“You like that?!”
One can almost imagine how the scene played out inside the Minnesota Vikings‘ new team headquarters Tuesday morning in Eagan, Minnesota, with Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and John DeFilippo simultaneous slapping high-fives and celebrating the excitement of landing Kirk Cousins by doing their best impersonation of the quarterback’s meme-worthy moment in Washington.
The story of the NFL offseason is centered right here in Minnesota. One game shy of reaching Super Bowl LII two months ago, the Vikings appear to have pulled the ultimate franchise power move, clearing the decks of their quarterbacks by going after and apparently landing the most coveted free agent on the open market.
Within minutes of learning about Cousins’ expected signing with the Vikings, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook moved Minnesota’s odds to win the Super Bowl in 2019 from 16-1 to 12-1. Betting odds are one thing for bookkeepers; in Minnesota, the Vikings couldn’t afford to play the wrong hand with Cousins and strike out on their most critical decision in years.
Minnesota’s Super Bowl window won’t last forever. The opening for the Vikings to contend among the best teams in the NFL and vie for their first championship is expected to expand two to three seasons given the state and stability of their roster. To get there, they needed to find their missing piece at quarterback — an issue of instability they’ve had for years that might now be remedied with Cousins under center.
The Vikings made a statement that they feel Cousins gives them the best chance of reaching the pinnacle in the NFL — not Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater or any other quarterback available in free agency.
The proof lies in the numbers for one of the most consistent passers over the past three seasons. It goes beyond fantasy stats the casual fan will point to during the years when he strung together 4,000 yard-passing seasons. Since 2015, Cousins ranks third in completion percentage (67), fifth in yards per attempt (7.8), eighth in passing TDs (81) and seventh in Total QBR (62.3), according to ESPN Stats and Information. During that same span, only one quarterback had a better completion percentage and QBR: Drew Brees.
Despite remaining tight-lipped about how this would all play out over the past few months, privately, this was the player the Vikings wanted all along. Now it’s up to Cousins to deliver after securing a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million.
With DeFilippo, the Vikings’ new offensive coordinator dubbed the “quarterback guru,” whose offensive mind is associated with such adjectives as “brilliant,” “cutting edge” and “innovative,” Cousins found the ideal situation where he can become a franchise quarterback.
It can be argued that he played that role for Washington since being drafted by the Redskins in 2012. This time, it’s different. Combining DeFilippo’s offensive philosophy rooted in West Coast principles, the use of the run-pass option and play-action (arguably the best part of Cousins’ game) with the personnel around Cousins will help the quarterback take the next step in his career.
In Washington, Cousins didn’t have success by zeroing in on a one receiver; he’s one of four quarterbacks to throw at least five touchdowns to eight different pass-catchers since 2015. Luckily for him, he walks into a similar situation in Minnesota, with one of the NFL’s top receiving duos — Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They also have an explosive pass-catching running back (Dalvin Cook), a top red zone scoring threat (tight end Kyle Rudolph) and a host of other options that include Jarius Wright, Latavius Murray and David Morgan.
Three of the game’s best (and most expensive) quarterbacks now reside in the NFC North. Between Cousins, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the race for a division title will grow tighter. Cousins is 4-2 against the NFC North in his career with an 83.1 QBR, the second-highest in the NFL over the past three seasons behind Dallas’ Dak Prescott. However, he doesn’t have to do it alone with Minnesota’s elite defense acting as the catalyst in the quest for back-to-back NFC North banners.
The reward clearly outweighed the risk for Minnesota in dumping a truckload of money on Cousins’ doorstep. The Vikings are hedging their bets on someone who is 26-30-1 as a starter with no playoff wins on his resume. He’s certainly got his flaws in areas he’s not proud of, including being tied for third in the NFL with 13 fumbles last season. He has a reputation for struggling in the red zone, a lack of big-time throws (he ranked 17th in that percentage in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus after a stretch of clutch throws wore off), and has been knocked as a gunslinger on third downs.
The best thing? He’s a work in progress who has the potential to be the Vikings’ solution at quarterback for a long time. Those areas in which he has struggled — particularly inside the 20 — are among DeFilippo’s bread and butter. The new coordinator brings with him success rooted in Carson Wentz‘s 116.3 passer rating inside the red zone with zero turnovers. Simply put, with the issues that have popped up, Cousins is in the best possible hands.
The ceiling has been stretched infinitely higher after bringing Kirk Cousins into the mix. He likes it. The Vikings like it. Now it’s time to go out and deliver.