The Vikings will open training camp next Wednesday at TCO Performance Center. For the next seven days, SKOR North’s Judd Zulgad will exam a topic that could or will impact Mike Zimmer’s team. The first installment involves Kirk Cousins and the quarterback situation.
In Kirk Cousins’ first three seasons with the Vikings, the veteran had a quarterback with NFL experience behind him. Trevor Siemian had played in 26 games and made 24 starts with Denver before arriving for a one-season stay in Minnesota. Sean Mannion had played in 10 games and made one start with the Rams prior to his two-year stint in Minnesota.
Mannion started the regular-season finale in 2019 against Chicago — the Vikings already had their playoff position locked up entering that game — in making the only appearance between the two veterans. This continued a trend of Cousins being an ironman and marked the only start he has missed since taking over the starting job in Washington in 2015.
The Vikings are confident Cousins’ durability won’t change in 2021. While Siemian and Mannion were journeymen quarterbacks, both knew what to do if they had to take a snap in a game. The Vikings backup quarterbacks this season will include rookie third-round pick Kellen Mond; 2020 seventh-round pick Nate Stanley; and Jake Browning, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
Browning has spent the past two seasons on the Vikings’ practice squad, while Stanley joined him on that unit last year. There might be an assumption that if something happens to Cousins that Mond, taken with the 66th pick in April from Texas A&M, would step right in. Given how the reps in minicamp went, it appears Browning will be second to Cousins on the depth chart entering training camp.
The Vikings can point to Cousins’ history of not missing time and say they have the luxury of having young quarterbacks behind the veteran, but that’s a dangerous game to play. It’s especially risky because of the fact that COVID-19 remains a concern. Cousins has declined to say if he has been vaccinated, but if he’s not, he will be subject to strict NFL rules that call for daily testing and mandatory quarantine after high-risk exposure. If he is, his life will be much simpler when it comes to focusing on football.
But if something happens to Cousins — in a season in which there are big expectations for the Vikings and a season that likely will determine the future of Cousins and coach Mike Zimmer in Minnesota — right now his team is willing to turn to a quarterback who has never taken a snap in an NFL game or been a regular on an NFL roster.
There’s a chance Mond could open the season as Cousins’ backup, given Zimmer might not want to carry three quarterbacks on his 53-man roster and there is no chance the Vikings would try to sneak Mond through to the practice squad.
As wise as it was for the Vikings to begin the process of trying to find their quarterback of the future, Mond getting into a game this season seems like a potentially counterproductive move for his long-term development. It would make more sense to allow Mond the opportunity to learn in the No. 3 role while playing behind Cousins and have a veteran QB who has previous NFL experience.
To be clear: This is not saying the Vikings should have gone out and signed a veteran quarterback who was still looking to start. It is saying that bringing back Mannion — he remains a free agent — and having him on the depth chart to start training camp wouldn’t have been a terrible idea.
The Vikings don’t agree. They are willing to give Browning, Stanley or Mond a shot. That’s showing a lot of confidence that Browning and/or Stanley are ready to graduate from the practice squad, or Mond is ready to be thrown into a game as a rookie.
Ideally, this never becomes an issue. Cousins stays healthy and his backup stays on the sideline. But if that doesn’t happen, a team with high hopes could be faced with playing a quarterback who has never taken an NFL snap in his life.