How 3 Injuries Now Point to a 2024 Kirk Cousins Return

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

When Kirk Cousins crumpled to the Lambeau Field turf on that chilly late-October afternoon, everything felt finished. The Vikings’ season. Cousins’ tenure as Minnesota’s quarterback. Maybe even Cousins’ career.

Now that the dust has settled and the hyperbole has quieted, all of those statements feel false. The 2023 Vikings — behind masterful coaching, iron-clad resilience, and a rocket scientist — feel very much alive. Kirk Cousins will play football again — he’s already talking about returning in time for OTAs — and the odds of him returning to Minnesota seem higher by the day. 

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jaren Hall (16) passes the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the crushing blow of the Vikings losing their starting quarterback, it was a perfect opportunity to hand the offense to rookie Jaren Hall — who was only next in line to Cousins because of Nick Mullens’ back injury — and see what he could do. If there was a good time to throw a rookie into the heat of a playoff race, it was then.

After the win in Green Bay extending their winning streak to three games, Minnesota ended Week 8 in the third and final NFC Wild Card spot at 4-4. Kevin O’Connell’s team was among the hottest in the NFL and had achieved that status without Justin Jefferson’s services for all three wins. 

Brian Flores’ defense had found a rhythm and was becoming the unit that was taking the team higher (cue the Creed song). 

This was a good team playing meaningful football that has a strong supporting cast to buoy their rookie quarterback. The stars had aligned and young Jaren was going to get his chance. There was a world where Hall kept the ship afloat, led the rising Vikings to the playoffs, and maybe even a playoff victory, showing the franchise enough to believe in him for the long haul. For the first time since Teddy Bridgewater, we could see a glimpse of what the Vikings may look like with a quarterback on one of those prized rookie contracts.

That is, until Jaren Hall’s head bounced off the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) jumps over Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Kentavius Street (75) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Insert Josh Dobbs, an aerospace engineer quarterback trying to survive the doldrums of life as a journeyman backup quarterback in the NFL. As legend has it, he wowed with his legs and won with his arm, erasing any doubt of who was the new QB1.

So, barring a fourth Viking quarterback injury or a complete about-face in performance from Dobbs, all signs point to Hall’s reps being reserved for the scout team for the 2023 stretch run. 

The Dobbs hype train did, however, begin to slow a little on the way out of the Rocky Mountains on Sunday Night. 

The most damning result from Dobbs’ evening in Denver were his two turnovers (one fumble and one interception) that led to six Broncos points in what ended as a one-point Vikings loss. In about eleven quarters as the Vikings quarterback, Dobbs has now fumbled six times, losing three of them, and has been intercepted once. For a team that seemed to have finally reversed the turnover margin, reverting back to their early-season ways could be their undoing. 

If Dobbs is in fact turning into a pumpkin and can’t fix his fumble foibles, Hall may receive a second call to action. It is more likely, however, that our astronaut quarterback will finish the season as the Vikings’ quarterback. Mullens, too, would be given consideration since he’s now off of the IR.

Even if Dobbs guides this team to the playoffs and wins a game or two, sustaining his initial level of play is unlikely given his track record. So, the Vikings will likely enter the 2024 offseason looking for a solution at quarterback.  

Ergo, Captain Kirk re-enters the chat.

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) passes against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell said that Kirk had “played the quarterback position as well as anyone in our league” in 2023. Don’t believe him? Through 8 weeks, Cousins was 2nd in passing yards, tied for 1st in touchdowns, 3rd in QB rating, and 5th in completion percentage. 

He was on pace for a 69.5% completion percentage, 103.8 QB rating, 4,953-yard, 38-touchdown, 11-interception season. For context, reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes finished 2022 with a 67.1% completion percentage, 105.2 QB rating, 5,250 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

As he increased in comfort and confidence in O’Connell’s system, Cousins was humming to a tune of what may have been his best season as a pro, another superlative his head coach believes. Even as he prepares to return from the ruptured Achilles, Cousins’ career still seems to be trending upward.

The injury may actually improve the likelihood of a reunion. Health uncertainty for a quarterback who will be 36 by Week 1 of next season could allow Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to rein-in the four-time Pro-Bowler at a discounted rate, even for a two- or three-year guaranteed contract.

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Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets instrucyion from head coach Kevin O’Connell in the first quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Most importantly, the team loves him. The winning locker room at Lambeau Field felt like a funeral. They had lost their leader, their deejay, their inspiration, their everything.” 

Jaren Hall, the man with the most to gain from Cousins’ injury, mourned his teammate following the win in Green Bay. “I’ve really got no words for it. It breaks your heart. That guy’s the leader of the team, he’s the heart and soul of the team… that’s just the guy that we play for.”

Adofo-Mensah showered him with praise. Every time O’Connell has talked about him it feels like another part of a best man speech

Unless Dobbs can solidify belief that he can at least be a stop-gap quarterback to keep the seat warm for Hall or a draft pick from the QB-rich 2024 class, the proverbial writing is on the wall that number 8 will be wearing purple again next year. It doesn’t mean that Adofo-Mensah won’t draft another quarterback in 2024. It doesn’t mean that Jaren Hall will never get a significant opportunity in Minnesota, although that is certainly possible. 

It just means that, love him or hate him, when Kirk Cousins does report to OTAs with a healthy Achilles tendon, it’s likely going to be at TCO Performance Center. 

Notes: Statistics were sourced from Pro Football Reference and Stathead.

Will is a husband, father, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Formerly, he contributed to Vikings Territory. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.