Will Kirk Cousins be the Vikings’ quarterback next season?
New coach Kevin O’Connell made it sound that way during his introductory press conference on Thursday at TCO Performance Center, although there were no guarantees made and it’s possible the team could move Cousins and his $45 million salary cap hit for 2022. The NFL Scouting Combine is set to begin on March 1 in Indianapolis and plenty of business is started at that event.
“I know he’s already under contract and I’m excited to coach him,” said O’Connell, who was hired to replace Mike Zimmer after being the offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. “We’ve already started thinking about how we’re going to build those systems for him and our other quarterbacks and really the tremendous skill group that we have, our guys up front. It takes all 11 to move the football on offense, to run it, to throw it, to score points in the red zone. But I’m anticipating Kirk being a part of what we do.”
Anticipating is not assuring and, of course, O’Connell shouldn’t be expected to assure anyone anything regarding a roster that is certain to see changes in the coming months under new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Adofo-Mensah also was asked if Cousins definitely will be the Vikings’ QB in 2022. “I’m excited that (O’Connell is) excited to coach him and lead him, and we’re focused on building the team around him to set us up to succeed the best we can,” he said.
Cousins came to the Vikings on a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million free agent deal in 2018 to be what then-general manager Rick Spielman thought would be the final piece of a Super Bowl puzzle. The Vikings had reached the NFC title game in Philadelphia in 2017 and the feeling was that Cousins would be able to do what Case Keenum couldn’t. But that hasn’t happened and the Vikings have made the playoffs only once since Cousins arrived.
The Vikings’ failure to make the playoffs in the past two seasons cost Spielman and Zimmer their jobs. Cousins was given a two-year, $66 million contract extension in 2020 and he is set to enter the final season of that deal.
Cousins’ final season before signing with the Vikings was spent in Washington. It was there that O’Connell served as his quarterbacks coach. Cousins passed for 4,093 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and was sacked a career-high 41 times as Washington went 7-9 in 2017.
O’Connell knows the good and bad of the veteran quarterback.
“I think Kirk has played at a very high level, and he’s done a lot of really good things throughout his career,” said O’Connell, a quarterback at San Diego State who was a third-round pick by New England in the 2008 draft. “I know who he is as a player, and I know what he’s capable of, and part of our jobs as coaches is maximizing a player’s ability to go out every single Sunday and have success. I feel that’s going to be an advantage for us as we build our system offensively, make sure we really focus on the things Kirk does well, which I do think are a lot of aspects of playing the position, and help him on a daily basis connect with his team, lead us, be a completely quiet-minded quarterback that can go play because he’s talented enough to go do that. Put him in the best possible situations to have success.”
- Owner Mark Wilf believes the Vikings will be competitive next season with Cousins at QB. “Kwesi and Kevin have spoken very extensively on it,” Wilf said when asked about Cousins. “I certainly do believe and even more so now that we’ve got our leadership here in place that we are built to be successful right away. We feel very confident about that and like you heard before, we’re going to work with Kirk as our quarterback and we’ll move forward from there. But for 2022, for sure, we’re going to be super competitive. Sustained success is the goal and I think we have it with this leadership.”
- O’Connell said he will call offensive plays next season, making him the first Vikings’ coach to handle that duty since Brad Childress did it in his first season in 2006. O’Connell did not call plays for the Rams the past two seasons because coach Sean McVay handled those duties.
- While Ed Donatell has been named the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, the team also has hired longtime NFL defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as assistant head coach. The 55-year-old Pettine, who was the head coach of the Browns in 2014-15, is expected to help O’Connell with in-game decisions from the coaching booth. This would include things like whether to challenge plays. Pettine was the Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2018 to 2020 and served as a senior defensive assistant for the Bears this past season.
- As expected, the Vikings will switch their base defense to a 3-4 look next season. O’Connell, though, pointed out that defenses are in a nickel package (five defensive backs) so much these days that really they become multiple and often end up in a 4-3 look.
- It was interesting that O’Connell brought up the name of linebacker Anthony Barr when asked about the defense. Barr is set to hit free agency, but could be considered a fit in a 3-4 defense if the price is right. One name that O’Connell didn’t mention was that of defensive end Danielle Hunter? No word yet on how Hunter feels about the switch to a 3-4.
- How badly do the Green Bay Packers want Aaron Rodgers to return? The team reportedly has convinced 68-year-old Tom Clements to come out of retirement to serve as quarterbacks coach. Clements was Rodgers’ position coach from 2006 to 2011 and became offensive coordinator in 2012. Clements remained with the Packers through 2016. Rodgers won a Super Bowl in 2010 and an MVP in 2011 while working with Clements.