The Vikings made Kirk Cousins one of the NFL’s highest-paid quarterbacks last offseason, rewarding him with a three-year, $84 million contract, because they believed he would be a significant upgrade on Case Keenum.
Keenum might have led the Vikings to the NFC title game, but Cousins was the top name available on the free-agent market and Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman was confident that taking the unheard step of fully guaranteeing Cousins’ asking price would be worth it. That, of course, put enormous expectations on Cousins and we’re not just talking about from outside the Vikings’ facility.
Whenever a player gets paid that type of money, especially a quarterback, the internal expectation is that he will live up to the hype. When that doesn’t happen things can easily turn ugly, especially if the team that signed that quarterback did so believing a Super Bowl berth was within reach.
That’s why one has to wonder today how Cousins is being received at the Vikings’ facility in Eagan. On Monday, Cousins was part of another feeble performance from the Minnesota offense in a 21-7 loss at Seattle that dropped the Vikings to 6-6-1. The Vikings remain in the sixth and final wild card spot in the NFC only because the bottom of the conference has turned into a complete joke.
The Vikings are likely to make the playoffs, but that isn’t going to stop the discord that so often happens when an NFL team that is expected to contend instead does its best to miss the postseason. Did we mention Cousins is making $28 million per season and every bit of it is guaranteed?
The Vikings, who entered their bye week at 5-3-1 and with visions of catching the Chicago Bears and winning the NFC North, are 1-3 since returning from the break. Their only victory came against a bad Green Bay Packers team. The losses were at Chicago, New England and Seattle. All are tough places to play, but when you sign a free-agent QB to a huge deal the belief is he will find a way to win a few of those games.
Cousins hasn’t and honestly the stats really don’t matter. What is important is how many winning teams Cousins has helped the Vikings beat this season. The answer after Monday’s loss is zero.
This isn’t all on Cousins. It looks as if coach Mike Zimmer is going to have to make a change at offensive coordinator because John DeFilippo is in way over his head and this stale offense desperately needs some type of jolt.
But it’s fair to expect a lot from Cousins and what the Vikings got on Monday didn’t come close to being acceptable. Cousins was 4-of-8 for 27 yards with a sack and a 57.8 passer rating as the Vikings trailed 3-0 at halftime. He finished 20-of-33 for 208 yards with two sacks, a touchdown an 89.0 rating and also lost a fourth-quarter fumble that was returned for a touchdown. His touchdown was a meaningless 6-yard pass to Dalvin Cook with 1 minute, 17 seconds left.
This came one week after Cousins completed 32-of-44 passes for 201 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and two sacks in a 24-10 loss at New England. Cousins registered a 70.4 passer rating in that game. Cousins has now lost seven of nine fumbles this season and is responsible for 16 turnovers.
So here’s how this works. Guys on defense start to do the math on Cousins’ contract and realize that while they are doing their job pretty darn well — the Vikings haven’t given up more than 25 points in a game in any of their past five contests — the millionaire quarterback isn’t earning his riches.
It might not just be the defensive players. Adam Thielen caught five of the seven passes thrown his way Monday night for 70 yards, but he wasn’t targeted once in the first half. Stefon Diggs caught four of six passes directed toward him for 76 yards but 48 of those came on one play.
Thielen caught eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown on Nov. 25 against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium. In the two games since, he has caught 10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. In the past two games, Diggs has nine receptions for 125 yards and no touchdowns after catching a scoring pass in each of his previous three games.
Are defenses working to take Diggs and Thielen away? Absolutely. But they still need to remain a big part of the Vikings’ game plan and Cousins can’t just accept the fact that he can’t throw to them.
While Cousins has been far from flawless this season, there were games early in the season where he made the types of throws and plays that showed you why the Vikings were willing to pay him to replace Keenum.
There was the Week 2 comeback at Green Bay, where Cousins finished with 425 passing yards and four touchdowns in a tie against the Packers. There was the 422-yard, three-touchdown passing night in which Cousins kept the Vikings close in a high-scoring loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The following week, Cousins passed for 301 yards and a touchdown in a win at Philadelphia.
But that guy hasn’t been seen in recent weeks, replaced by a quarterback who looks afraid to make mistakes and is playing as if his job is on the line. Only, that isn’t the case at all.
The Vikings gave Cousins big bucks to lead them on a playoff run. Right now, he appears incapable of winning a regular-season game. That has to have plenty of people at TCO Performance Center wondering if Cousins was worth this type of investment. It will be interesting to see if those folks, especially Cousins’ teammates, remain silent about this much longer.