Is Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins Replacement Already in the Building?
The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2023 offseason with a lot of question marks surrounding their roster, particularly the veterans. There could be a massive exodus of players as nearly two dozen are set to hit unrestricted free agency. One player that they should make an effort to retain is backup QB Nick Mullens, who could potentially be Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins replacement plan.
Ever since acquiring Cousins in free agency during 2018, the Minnesota Vikings have had a backup QB problem. They made half-hearted attempts to fill the role with players like Sean Mannion and even Kellen Mond, but Rick Spielman never made an attempt to get a true quality player behind Cousins.
However, in his first offseason as GM, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah changed that by trading for Nick Mullens from the Las Vegas Raiders. This move came about a week after Mullens torched the Vikings in the preseason, completing 7-of-9 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
With Mullens in the fold for the Vikings, here are a few reasons to consider why he may take starting reps when Cousins inevitably sees his time in Minnesota come to an end.
Mullens Has Starting Experience
Because Cousins was once again an ironman in 2022 despite being hit more than any other QB in the NFL (something he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for), Mullens’ role was extremely limited in the Vikings offense. The only substantial playing time he got came in the final week of the season where he completed 11-of-13 passes for 116 yards and an interception while playing the entire second half against the Bears.
To be sure, lighting up the Chicago Bears defense in January 2023 is nothing to write home about. That being said, in the five years he’s played at the NFL level, Mullens has been a good QB far more often than he hasn’t. In 24 career games (17 starts), Mullens has completed 65.3% of his passes for 5085 yards, 27 TDs, and 23 INTs.
Mullens got his career started with the Kyle Shanahan-led San Francisco 49ers. He spent three years in that system, and in both 2018 and 2020, they turned to him as the starter for extended periods of time. The team results weren’t all that great (3-5 in 2018, 2-6 in 2020), but we have to consider what Mullens was working with as well.
In 2018, he was throwing to George Kittle, who had over 1300 yards that season, but the top wide receivers on that group were Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis. The Niners also had the 28th ranked scoring defense in that season. Then, in 2020, there was a much more complete roster, but that was their year of disastrous injury luck. Kittle played just 8 games. Deebo Samuel played only 7. Brandon Aiyuk would be considered a very healthy player on that team for playing 12 games.
How Long Will Kirk Cousins Be Good?
In 2023, Cousins should absolutely remain the Vikings starter. He was one of the better QBs in the NFL once again in 2022 and was one of the main reasons that Minnesota was able to claim the NFC North crown. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah essentially said that he will be the Vikings QB1 in 2023, so there’s very little mystery for the next 12 months.
However, Kirko is entering his age-35 season. For those who have watched guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers over the years, that may not seem like a huge deal. However, typically, QBs begin to tail off by the time they hit this age.
Perhaps Cousins can be the latest unicorn that defies Father Time for a bit longer, but the point stands. At some point the Vikings need to find their replacement plan, and with Cousins’ contract ending at the conclusion of the 2023 season, 2024 may be as good a time as any to move on.
The price tag may be the most important aspect of this, especially if the Vikings aren’t completely convinced in a draft prospect in 2023 or 2024. Cousins carries a cap hit of $36.25 million. For now, this is the sixth-highest hit of any QB in the NFL.
If Mullens’ previous contracts are any indication of what to expect this offseason, the Vikings should be able to retain him on a deal, say, of two years for $5 million. Even if they offer Cousins an extension to lower 2023’s cap hit, this sort of contract would make it worlds easier to build a roster around the QB.
The extra cash saved could help Minnesota add another weapon oppposite of Justin Jefferson, or they could beef up their defensive side of the ball to take pressure off the offense. Perhaps Mullens won’t be as good as Cousins was at QB, but with a better defense and more weapons around him, it will make things much, much easier.
Overall, Mullens provides flexibility for the Vikings if they opt to start him at least to start the year in 2024. For one thing, he already has a knowledge of the system, and he can step into the starting role relatively seamlessly.
Minnesota would be able to continue filling out their roster while they continue searching for their next franchise QB. Perhaps that franchise QB can be found in the 2023 Draft but given the talent at the position in this class as well as where the prospects are expected to fall, it’s much more likely to come in 2024 or even later. Don’t rule out the possibility of Mullens being a starter for the Vikings for at least a portion of the 2024 season.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.