QB Continuity is Needed…from Somebody
Some disclaimers: The following 1,000 words do not endorse wholesale change to a new quarterback in 2020 or 2021. The words also do not endorse a full-throated marriage to current quarterback Kirk Cousins for several years into the great unknown.
This a concise analysis of quarterback continuity. Kirk Cousins has performed subpar though six games into the 2020 season. This is a new phenomenon for the 32-year-old. One can embroil his/herself into recency bias to proclaim Cousins as fully inept, but to do so utterly ignores the entire body of his work from Michigan State to Washington to Minnesota. Cousins has never encountered a churlish stretch quite like this. To assert that the man is incapable of remedying his individual production is wildly shortsighted. The next 10 games will be a referendum on Kirk Cousins long-term future with the team, rest assured. Yet, the universal declaration circulating among Vikings loyalists that “he sucks” is mired in myopic bias.
Several scenarios are possible for Cousins’ future in Minnesota. He may rebound immediately and return to the mode that places him eighth on the NFL’s all-time passer rating leaderboard. That’s the most likely outcome. Why? Because the man has been a starting quarterback in the NFL for over six years. A player generally does not fall off a cliff at age 32.
The next most-likely outcome is that the Vikings draft a rookie signal-caller somewhere in the 2021 NFL Draft – to put the heat on Cousins. This would also give Minnesota a sensible segue to the newcomer if, indeed, Cousins best days are behind him.
Lastly – the doomsday device – is that Vikings brass finds a method to cut ties with Cousins altogether. This is the longest of longshots as the team is financially wedlocked to the man for a few years to come.
Regardless of who the next quarterback will be (or it remains Cousins indefinitely), the Vikings must pick a quarterback and faithfully invest in him for longer than three years. And, yes, this mindset is mandatory for fans, too.
26 QBs – in 30 Years
Since 1990 – when Nintendo was the hottest thing around – the Vikings have employed 26 different starting quarterbacks on gamedays. From Wade Wilson to Kirk Cousins, over two dozen young and old (mostly old) men have quarterbacked the Vikings for at least one game. A team that most perceive as a lowly NFL franchise – the Cincinnati Bengals – has gone through 19 quarterbacks in the same time frame. Let that sink in.
The Vikings are flagrant and chronic offenders of switching quarterbacks like a pair of socks in the morning. While it’s true some have succumbed to gruesome injuries (Daunte Culpepper and Teddy Bridgewater), most of this merry-go-round has occurred by choice. The overwhelming tendency is to snatch an older veteran and grind the gears a wee bit more in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. To a degree, this has worked. If the goal is one-year thrills and memorable standalone seasons, slide down memory lane with Randall Cunningham or Brett Favre.
The result has never been a Super Bowl title.
Look Around the NFL
Take out an almanac or simply use Google on this one. Find a murder-for-hire quarterback that propelled a team to the Super Bowl as of late. Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees are the pecking order from the last two decades. The Vikings-like strategy has worked thrice – Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Nick Foles. Those three men are the exception to the normative long-term strategy. It’s worth noting that the Dilfer and Johnson examples were predominantly led by team defense.
Ergo, the Vikings can attempt to replicate the 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, or 2017 Eagles. In most seasons under head coach Mike Zimmer, they do, in fact, have the defense to do so. Certainly, this is not the case for the 2020 season, but betting money should suggest Zimmer will remedy the defense if afforded the opportunity in 2021 and beyond.
Most championship-caliber teams organically develop their quarterbacks, or at the very least, stay devoted to “their guy” after his free-agency acquisition. The Colts did not jettison Peyton Manning after eight championship-less seasons. Nor did the Saints after three seasons of falling short with Drew Brees(2006-2008).
The road to a Lombardi Trophy is often long, frustrating, and painstaking. Ask Andy Reid about it. But rarely is the solution found in playing hopscotch at the quarterback position.
Pick a Guy and Commit
If the man for the job is Cousins – fabulous. Pick him and see it through, in the good spots and the grim ones. Team management should be asking itself in smoke-filled rooms: Is it really this guy personally that is the problem? Is it the offensive line? Is it the playcalling? The lesson is to cultivate a team around the strengths of the player that has been chosen. For now, that is Kirk Cousins.
Should Minnesota go in an alternative direction – presumably younger – that’s a respectable plan of action, too. Young quarterbacks are wiggling their way into games earlier in their careers in the modern NFL. The Vikings may want to hop on that trendy train. If so, spent the draft capital and make a decision, once and for all. Minnesota tried to do that with Teddy Bridgewater, but his career was temporarily knocked off-kilter by a terrifying knee injury.
Therefore, if Cousins is no longer in the cards as he progresses into his late-30s, a move must be made to a youngster, not another 30-something. The Vikings have seen that movie.
With a rookie quarterback, the front office, the coaches, the players, and the fanbase must absolutely stick with that individual. Starting over every few years at the quarterback position will not result in a Super Bowl victory. It hasn’t been fruitful so far, and it’s not about to start working.