Is Kirk Cousins Laying the Groundwork to Leave Minnesota Behind?

In a lot of ways, the playbook looks strikingly similar.

In 2018, Kirk Cousins was allowed to walk into free agency coming off of some major guaranteed cash. He always seemed clear-eyed and sober-minded about wading into the open market that is NFL free agency. Cousins has never been under the delusion that professional football offers tremendous job security. Instead, he recognizes that opportunities can be fleeting, so he plans accordingly.

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

Go ahead and consider some of what was being said leading up to the free agency period in 2018.

On the Detroit Free Press, there is speculation about how the veteran passer could end up with the Jets, Vikings, Broncos, or Cardinals. Part of the thinking was that placing him alongside a “stout defense” could result in wins aplenty. And then there’s a piece in The Denver Post where Cousins expresses how he “want[s] to win” while still acknowledging that there are “a ton of variables.” Not to be outdone, CBS Sports joins the fun, insisting that the quarterback will pursue one of two different paths: he’ll “join a struggling franchise with tons of cap space […] or he is going to sign a really big contract and join a contending club with a quarterback need.”

Déjà Vu with Kirk Cousins & Free Agency

Does any of this sound familiar?

Recently, Mr. Cousins has been going on a media blitz. One has to assume that he’s being strategic in his approach, carefully dropping tidbits of information into the news to gain back some leverage in negotiations.

Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; A general view of U.S. Bank Stadium as Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) leads the offense during the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Take a look at the timeline for some recent Cousins news:

  • Sunday, Dec. 31: NBC’s Melissa Stark reveals in the game broadcast that Cousins intends on circulating videos of him running to teams in February.
  • Monday, Jan. 8: Cousins meets with the Minnesota media following the end of the season. “I think it ultimately is about winning football games,” Cousins notes. He goes on to suggest that there will be various “factors” that need to “work together.”
  • Thursday, Jan. 18: The Associated Press‘ Rob Maaddi relays a Cousins interview where the veteran expresses his intention to be ready to practice by OTAs. Cousins reiterates that he’s a pocket passer, a descriptor he has used multiple times.
  • Thursday, Jan. 18: CBS Sports‘ Isabel Gonzales asks the QB about playing for Bill Belichick. Rather than offer a political answer, Cousins confirms he would be interested in the hypothetical while noting some uncertainty about what will happen in March.
  • Friday, Jan. 19: Fox Sports‘ Ryan Gaydos relays the QB suggesting that he wants to return to Minnesota but that he’ll need to see what March brings.
  • Friday, Jan. 26: The NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero explains that Cousins is “ahead of schedule” and that the QB intends on “throwing before the combine.”

Folks, there’s a very good chance that I’ve missed some details in the recent timeline surrounding Kirk Cousins and his upcoming free agency. Nevertheless, the bullet-point list helps to clarify the recent approach from the QB.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Add all of the info up and what kind of picture emerges? Well, we see a QB who has been attacking his rehab and seems to be doing well. He wants everyone to know — in Minnesota but more broadly — that he’s going to be at 100% before long.

Cousins clarifies that he’s a pocket passer so the injury isn’t as severe for him as it would be others. Cousins clarifies that he wants to remain a Viking but understands that March is when the rubber will hit the road. Cousins clarifies that money is at once important and yet is still just a single factor.

Vikings Had the Worst Draft
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah thus has a tricky negotiation ahead of him.

In his own end-of-season presser, Adofo-Mensah suggested that he wants to have his quarterback back. However, the GM also knows that he can’t take leave of his senses by signing on for three or four years of major guarantees. Can he still construct a deal that will be enough for Mr. Cousins to return?

Circulating around all of this discussion is speculation about the QB taking his talents elsewhere. And, to be sure, the theories don’t just exist in two-bit, low-level publications. Major spots like The Athletic, ESPN, and certainly plenty of others are increasingly giving voice to a future where Kirk Cousins isn’t the starter in Minnesota. Teams like the Falcons, Dolphins, and Steelers (among others) get mentioned as possible landing spots.

Initially, the safest bet was that Kirk Cousins would keep calling Minnesota home. Some time has passed, though, and a lot of the chatter has made things look a bit more murky. At the very least, a 2024 season where Cousins has a different jersey on won’t be surprising anymore.

The passer will turn 36 in August but should be back to full health long before then. Before the Week 8 injury, Cousins was playing very well. He was completing 69.5% of his passes while piling up 2,331 passing yards, 18 TDs, and 5 INTs. Crucially, he helped his team climb back up to .500, but the QB craziness that arrived following his injury largely contributed to the 7-10 finish.

Seeing a deal that’s less than $35 million per season would be a surprise. We’ll see if the Vikings will go that high. The Vikings have roughly $25 million in cap space, but that’s a number that could very easily double.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.