The Minnesota Vikings find themselves in a very unique situation. They have an obvious need at QB, $49 million to play with, and an eye on former Washington starter Kirk Cousins. This past season saw them ride a historically great 3rd down defense and a complimentary “ball control” offense to a 13-3 season, falling just short of the Super Bowl. The action Minnesota takes at QB will have a direct impact league-wide on the rest of the off-season.
They’d do well to take an economical, team-friendly approach in free agency by signing a less handicapping veteran and drafting a kid to develop. This would allow them to further improve other areas of the team and stretch their Super Bowl window in the long run. However, Mike Zimmer’s job security comments and their personnel actions to this point tell me they’re all-in on Cousins. If he’s not wearing purple next season, I will be surprised. This is an all-in bet that they’re just a QB away, which I don’t believe to be true.
The thought process behind picking the right QB is much like buying a car. The ideal target should comfortably fit into the buyers’ budget without handicapping any future expenses, and be a transporter from point A (where MIN currently finds themselves) to point B (the Super Bowl), while being as low maintenance as possible. The decision’s ultimately contingent on whether GM Rick Spielman prefers new or used. It’s going to be difficult to see him throw Teddy Bridgewater away after allocating so much time and so many resources into his restoration. However, they know the status of his knee better than anyone else, so letting him hit the market is telling.
In today’s QB driven-league, Minnesota has proven they aren’t QB-centric. They’ve sustained team success with a rookie Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and now Case Keenum. OC John DeFilippo’s adaptive philosophy and passing game specialist Todd Downing’s experience working with Derek Carr in Oakland should make any potential QB target comfortable, maximizing their talent regardless of the QB’s level of experience.
When free agency opens Wednesday, former Vikings’ QB Case Keenum intends to sign with the Denver Broncos, sources tell ESPN.
First QB domino has fallen.
QB race is on.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2018
In terms of scheme, Kirk Cousins should fit like a glove. Stefon Diggs’ explosiveness, separation, catch radius, and YAC along with Adam Thielen’s reliability, sure-handedness, and zone coverage-beating ability provide a nice complementary duo. Kyle Rudolph is a steady, if unspectacular, security blanket. With Dalvin Cook returning, running the football and managing the clock will be a priority. Cousins should have a running game to lean on, along with easy play-action opportunities. It’s important to remember that DeFilippo is likely a HC somewhere in 2019 if the Vikings have success on offense. He must be salivating over the possibilities of working with a veteran like Cousins.
Don’t read this thinking the roster is complete and they’re only a QB away. That’s simply not true. They are close, but at least two pieces away. Prime Brady or a healthy Rodgers wouldn’t win that game for the Vikings. Subtle underlying issues cropped up late in the season and came to a head in Philadelphia. These issues nearly cost them the Divisional round without the “Minneapolis Miracle”.
Minnesota has four key free agents to pay in 2019. Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Danielle Hunter will all need raises. Cousins shouldn’t prevent this from happening, but once they’re retained there’s not much room to upgrade the problem spots without restructures. I won’t speculate much about Cousin’s price tag, but being billed as “the best QB to hit the open market in years” paired with a handful of QB needy teams having cap space is surely going to drive his price higher than what his body of work reflects.
Cousins is at the peak of his career; he’s not taking a pay-cut to go anywhere. On the flip side, he’s never elevated the play of guys around him like a true franchise guy. He’s a slightly-above-average QB with deceiving stats who is being overrated and overvalued due to need at his position. The fact that good QBs rarely hit the market because teams don’t let good QBs walk also contributes.
The Vikings lack depth across the interior DL and OL. Injuries will happen and need to be prepared for. The lack of depth on OL was obvious after Nick Easton got hurt. They were unable to get a proper DL rotation going with a banged up Everson Griffen, and the unit’s productivity suffered. The hole at nickel CB was exposed and will continue to be with teams using 11 and 20 personnel packages regularly.
Ultimately, an inability to keep fresh DL/pass rushers or pass protect late in the season dug their grave. Unless they luck out in the draft, none of these problems will be resolved if they back up the Brinks truck for Cousins.
QB was solid in the majority of games in 2017, as Minnesota is less reliant on QB play than most teams. Cousins will provide something like a 25-30% upgrade from what they got last season, at best. But will be much more expensive. Cousins is likely to be the highest paid player in NFL history until we see a Rodgers deal (he’s waiting, using Cousins for leverage). Significant depth upgrades like Sheldon Richardson, Beau Allen, Trey Burton, Patrick Robinson, Nickell Robey, or even Tyrann Mathieu would be far more valuable than a slight upgrade at QB. It would stretch the Super Bowl window rather than putting every egg you own in one mans’ basket while neglecting glaring needs that, if upgraded, would make the QB’s job easier.
Free agent QBs Case Keenum (Reportedly on his way to the Denver Broncos), Sam Bradford, and AJ McCarron are all more economical options long term, and would provide comparable value based on cost-to-impact. Bradford has the most arm-talent but also has glass knees. They’d have to pair that veteran with a QB from the draft on the likelihood this backup plan is brought into action. We’ve seen rookie QBs step up and help teams that didn’t have MIN’s offensive talent before, I don’t see why they can’t be the next. Baker Mayfield is the type of QB DeFilippo dreams about, but it’s not likely he falls to pick 30.
Prospects like Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson, or Mike White could be options if negotiations with Cousins fall through and they’re forced to move to plan B. They’ve met with Mayfield and White at the Combine and Senior Bowl.
Cousins is a good QB right now and doesn’t need time to develop. It’s much more likely they jump on this two-year Super Bowl window, so don’t be surprised if Captain Kirk heads the longship. There should be news on this front within a few days.