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Zulgad’s Roundup: Kirk Cousins’ performance could land him another contract extension

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith (91) in action at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings will have a few important decisions to make this offseason and they are becoming more and more interesting by the game. A few weeks back it looked as if Mike Zimmer had no chance of returning as coach and general manager Rick Spielman also could be shown the door by ownership.

But back-to-back wins over the Chargers and Packers enabled the Vikings to reach .500, and it’s important that the defensive-minded Zimmer seems to have embraced the fact he has a talented offense and one of the NFL’s best wide receivers in Justin Jefferson. Spielman and Zimmer’s futures remain uncertain but a win on Sunday against the host 49ers figures to be an important step toward the Vikings making the playoffs.

There also is another third important decision that will need to be made and that’s on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins is having an excellent season, but he will be entering the final season of his contract in 2022 and his salary-cap hit is scheduled to be $45 million.

If Cousins is going to return, it almost certainly will be with a rich extension that brings his cap hit down and guarantees him money for the coming seasons. Otherwise, the Vikings can try to trade Cousins in order to save $35 million against the cap and absorb $10 million in dead money. One would assume Cousins would get the chance to approve a trade and be willing to work out an extension with his new team.

But the Vikings might not be eager to trade Cousins, especially if Spielman remains GM and sees an opportunity to chase a Super Bowl in 2022. The Vikings and Cousins worked out a two-year, $66 million extension in March 2022.

It’s no secret that Cousins wasn’t the most popular guy around TCO Performance Center during training camp when many in the organization weren’t on the same page about getting vaccinated for COVID-19, but you know what cures those types of issues? Performance and there is no debating that Cousins is having his best season since joining the Vikings in 2018. Once known for his lack of being clutch, Cousins has led three late game-winning drives this season, including in last Sunday’s win over the Packers.

Cousins’ 106.3 passer rating is third among starting quarterbacks in the NFL, behind Arizona’s Kyler Murray (110.4) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (106.6). The fact the Vikings have opened up their offense the past two weeks to take advantage of Jefferson’s abilities also has helped showcase Cousins.

If the Vikings slide again and Spielman and Zimmer are both fired, Cousins’ future will depend on new decision-makers. But if the Vikings continue to play as well as they have on offense, Cousins’ time in Minnesota might be extended by a few more years.

  • Jefferson’s rookie contract runs through 2024, including his fifth-year option, but he will be eligible to renegotiate after next season. Jefferson’s guaranteed salaries are $1.206 million for this season, $1.803 in 2022 and $2.399 in 2023. The decision on his fifth-year option would have to be made for 2024, but Jefferson is sure to have a rich new deal by then.
  • One player who has gone under the radar this season, and basically been forgotten, is Vikings’ third-round pick Kellen Mond. Nobody expected the quarterback to play as a rookie, but he isn’t active on game days and either is getting a lot of valuable help behind the scenes or has been lost in the shuffle.
  • The Vikings’ offense has looked as if it belongs in 2021, and not 1985, in recent weeks but one has to wonder how nobody has designed a package of plays for fourth-round running back Kene Nwangwu? Nwangwu returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore in Week 9 and has the type of speed that could make him a nightmare for unsuspecting defenses. It wouldn’t have to be much but this is the type of player smart NFL offenses use to their advantage.
  • NFL referee Shawn Hochuli, whose father Ed was a long-time official, and his crew served up a big portion of penalty flags in less than week. After Hochuli’s crew assessed a combined 11 accepted penalties in the Vikings’ 34-31 victory over Green Bay on Sunday, the same officials called 28 combined accepted penalties on Dallas and Las Vegas (14 on each) in the Raiders’ 36-33 victory on Thursday. The Vikings somehow escaped with only being penalized three times for 25 yards against the Packers. Hochuli’s crew has had an NFL-leading 163 penalties accepted in 11 games this season.
  • Target Center was not full for the Wolves’ win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, but the team still announced a sellout. That’s because certain sections in the 200 level are no longer sold and the team now considers a sellout to be in the neighborhood of 17,000. The attendance Wednesday was 17,136. The capacity for basketball was previously 18,798. When the Wolves get a new building, it will have a smaller capacity, more premium seats and more suites.
  • Could fired Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas receive consideration for NBA executive of the year? Rosas, who was fired in September in part because he was having an affair with an employee, hired coach Chris Finch and built a roster that includes Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Patrick Beverley. The Wolves were on a five-game winning streak entering Friday night’s game in Charlotte.
  • After scoring only six goals in 51 games last season for the Boston Bruins, former Wild winger Charlie Coyle has six goals in 17 games. Coyle had a career-high 21 goals with the Wild in 2015-16. Winger Ryan Donato, whom the Wild acquired from Boston in the Coyle trade in February 2019, has two goals and four assists in 16 games with the expansion Seattle Kraken. Donato was with the San Jose Sharks last season and had six goals and 20 points in 50 games.
  • Wild anthem singer John deCausmeaker tweeted that Friday’s game against the Jets was the first he has missed since becoming the team’s anthem singer in October 2017. DeCausmeaker, who was spending time with his family in Wisconsin, was replaced by Andrew Kane.