During the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota the Vikings have always had a veteran backup quarterback.
In 2014, Matt Cassel opened up the season with the starting job, which was eventually handed over to rookie Teddy Bridgewater. The following two years Shaun Hill served as the No. 2. He was called upon to start Week 1 in 2016 when Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury and Sam Bradford was not yet ready to step in.
The Vikings signed Case Keenum the following offseason in order to be prepared in case something happened to their starter again. Ultimately the move turned out to be brilliant as Keenum started the majority of the year, leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record and a NFC Championship appearance.
Behind Kirk Cousins the Vikings signed veterans Trevor Siemian in 2018 and Sean Mannion in 2019 when Siemian left for the New York Jets. Neither were called into duty aside from a meaningless Week 17 start for Mannion.
While recent history points to experienced backups, the Vikings may be in a different position heading into this offseason than in years past. This time around there is uncertainty about Cousins’s future and the door could be open to draft a quarterback with either an eye on 2021 or as a developing backup who could eventually be used as trade bait.
Until Cousins is signed to a contract extension there will be a lack of clarity surrounding the position, though general manager Rick Spielman said at the Combine that he sees Cousins as having the capability to improve on his career year.
“He’s right now in the prime of his career,” he said. “I think him being under a system for two years in a row is also going to benefit him….hopefully those guys will continue to grow and develop as a unit. And plus, with Gary [Kubiak] kind of leading that charge on that side of the ball, that you should continue to see progress as we move forward.”
Even if QB isn’t at the top of the priority list for the 25th overall pick, the middle rounds could offer an opportunity to select one. On Tuesday the NFL announced compensatory picks, which included an extra third-round selection for the Vikings.
But would they be comfortable having a rookie behind Cousins in 2020?
“I think the backup quarterback’s job is to help the starting quarterback, but I also think the starting quarterback gets hurt, that guy has to be good enough to go into a game,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “So when we’re looking for a backup quarterback, we want to be able to have somebody who, if he has to go in for three games, can win those three games. For us, it’s not to be another coach for Kirk. It’s for somebody who can help you with that, but at the end of the day he’s got to be able to play too.”
This year’s draft in particular features a number of intriguing QBs with mid-round projections. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is among the most difficult to pinpoint his draft value because his high-end athleticism and Heisman-level performance at Oklahoma might be overshadowed by a weaker arm and slower processing in comparison to other quarterback prospects.
A recent Bleacher Report mock draft suggested the Vikings could pick Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who has been compared to Cousins. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein had a less optimistic projection, comparing him to Colt McCoy. He wrote:
“Heady quarterback who is light on physical traits but sees the game like a pro signal-caller most of the time. Fromm has big-game experience and proved to be a worthy challenger against Alabama as a freshman and sophomore. He’s a full-field reader who has shown a consistent ability to change plays and make smart pre- and post-snap decisions. Arm strength is a concern, and that concern may be exacerbated if his ball placement and timing aren’t more consistent. He’s an intelligent game-manager whose range is good backup to middling starter, but he will be scheme- and skill-position-needy at the next level.”
PFF compared Washington State’s Anthony Gordon to Cousins. He lacks a cannon arm but posted huge college numbers and shined at the Senior Bowl.
Other names to watch on Day 2 and 3 include James Morgan of FIU, Steven Montez of Colorado, Cole McDonald of Hawaii and Virginia’s Bryce Perkins.
If the Vikings prefer a veteran backup, there are plenty to go around. They could re-sign Mannion, who formed a good relationship with Cousins last season or look to other proven players like Chase Daniel, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, Geno Smith or Blake Bortles.