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Zulgad’s Roundup: No backup plan: It appears it will be Kirk Cousins or bust for Vikings in 2022

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and quarterback Sean Mannion (4) talks before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

There are many things that can be debated when it comes to Kirk Cousins’ play at quarterback. But the one thing that can’t be questioned is his durability. Since taking over as Washington’s starting QB in 2015, Cousins has missed only two of 113 regular-season games.

The 33-year-old sat out the final game of the 2019 regular season because the Vikings had clinched their playoff position and coach Mike Zimmer did not want to risk getting his starter injured in a meaningless game. Last season, Cousins missed the Vikings’ penultimate game at Green Bay because of COVID-19 protocols. Cousins, though, has never missed a game because of an actual injury.

It appears new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell are confident Cousins will continue to be an ironman. Veteran backup Sean Mannion has returned to hold a clipboard and serve as a confidant to Cousins. Mannion, 30, has started three games in six seasons, including two with the Vikings. The second came in Green Bay last season and served as a demonstration of just how much trouble the Vikings are in when Mannion is asked to play.

He completed 22 of 36 passes for 189 yards with a touchdown in a 37-10 loss at Lambeau Field. Mannion’s future in the NFL is probably in coaching, but Cousins is comfortable with him around and that matters to those who run the team.

The other option is 2021 third-round pick Kellen Mond, who completed 2 of 3 passes for 5 yards in a brief appearance in the same game Mannion started. Mond had to learn the Vikings’ previous offense last season and is now learning a completely new scheme under O’Connell. It was clear that even the slower-paced practices run by the Vikings in minicamp were moving too fast for him and expecting him to play this season seems like it would be a enormous ask.

This raises the question about whether the Vikings will go get a veteran with more starting experience to back up Cousins. Dan Graziano of ESPN recently talked to NFL executives, coaches and agents to get their opinions on where available veteran quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo might land, assuming they aren’t back with Cleveland and San Francisco, respectively.

Graziano wrote: (The Vikings are) set this season with Kirk Cousins but could move on from him after the year. This is an example of a place where Mayfield or Garoppolo wouldn’t start right away but could position himself as the team’s starter in 2023, the way (Jameis) Winston did with the Saints in 2020. That could be possible elsewhere, including with the Buccaneers, Eagles, Cardinals, Titans and Raiders.

The odds of Mayfield or Garoppolo landing in Minnesota at this point are probably less than zero. Cousins signed a one-year, $35 million contract extension in March that will take him through the 2023 season and has a no-trade clause for ’23. He will earn $40 million this coming season.

That means Cousins almost certainly won’t face any competition for the next two years. O’Connell seems convinced he can get far more than impressive statistics out of Cousins. Is this wise? Perhaps not. But the Vikings have picked their path and providing Cousins with any type of legitimate competition, or even trying to motivate him with a capable starter behind him, isn’t the plan and likely wouldn’t work.

But if Cousins gets hurt, the Vikings’ season will be a complete loss. That’s a chance Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell appear willing to take.

  • As Andrew Wiggins plays a starring role for the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, there are reports the Timberwolves are looking to move on from guard D’Angelo Russell. Russell, who was acquired by former Wolves basketball boss Gersson Rosas in the Wiggins deal, was benched near the end of the Wolves’ loss to Memphis in Game 6 of the first round. Veteran NBA scribe Marc Stein reported last month that rival teams expect the Wolves to trade Russell this offseason. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported this week that new Wolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly is shopping Russell. Russell will be entering the final season of his four-year, $117.3 million contract and it’s almost certain the Wolves have no interest in paying him what he will want on his next deal.
  • With the Stanley Cup Finals getting underway this week and the draft (July 7-8) and free agency (July 13) approaching, NHL teams soon will be getting busy looking to make deals. There is every reason to believe Wild winger Kevin Fiala won’t return — that’s no surprise, considering this will be his last year as a restricted free agent — and it makes sense the Wild would try to swing a trade with New Jersey. The Devils are a popular landing spot when it comes to speculation of where Fiala might be traded, and New Jersey also happens to hold the second-overall pick in the draft. Considering the salary-cap issues the Wild face for the next three years, getting the second pick and pairing that player with some of the other young talent the Wild have coming up, could put Minnesota in excellent position to contend with a roster that features several players who won’t have big salaries.
  • Mark Feinsand of MLB.com wrote a story this week about seven players who are increasing their value as we inch closer to the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Among the players Feinsand listed as possibilities for the Twins were Reds righthanded starter Luis Castillo and Orioles first baseman and corner outfielder Trey Mancini. It seems far more likely that if the Twins make any moves, they will be to strengthen the starting rotation and the bullpen.
  • With shortstop Royce Lewis lost for a year because his ACL tore again, you have to wonder if the Twins will explore trying to sign Carlos Correa to a long-term deal? Correa’s current three-year, $105.3 million contract has opt-outs after 2021 and 2022. There seems to be no way that Correa won’t want to explore the market again this offseason and hope for a deal in the neighborhood of eight seasons. That’s what he wasn’t offered last offseason, in large part because of the MLB lockout that took up most of the winter. If Correa signs elsewhere, it’s unclear what the Twins plan will be at short for 2023.