With their 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings fell to 1-4 on the 2023 season and, quite likely, saw the competitive portion of their season come to an end. Yes, it’s very early and stranger things have happened in the NFL before, but there hasn’t been anything about this team over the first five games that should lead anyone to realistically believe that any sort of turnaround is imminent.
So, what does all of that mean? Well, let’s take a look at a few things.
The Vikings are not a “better team” than they were last year
Before Sunday’s broadcast, Tony Romo said that he watched the film of the Vikings and thought that they were a better team than they were last year despite their inferior record. Last season, the Really Smart Football People™ told us that, based on whatever metrics were available that Really Smart Football People™ use, the Vikings were a bad team despite their 13-4 record and those same metrics now say that the Vikings are right around average.
I don’t buy that. Not from what this team has displayed this year. They’re the polar opposite of last year’s team for any number of reasons. But last year, whenever the Vikings needed someone to make a play, whether it was on offense or defense, someone made it. This year? It’s not happening.
To say nothing of the turnover problem that this team has created for themselves. Last year, the Vikings lost eight fumbles all season long. Josh Oliver’s fumble on the first play from scrimmage on Sunday marked the eighth fumble they’ve lost this season. Not only that, but this team keeps putting themselves in tough positions early. They’ve turned the ball over 12 times already this season, with 7 of those coming in the first quarter. You can’t consistently put yourself in a hole early and expect to climb out every time.
And it’s not just one person that can be blamed for all of the turnovers. There are numerous players coughing up the football this season, whether it’s Kirk Cousins or Justin Jefferson or T.J. Hockenson or Alexander Mattison. If it was one person, you could attribute it to bad habits or something along those lines. When it’s a widespread problem like this, there’s something bigger at play, I think. Kevin O’Connell said that he was going to get the issue fixed, and to this point he has not.
As in any sport, the most important “metric” in the NFL is the win-loss record. The Vikings had it last year, and they don’t have it this year. That’s your bottom line.
Moving right along. . .
This is the last season of the Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota
Kirk Cousins is now in the last year of his contract and, despite expressing his love for Minnesota, no move to give him a longer-term extension appears imminent. Honestly, if the Vikings were going to extend Cousins again, they probably would have done it by now. The moves that the team made this offseason, including the lack of a Cousins extension, appeared to have them pointing towards 2024 and beyond.
This means that Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, starting next season, are going to have an opportunity to get “their guy” at quarterback, and that guy is going to determine the future of their employment with the Minnesota Vikings. The quarterback class of 2024 is reportedly loaded, and given the current state of things the Vikings are likely going to be in a position to get a quarterback that they think they can build around going forward.
Having said that. . .
The Vikings aren’t trading Kirk Cousins. Probably.
First things first: Kirk Cousins has a no-trade clause in his contract. The Vikings can work out literally any deal they want with any other team in the league to send Cousins out of town, and if he says “no,” well, then the answer is “no.” Cousins holds literally all the cards in this scenario.
In order to get Cousins to waive his no-trade clause, you’re probably going to have to find a team that’s willing to give him the extension that he hasn’t gotten from Minnesota. Which contender is out there that’s a) “just a quarterback away,” and b) going to be willing to give Cousins about $40 million/year?
(And if Daniel Jones can get himself $40 million/year. . .thank you, Ed Donatell. . .you’d have to think that’s the absolute floor for a Cousins extension at this point, right?)
On top of all that. . .what sort of a return do you think you’re going to get in a Kirk Cousins trade? Honestly, you’re not getting a first-round pick or anything close, I don’t think. You might get a second for him, but that’s at the very top end. Between the adjustment to learning a new system this season and the extension that any trade partner would have to give him, any compensation you’d receive for Kirk Cousins would likely be akin to just giving him away.
There’s a certain player that might not take too kindly to that.
Justin Jefferson needs to be intimately involved in the search for the Vikings’ next quarterback
Justin Jefferson has expressed on numerous occasions how much he enjoys playing with Kirk Cousins. He also likely realizes that the writing is on the wall for the Kirk Cousins era in Minnesota and, by the way, he hasn’t signed a contract extension with the Vikings as things stand right now.
Now, the Vikings have already exercised Jefferson’s fifth-year option, and if things don’t work out after that they could just use the franchise tag on him, which would probably just serve to anger and annoy Jefferson and his camp. But Jefferson is the face of the franchise and has reached the point where the Vikings need to make sure he’s thoroughly involved in the search for the team’s next signal caller. Whatever that means to the front office and the coaching staff, they need to make it happen.
The Vikings aren’t going to “tank”
We haven’t had this discussion in this space for a while, because we haven’t really had to. But, to reiterate, tanking is stupid. Talking about tanking is stupid. The concept of tanking is stupid. You’re not gonna get 53 guys who have been trained to excel all their lives, coached by another group of guys that have been trained to excel all their lives, to believe that losing is in their best interests.
Because it’s not.
The Vikings aren’t going to have to “tank” to get themselves in a position to get their quarterback of the future next April. They’re already a bad team. . .as stated earlier on, that’s what 1-4 means. That they’re bad. Even if they did “tank,” getting the highest possible draft pick doesn’t mean anything as far as future success. A front office in the NFL can screw up the #1 overall pick just as easily as they can screw up the #5 pick or the #17 pick or the #28 pick or whatever.
The last quarterback selected at #1 overall to win a Super Bowl was Matthew Stafford, and it took that guy 12 years and a trade to another team to finally get there. Before that it was Eli Manning. Before that it was Peyton Manning. That’s three in the last 25 years. In that time, you’ve also seen luminaries like JaMarcus Russell, Tim Couch, and Jameis Winston. Going out and attempting to lose football games in an attempt to improve your draft position is an exercise in futility. Play your game, win or lose, and let the chips fall where they may. If you need to trade up on draft weekend, worry about it then.
I’m sure there are plenty of other topics facing this team, but that’s enough for one go. We’ll see if we can’t get into some more of them down the track here.