Vikings Reportedly Set to “Go After” a Free Agent QB

Jan 7, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates after a play during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

With quarterback Kirk Cousins out the door for the Minnesota Vikings, the team could turn to a former No. 3 NFL Draft pick and recent Super Bowl participant.

That’s San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Sam Darnold, whom Dianna Russini of The Athletic reported as a likely free agent target for the Vikings on Monday. Cousins agreed to a four-year, $180 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, which leaves a gaping void on the Vikings offense.

“So what now? Look for the Vikings to go after Sam Darnold, who also has other suitors,” Russini wrote on Monday.

Darnold entered the league as a highly-touted prospect from USC, and the New York Jets selected him amid hopes to build a winner. He didn’t pan out in Gotham as the Jets traded him in 2021 to the Carolina Panthers — another team that didn’t see Darnold’s best.

Sam Darnold
Jan 7, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) look on during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

That led to Darnold leaving Carolina as a free agent in 2023 to sign with the 49ers and wind up on the bench behind starter Brock Purdy. Of course, Purdy continued his meteoric rise from Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick in the 2022 draft, to MVP candidate and Super Bowl starter, which kept Darnold on the bench.

Darnold got one shot to show potential suitors what he could do in 2023. He started the final game of the regular season for the 49ers with the No. 1 seed already locked up.

In that Week 17 game, Darnold completed 61.5% of his passes for 189 yards and a touchdown in a 21-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Darnold also made a brief appearance in a Christmas Night loss to the Baltimore Ravens when he completed 57.1% of his passes for 81 yards and a TD versus a pick in relief of Purdy due to injury.

Sam Darnold Would Find Similar Skill Player Talent in Minnesota

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) reacts with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) after scoring his first career touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

If Darnold came to Minnesota, he would enjoy similar passing game skill players to the 49ers. San Francisco has a talented trio with wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk plus tight end George Kittle. Minnesota of course has arguably the best receiver in the league with Justin Jefferson, and fellow receiver Jordan Addison and tight end T.J. Hockenson provide significant compliments as well.

Where the Vikings don’t match the 49ers at skill player talent is running back. The 49ers have 2023 MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey, and the Vikings are in transition amid the release of Alexander Mattison.

Darnold nonetheless could get his shot to start for a team again, and one that came just shy of the playoffs in 2023. How much he could ask for remains the question as Over The Cap values him at $4.5 million annually.

That would suit the Vikings well as the team could still trade up in the draft to grab a top-tier QB for the future. If the Vikings can swing a trade with the New England Patriots for the No. 3 pick, the team could land either LSU’s Jayden Daniels or North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

Otherwise, the Vikings could choose another quality QB in the draft such as Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy at No. 11 or take Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. later on. Either way, the Vikings have options to build for the future behind a veteran such as Darnold.

Geno Smith 2.0 is the best case scenario for Sam Darnold

Jan 1, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith (7) celebrates with fans following a 23-6 victory against the New York Jets at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Best case scenario, the Vikings could get Geno Smith 2.0 out of Darnold. Smith took off as the Seattle Seahawks QB the year after Russell Wilson got dealt to the Denver Broncos, and that’s after a mediocre career for Smith that started with the Jets.

Darnold just spent a year with one of the most successful franchises in the NFL. The 49ers have two Super Bowl appearances and four NFC Championship Game appearances in the past five years — a far cry from his stops in Carolina and New York.

Whether or not that translates to a renewed career for Darnold remains to be seen, but he could help keep the Vikings competitive in the NFC North. The Detroit Lions enjoyed a resurgence with QB Jared Goff last season, and QB Jordan Love took off with the Green Back Packers. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears remain in major transition with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

2 Possible Competing Suitors for Sam Darnold

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the Vikings will need to make a quality contract pitch to Darnold to pry him away from other suitors as the QB dominos fall around the league. Russini didn’t name other possibilities, but there’s numerous teams out there looking for a starter or a quality backup.

The Denver Broncos need a starter as Wilson signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Likewise, the Las Vegas Raiders need a starter amid Jimmy Garoppolo’s suspension and pending release.

Regardless, it appears that the Vikings are in the mix for the former third overall pick.