The Vikings reportedly have reached a deal to make Kirk Cousins the new face of the Minnesota Vikings franchise. In what looks to be a historic deal, the Vikings are not only making Mr. Cousins the highest paid QB and player in the NFL (at least for the moment) they are also giving him the first fully guaranteed contract of this magnitude in NFL history.
Now it’s time for Kirk Cousins to deliver. No excuses. $28 million guaranteed salary means you better deliver under pressure. Pressure from defenses. Pressure within the Vikings franchise, pressure from fans who see this signing as an all-in move to bring a Super Bowl championship to Minnesota. And it is.
It also means there isn’t gonna be a lot of money to sign top free agents to improve the offensive line, or other needs.
Expectations Could Not Be Higher
Given all that, expectations for Cousins could not be higher. The Vikings have pretty much all their other starters back from a 13-3 campaign last season- tied for the best record in the NFL- a 2nd seed in the NFC playoff tournament and appearance in the NFC Championship game.
It’s Super Bowl or bust now for Cousins, this year, and the next two.
Cousins will be helped by having a top defense working for him when he’s on the sideline, something he never had as a starter in Washington.
He’ll also have a full arsenal of offensive weapons to work with- a top WR duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a solid TE in Kyle Rudolph, and a highly-talented potential superstar RB in Dalvin Cook.
What he won’t have is a top offensive line. At least not likely. As it stands currently, the Vikings offensive line ranked one spot worse than the Redskins offensive line last year, according to PFF, which allowed Cousins to be sacked 41 times for a NFL-leading 342 sack yards, nearly double the sack yards of Vikings QBs last year.
Cousins also led the league last year in interceptions under pressure, with 9, along with 13 fumbles, 5 of them lost. In all, Cousins was responsible for 18 turnovers last year, more than double the number of turnovers Vikings QBs had last year.
Cousins’ stats under pressure- sacks, sack %, sack yards, interceptions, fumbles - all of those need to improve drastically this year if Cousins is to fulfill expectations in Minnesota.
Cousins also needs to improve on 3rd down, and especially in the red zone, where he has struggled with below-average passer ratings for the past two seasons, if the Vikings are to improve under his tenure at QB.
Beyond that, the biggest knocks on Cousins are that a lot of his 4,000+ yards passing have come when he’s been down by 2-3 scores, when defenses have played softer/prevent, and that he’s failed to win big games. His 4-19 record against teams with winning seasons is cited as proof of the latter, along with some poor performances in some crucial games late in the season the past few years, and no playoff wins.
All of these knocks are made on Matthew Stafford as well- another 30 year-old QB who just signed a similar extension in Detroit- $27 million/year over 5 years, but with less than half guaranteed at signing. Stafford was just 5-46 against teams with winning records prior to last season. He is also a frequent example of ‘garbage time’ passing stats, particularly earlier in his career, when a lot of his passing yards came when Detroit was down double digits and had no real chance of winning the game.
Cousins now has to prove that those knocks are not who he is as a quarterback, and show that he can deliver under pressure, and in big games, and ultimately in Super Bowl Championship(s). No less is expected.
Cousins Can Improve
Cousins has a lot to do to take the Vikings offense to the next level, which is to say going from top 10 last year (10th in points, 11th in yards) to at least top 5 offense going forward.
Improving ball security and decision-making will be a key part of that. Undoubtedly the Vikings coaching staff- from Mike Zimmer on down- will emphasize the importance of taking care of the ball, and making good decisions - knowing he can count on his defense as well.
Cousins also needs to deliver under pressure. He has mobility, but he needs to do a better job in the pocket to avoid pressure and sacks. It’s hard to coach that. Having said that, Case Keenum was able to somehow improve in that area last year, compared to previous seasons. And that led to a big part of his success. Cousins will need to do the same.
Cousins, who is known for his deep ball, oddly has had more trouble with short and intermediate passing. He’s below average in both of those areas, so that is an area for improvement as well.
Cousins will have the same QB coach Keenum had last year in Kevin Stefanski, so hopefully he will be able to help Cousins improve his deficiencies.
At the same time, Vikings new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who’s had success developing Carson Wentz, needs to do his best Pat Shurmur imitation in tailoring his west coast scheme, which incorporates many of Shurmur’s concepts, to best suit Cousins’ - and the rest of the offense’s - abilities.
We’ll see how that unfolds.
One of Cousins’ strengths has been his deep ball, which means giving him the protection he needs, and the route schemes, to accentuate that positive.
The other key strength of Cousins is in play-action passing. He has a much higher passer rating in play-action than without, and that figures to be a key part of the Vikings offense- and has been in the past.
Cousins was also effective targeting RB Chris Thompson out of the backfield last year, and hopefully that will continue with Dalvin Cook going forward, along with developing a strong rapport with the Vikings receiver group, as Case Keenum was able to do last year.
Cousins Will Need to Deliver Early and Often
When Case Keenum took over last year, he managed to instill confidence in the huddle from his first game at Pittsburgh. Cousins will need to do the same.
More importantly, Cousins will need to deliver early and often to show he’s the $28 million guaranteed man. That’s a much bigger burden than Keenum had with his $2 million backup deal. Keenum far exceeded expectations. Cousins’ expectation bar is far higher, and he’ll need to have his best seasons going forward to meet those expectations. A lot is riding on his performance.
One slight positive in this regard is Cousins’ performance against the NFC North. He’s only played the Packers, Lions and Bears four times collectively, but his passer rating against those teams is over 100.
Zimmer and Spielman Have a Lot Riding on Cousins as Well
Mike Zimmer’s skeptical response to Case Keenum’s season, which was a key part to Rick Spielman going all-in on Kirk Cousins, will both be measured by how well Kirk Cousins delivers in each of the next three seasons.
If Kirk Cousins wins one or more Super Bowl MVPs, they will be heroes for their insight and wisdom in going after him in a big way.
On the other hand, if Cousins falls short of expectations, particularly if one of the other three QBs on the roster last year does well/better elsewhere, they will be vilified, and depending on the level of disappointment, possibly fired.
Even if Cousins fails due to injury, there will be no mercy as everyone and their mother will criticize giving Cousins an unprecedented 3-year, $28 million fully guaranteed contract- particularly after two other starting QBs went down due to injury in the recent past- that would make bringing in a quality free agent replacement virtually impossible.
Let’s Hope for the Best
But now that the Cousins deal appears to be made, it’s time to move forward. I’m not a big fan of the deal, not so much because I think Cousins is a horrible QB, but because he’s not that much better than Keenum, and could be worse with the Vikings OL, and for the extra $10 million a year, the Vikings could do a lot more to improve the roster around him.
But time to move forward. I hope Kirk Cousins will have his best seasons ever with the Vikings, lead them to 3 Super Bowl championships, and prove all the doubters of this deal, myself included, wrong.
What do you think of signing Kirk Cousins for $28 million guaranteed per year for 3 years?
This poll is closed
Great Deal- he’s a good QB, that’s what he’s worth, and he’ll deliver for the Vikings
Good Deal- he’ll be good, but a little pricey
Not So Good Deal- better team value elsewhere
Bad Deal- Way overspent for a worse QB than we could have had