Disclaimer: I am somewhat on the fence, but leaning toward not extending him. So this might be a bit biased… With that out of the way, shall we get into the article?
The Case For: After finishing his first year in purple and gold with a 8-7-1 record, Cousins ended the 2019 campaign with a 10-5 record (Mannion started week 17). Cousins finished his second season in Minnesota ranking higher in the following rate/efficiency stats: TD %, INT %, Y/a, AY/a, Y/c, QBR, Passer Rating, NY/a, ANY/a, and more game winning drives.
Extending/restructuring Cousin’s contract by converting a portion of his 31 million dollar cap hit in 2020 to a bonus on a new deal would also save some money for the cap strapped Vikings. Not only do the Vikings have the least amount of cap space, but they also have numerous key contributors heading into free agency.
Contributors like Anthony Harris, Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander, Eric Wilson, Dan Bailey, Jayron Kearse, and others. The money saved by restructuring Kirk’s deal, can be used to resign the most important of these players (Harris, Wilson, Ham, etc.). The correlation between the newfound success of the run game and the improved offensive line to Kirk’s rebound year is apparent.
The money freed up after extending Kirk can be used to potentially give the leading cause of the ground game resurgence, Dalvin Cook, a healthy extension. All the Vikings need is to be healthy and improve the left side of the o-line and Cousin’s should be able to produce gaudy numbers, whether it be volume or efficiency stats.
Also, if the Vikings were to move on from Cousins that timeline could lead to a Vikings future without either Rick Spielman or Mike Zimmer, both helped bring Minnesota from laughing stock to NFC Championship games. And how could you forget to mention when Cousins also outplayed Drew Brees on the road in the wildcard game?
The Case Against: Despite the Vikings and Cousins’ success in 2019, the team showed only two glaring weaknesses throughout the season- Cornerback and Offensive line. With the Vikings already among the teams with the least cap space, although cutting Rhodes does alleviate some stress, and multiple starters not under contract addressing those weaknesses can prove to be difficult.
The Vikings are in a difficult situation with no clear cut answer, they can either keep what they can of their current nucleus and draft players at OL & CB, they can keep a few select pieces of the core and try to make a run for when after Cousins leaves, or they can just rebuild all together. The last one isn’t exactly a good option in my eyes, but to each their own.
The second option is where things get interesting, do the Vikings trade up to get a QB? Or maybe they delve into free agency to search for the future under center?
There are endless possible outcomes that can be explored (Enough for maybe a second article dedicated to some of these outcomes?!) Back onto the subject of Cousins though, he once again showed an inability to perform against good teams in unfavorable circumstances this season.
Take the Chiefs, Packers, and 49ers games as an example, facing adversity with Dalvin/Thielen out, questionable play calling, and poor offensive line performance Cousins struggled.
Yes, I am aware of how stupidly simple that just sounded, obviously a player is going to be worse when things aren’t ideal. However, if you add the 2020 cap hit of 31 million dollars into the equation as a limiting factor for resolving the potential issues (poor offensive line play) it starts becoming less of a ridiculous statement.
Additionally, if I’m paying a premium for my QB I want him to be able to “put the team on his back.” Injuries are unavoidable and with a new play caller at OC those two issues last season should be fixed. Still, in order to improve the offensive line we have to either rely on a draft pick being an upgrade over our current line, hope someone in-house can take a starting spot, or sacrifice starters to address it through free agency.
Without Cousins in 2021, the Vikings have 31 million to put into areas like the interior defensive line, corner, and most importantly, the Offensive line. The NFL (particularly the playoffs) is about winning when not everything is going right. With Cousins under center, I think we only can beat teams like the Niners or other elite NFC teams if our gameplan holds up.
Another seemingly superficial statement but when the run game wasn’t able to produce we faced an uphill battle of playing from behind with poor pass protection. Plus, each NFL team goes into the game with their own gameplay that consists of taking away what the opponent does well.
The Vikings are so dependent on the success of the run game that if a team shuts it down, we are significantly affected. Depending on who the replacement is, we can become less reliant on certain aspects (i.e. the run game) and be able to counter how teams have beat us before. In the end, it all depends on who the replacement is.
I hope I covered every possible reason for both potential decisions, if I missed one please let me know by commenting or reaching out to me on Twitter @PSRVikings… (Note: Respectful criticism or presenting of opinions is not only welcomed, but encouraged)