.

The 26-year-old Darnold has thrown for 63 touchdowns and 56 interceptions in 66 games with a completion rate of 59.7%. With the Jets, he was a teammate of Josh McCown, who was recently hired as Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach.

Darnold becomes the presumptive starter for the Vikings, who still have 2023 fifth-round pick Jaren Hall and veteran Nick Mullens under contract. They almost certainly will draft another quarterback next month, owning the 11th overall pick in the first round and assessing a deep class at the vital position.

The deal with Jones was surprising. The Packers initially said they planned to bring him back. He was released instead when a pay cut didn’t work out, and the Vikings swooped in to add a well-regarded player who has enjoyed plenty of success at their expense.

The Vikings ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 24th in rushing yards per attempt last season. They released Alexander Mattison last week, but they’re high on the potential of Ty Chandler entering his third year and now have a proven second option for carrying the ball.

Though he was limited to 11 games last season because of hamstring and knee injuries, Jones came on strong down the stretch by finishing with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including two in the playoffs. One of those was on Dec. 31 in a blowout win at Minnesota. Jones rushed for 793 yards on 143 carries over his last eight games against the Vikings, an average of 5.5 yards per attempt.

In 2022, Jones played in all 17 games and rushed for 1,121 yards. With 8,016 yards from scrimmage in seven seasons, Jones has the sixth most among NFL running backs over that time.

Romo went undrafted out of Virginia Tech in 2022 and has had brief stints with Chicago and Detroit. He has not kicked in a regular-season NFL game and spent last season in the XFL. Greg Joseph, who has kicked for the last three years for the Vikings, becomes an unrestricted free agent Wednesday.

The Vikings also released defensive lineman Dean Lowry, who started four games and finished the season on injured reserve.

Lowry was a low-profile free agent addition last year by way of, yes, Green Bay. From Ryan Longwell to Darren Sharper to Brett Favre to Greg Jennings to Za’Darius Smith to now Jones, several high-profile players have gone directly from the Packers to the Vikings over the last two decades.

When Jones takes the field in September, he’ll be the 63rd player all-time with action for both the Packers and the Vikings, according to Sportradar.