Is It Time? Vikings Have Never Successfully Done “QB on a Rookie Deal”

Jan 11, 2020; Frisco, Texas, USA; North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) celebrates winning the game against the James Madison Dukes at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The change to rookie compensation occurred in the NFL during the spring of 2013 – right before the season that the Minnesota Vikings bottomed out with head coach Leslie Frazier. Salaries were slashed and players were allotted five-year deals if drafted in the 1st Round while all other drafted rookies welcomed four-year deals.

Since then, various general managers raced to the philosophy that surrounding a young, productive passer for five years with supreme veteran talent was the way to go. The first five years are interpreted as “cheap,” and other established players can suck the salary cap dry.

It’s been somewhat successful. Out of the gate, the Seattle Seahawks – with a second-year Russell Wilson – won a Super Bowl over the 2013 Denver Broncos. Bear in mind, though, that Wilson was drafted in 2012 [not in the 1st Round]. Six years later, the Kansas City Chiefs and third-year phenom, Patrick Mahomes, followed suit. Mahomes was indeed a 1st-Rounder. Therefore, twice in eight seasons was “good enough” for several general managers to salivate at the newfound tendency.

And that’s probably why rookie quarterbacks – in mass fashion – are getting playing time earlier on — more so than decades past.

The Vikings seized on the strategy when they drafted Louisville quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, in 2014. To a minuscule extent, the plan worked. Minnesota visited the 2015 playoffs during Bridgewater’s sophomore season before kicker Blair Walsh unceremoniously disqualified the team from advancement to the divisional round.

That was the only time that general manager Rick Spielman has employed a rookie quarterback at QB1 since. Bridgewater’s career was altered in the summer of 2016 when he was beset by a gruesome leg injury. Other quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper and Christian Ponder experienced ample playing time as young men, but Bridgewater is the only quarterback since the adjustment to rookie salaries.

Is it time to explore the idea again?

Lance or Jones Could Escape to #14

If 2021 is the year to begin the QB-rookie-deal metamorphosis in Minneapolis, well, the Vikings will need some luck. The proverbial word on the street is that five (yes, five) signal-callers will waltz off the draft board through ten picks. Count ‘em: Trevor Lawrence, Zack Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones – probably in that order if VikingsTerritory is any good with prognostications.

Pundits aren’t always accurate, however. Should the draft act more “normal” and only three quarterbacks join teams with the first ten picks, then the Vikings can clasp hands and pray for Lance or Jones. Lance is a veteran of 18 collegiate football games at North Dakota State University whereas Jones is a national champion surrounded with keynote talent at Alabama.

Lance or Jones could conceivably fall to Minnesota at #14 if the draft tarot cards are incorrect. Spielman would be faced with a job-defining decision. Delve into life-after-Cousins – or choose a different prospect more tailored for the existing depth chart.  

Cousins Until 2022

Some love him. Some hate him. Some tolerate him.

Kirk Cousins is an oddly polarizing figure. He has all of the arm talent and some of the intangibles to convince a large percentage of the NFL that he is a leader of men. Others are not convinced.

It’s the latter emanation that might propel Spielman to snatch a Lance or Jones. Cousins is under contract through the end of 2022, so the front office would necessitate the utmost creativity to move on from him before that point. But it’s doable. Ask the Philadelphia Eagles about it.

The Holy Grail in this scenario is determining Cousins’ ironclad worth. Is he the right man to lead a team to the Super Bowl when his running back isn’t lost for multiple games (2018) or his defense isn’t ravaged by wholesale injury (2020)? Maybe. Joe Flacco and Nick Foles won championships amid the last decade, and most reasonable folks can assess Cousins as on-par or better than them.

Regardless, Lance or Jones would not oust Cousins from his QB1 spot on the depth chart this September. It’s The Kirk Show for at least one more season.

Learn from Kirk

It is not a pejorative for Lance or Jones to marinate behind Cousins for a year or two. The Green Bay Packers did it with Aaron Rodgers when ex-Viking, Brett Favre, was eating in his typical offseason waffles. Rodgers sat on his green buttocks and observed Favre for three full seasons – if that can be believed in comparison to the modern expectation of rookie quarterbacks.

Lance or Jones would not wait that long, but 16 games worth of Cousins-o-Vision wouldn’t hurt anybody.

After that – voila – a matured-by-a-season Lance or Jones would be ready to lead the team as the first young passer since 2014. Spielman could allocate funds to existing [soon-to-be] free agents like Anthony Barr, Brian O’Neill, Harrison Smith, and Patrick Peterson. He could also pluck the irresistible names from free agency in March – players that are normally disqualified from purple and yellow attire because the Vikings are eternally cash-strapped.

The proposition is not a stupid one when the facts are exalted. It boils down to Spielman’s commitment to Cousins. If he has the 32-year-old pegged as a Drew Brees-like player set to embark on a marvelous second act, a rookie quarterback is wholly unnecessary.

If not, seize the luck of Lance or Jones tumbling down the board and get in on the QB-on-a-rookie-deal whirlwind.  

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