Yes, the Vikings made a wise decision by hiring Gary Kubiak to take over as head coach of their offense — make no mistake, that’s what he will be doing — but one has to wonder why the you-know-what this type of move didn’t happen a year ago?
General manager Rick Spielman’s comments on Wednesday from the NFL Scouting Combine might have been meant to look forward, but they also served as an indication of just how little thought was given to what would make the Vikings’ offense a success in what turned out to be a massively disappointing 8-7-1 season in 2018.
A story by Chad Graff of The Athletic (subscription) was especially eye-opening when it came to the missteps. Spielman compared Cousins’ transition to John DeFilippo’s offense to what Brett Favre went through in 2008 when Favre moved from the familiarity of the West Coast system run in Green Bay to his one season in a new scheme with the New York Jets. Favre then rebounded in a big way the next season when he returned to the West Coast system in Minnesota.
Of course, Favre’s issues in New York really were caused by an injury his suffered during the season, but let’s play along with what Spielman is saying here. His point being that Cousins will find more success with the Vikings in 2019 because he’s being put in a system with which he’s more familiar.
“When (Kubiak) decided to get back into coaching, we were very aggressive to jump on that opportunity,” Spielman told reporters. “I think he had maybe other options out there. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think the way he feels with the quarterback we have in place and the quarterback playing in the scheme that we’re probably going to evolve to, it’ll highlight what Kirk does best.”
So, here’s the logical question: Why did it take a year for the Vikings to put Cousins into a system that highlights what he does best? Especially, since we are talking about a quarterback who isn’t close to having the skills that a guy like Favre did.
The man was signed to a three-year, $84 million contract because the Vikings felt he was the best quarterback available to them, but that never meant he was capable of adjusting to a new offense and he’s certainly not worth the contract he received. He got that contract because the Vikings wanted to upgrade from Case Keenum.
The Vikings had done their due diligence on Cousins and watched all of his throws with Washington, so they knew what his strengths and weaknesses were going to be. There should have been no surprises. He had been a starter for three seasons in Washington and his greatest success came under Sean McVay, a Mike Shanahan disciple. Kubiak spent a decade in Denver coaching under Shanahan and, well, you get it.
“It’s definitely going to help Kirk,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday. “The system, the terminology, the things he’s done really well with the Shanahans…that definitely is going to help.”
It’s at this point, that some Purple diehards will point out that DeFillippo was hired in February 2018, or about a month before Cousins was signed as a free agent. Guess what? I don’t care and you shouldn’t either. The Vikings knew in early February of last year that they were going to be all-in on the Cousins’ sweepstakes and should have been planning accordingly.
The coordinator the Vikings hired last February should not only have known how to get the most from Cousins, but also what scheme to run around him so that everyone, including the offensive line, would be in place to make the quarterback look as good as possible. The Cousins apologists will point to the fact that statistically he had a good season — he passed for 4,298 yards and 30 touchdowns — but Spielman is now admitting that Cousins wasn’t put in the best spot possible for the Vikings to be successful.
“To put (Cousins) into that system that he’s played in his entire career is why we paid him the money we did,” Spielman said. “I don’t think anyone in the building has any doubt that he’s going to have an outstanding season next year.”
But what about the $28 million the Vikings spent on Cousins last season? Are we supposed to just give the Vikings a mulligan on that one?
The problem is the wheels for an outstanding season — and that means a season in which a team coming off a 13-3 finish makes a deep playoff run — should have been put in motion at this time a year ago. Instead, the Vikings became infatuated with the quarterbacks coach from the team that embarrassed them in the NFC title game and gave little thought to how his system might work with the quarterback they were about to pursue.
Now, a year later, with expectations diminished, the Vikings are going to try to fix that. Spielman sounds satisfied, as if it’s OK that a year was wasted. Vikings ownership, and fans, should be livid.