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Zulgad: Vikings’ decision to draft Kellen Mond is a wise move for the present and the future

Kellen Mond
Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond (11) warms up before the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against North Carolina, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Whether the Vikings found their quarterback of the future when they selected Kellen Mond in the third round of the NFL draft on Friday night remains to be seen, but what general manager Rick Spielman did do was begin a potential succession plan for Kirk Cousins.

Mond, the 66th player taken and the first of four third-round picks by the Vikings, will represent the first legitimate competition Cousins has faced since signing with the Vikings as a free agent in 2018. Cousins isn’t likely to be thrilled about it, but Vikings fans should be.

Spielman’s decision to take Mond with the second pick of the third round is a clear indication that the clock is ticking on Cousins’ time with the Vikings. Cousins is under contract for two more seasons, and will carry a salary cap hit of $31 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022. Depending on Mond’s development, there has to be some question if Cousins will be wearing purple in 2022. If Cousins is traded after next season, the Vikings would incur a dead cap hit of $10 million but would save $35 million toward the cap.

In the short term, seeing how Cousins responds to playing with his potential successor should be interesting. Cousins, who will turn 33 in August, has put up statistically strong seasons the past two years. However, he has gotten off to poor starts. The Vikings were 2-2 after four games in 2019 and Cousins had three touchdowns and two interceptions before getting hot. Last season, the Vikings were 1-5 entering their bye week and Cousins had 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before the quarterback bounced back as Minnesota won five of six games.

The Vikings need Cousins to get off to a far better start this season — the fact they drafted left tackle Christian Darrisaw in the first round and guard Wyatt Davis in the third should help — and, if that doesn’t happen, it won’t be journeyman backup Sean Mannion on the sideline holding a clipboard and posing no threat to Cousins’ starting role. No matter how poorly Cousins played, did you ever hear anyone calling for Mannion to take over? Didn’t think so.

If Cousins is ticked off, and somewhat uncomfortable, that isn’t a bad thing.

Ideally, Mond will have the benefit of time to learn behind Cousins and develop into a starting quarterback. That’s why the decision to draft him feels like a solid one by Spielman. This isn’t a situation where he was desperate to find a starter and took a guy like Christian Ponder in the first round. It also wasn’t a situation where Spielman drafted Nate Stanley in the seventh round, or signed Jake Browning as an undrafted free agent, and then attempted to tell us that either had a legitimate chance to someday be the Vikings’ quarterback.

Mond, who is 6-foot-3, was a four-year starter at Texas A&M and led the Aggies to a 9-1 record in 2020. He threw for 2,282 yards with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions and completed a career-high 63.3 percent of his passes and also rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns. Scouting reports indicate that Mond doesn’t look to leave the pocket at the first sign of trouble.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about Mond’s ability to make the transition to the NFL, but that’s true of just about every young quarterback. Mond was definitely worth a third-round gamble. This is exactly what Spielman and the Vikings needed to do as they begin looking toward a future without Cousins.

If that helps to motivate Cousins in the present, all the better.