3 Reasons to Give Backup QB Nick Mullens Significant Snaps in Week 18

Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks David Blough (2), Kirk Cousins (8) and Nick Mullens (12) during practice at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the Week 18 Bears game, Kirk Cousins – not Nick Mullens – is the QB1.

Perhaps that’s the best course of action given the meltdown against the Packers in Week 17. One wonders, though, about the wisdom of leaning on Cousins for the full game. Would it be better to give the backup QB some opportunity?

Brought in through a trade, Mullens has had a mostly quiet 2022 season. Cousins is remarkably durable, so the need for a QB2 can often feel non-existent even though we know that having a competent backup is prudent. Mullens hasn’t been needed so far, but it’s good to have him nonetheless.

Instead of the usual Skol Debate, I’m exploring the reasons for leaning on Mullens. The Bears game is unlikely to change much in the playoff race, so there are at least 3 reasons to get him onto the field for a significant portion of the game.

Playing Nick Mullens in Week 18

Reason #1: Preserve Kirk Cousins’ Health

Cousins is getting hit a ton. In fact, he’s getting hit at a historic pace:

Not too long ago, Josh Frey took on this subject, insisting that Minnesota is playing with fire regarding their QB1. It’d be hard to disagree. Cousins, who is 34, has done an amazing job of keeping himself on the field. However, he may eventually succumb to injury if he’s getting hit with such regularity (especially as he keeps aging).

The Bears have very little to play for and yet it’s still a divisional game. Furthermore, players want to put good reps on film as the regular season gets to its end. In other words, expect some motivated defenders to be pursuing #8.

The team has already lost Brian O’Neill and Austin Schlottmann in their most recent game. There’s very little reason to take on any unnecessary risk with their top quarterback.

Reason #2: Prepare Nick Mullens for a Potential Playoff Game

Would Minnesota have a chance if Cousins went down in the playoffs? Frankly, I don’t know, but we could say with some confidence that the task would be considerably more challenging. He is up to 28 TD passes and 4322 passing yards for the season to go alongside his 65.3 completion percentage and 14 INTs. Replacing a QB his calibre isn’t feasible.

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) run onto the field for warmup prior to their game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nevertheless, Minnesota would have a better shot if Nick Mullens had more game experience to draw on. So far, Mullens is 10/12 for 108 yards, and a TD in 2022. He has played in three games. The final two opportunities – Dallas in Week 11 and Green Bay in Week 17 – were the result of a shellacking that put the game out of reach for our friends in purple. His stats thus occurred in garbage time.

Mullens is a veteran, a player with 17 career starts. Even still, more reps in the O’Connell offense is a positive. Last weekend, Mullens tossed a touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn (part-time football analyst). More comfort and familiarity in the system gives him a better shot at tossing more if gets his opportunity.

Reason #3: Help with an Impending Offseason Decision

Unless something changes, Nick Mullens will get a chance to test free agency.

His current deal carries a $1.252 million cap hit, which represents good value for Minnesota. Having a QB2 in the building who can keep the ship afloat for that amount is a win for the team.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) hands the football off to running back Alexander Mattison (2) during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Going into next season, the team will want to maintain as much continuity as possible. The most obvious spot where we’ll see that occur is with Kevin O’Connell remaining in place as the Vikings head coach and offensive play caller. Might it be worthwhile, though, to find consistency in that QB room?

In a perfect world, a backup QB can provide two things: the ability to help the starter prepare and the ability to provide competent play when needed. As far as I can tell, Mullens can do those two things, making him an attractive option for the QB2 job moving forward.

Finding the right price within Minnesota’s snug budget in 2023 won’t be easy, so having more film to base the decision off of would be beneficial.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.