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Zulgad’s Roundup: Vikings’ new brain trust will make a business decision on Kirk Cousins’ future

NFL: Combine
Mar 1, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The subject of Kirk Cousins draws a level of passion from both his fans and critics that it is often difficult to have a non-emotional discussion about the veteran. Yet that’s exactly what new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell must do as they begin to plan the franchise’s future under their leadership.

The latest attempt to get a read on what Vikings’ leadership is planning to do with their starting quarterback came this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Both Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell held media sessions and said many complimentary things about Cousins. But, just as O’Connell made a statement last week on Chad Hartman’s show on WCCO Radio that provided no assurances Cousins would return in 2022, Adofo-Mensah raised some eyebrows on Tuesday by saying, “We will do what’s best for the Minnesota Vikings, and Kirk will do what’s best for Kirk.”

Putting the pieces of this puzzle together isn’t difficult.

Last month it was reported that Cousins has “zero intentions” of taking a pay cut. Cousins is entering the final season of his contract and is scheduled to make a base salary of $35 million and carry a salary cap hit of $45 million in 2022. The Vikings want to bring that figure down, but also have little interest in creating more cap problems with an extension that would give Cousins a base salary of around $40 million in 2023.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the report about Cousins not taking a pay cut surfaced after Adofo-Mensah had talked to someone in the Cousins camp, probably agent Mike McCartney. Everything Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell are saying about looking forward to working with Cousins makes sense. One, it might be true, and two, they aren’t going to bash a guy under team control, especially if they want to increase his value.

But the important thing to keep in mind is that this is a business and while Cousins wants to get paid as much as possible, the Vikings brain trust almost certainly has a figure in mind that they can’t afford to pay Cousins and still build a decent team around him. The reality that he’s not one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks means that if Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell pay Cousins wants he wants, they are setting themselves up to be fired because the rest of the Vikings roster won’t be good enough.

Adofo-Mensah and McCartney are likely to meet this week in Indianapolis, and maybe they can get closer on a contract with which both sides can live. If they can’t, the Vikings could look to trade Cousins, or let him play out his current contract and walk away as a free agent.

The situation should be clearer by the time the league year starts on March 16 because the Vikings are approximately $16 million over the cap and need to significantly reduce that figure. As much of a lightning rod as Cousins might be with the Vikings’ fan base, what Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell decide will have nothing to do with emotion and everything to do with business.

  • O’Connell’s first coaching staff will have 22 assistants, including three coordinators. Holdovers from Mike Zimmer’s final coaching staff will include Roy Anderson, assistant defensive backs coach; Keenan McCardell, wide receivers coach; and Sam Siefkes, assistant linebackers coach. Three members of the strength and conditioning staff also will return.
  • Perhaps the most interesting hire is Ryan Cordell, who will serve as pass game specialist and game management coordinator. It’s the second part of that title that is most intriguing. Zimmer took a lot of criticism for his in-game management and the lack of a game management coordinator never made sense. What’s more important than the clock and the use of timeouts? Considering all the things a head coach must be focused on during games, and for many that includes calling plays on one side of the ball, thinking they can manage some of the other important elements is foolish. One of Cordell’s primary roles in his new job will be helping at the end of each half, something the Vikings struggled with in a big way last season. Cordell spent the past two seasons as a coaching assistant with the Browns.
  • New Vikings inside linebackers coach Greg Manusky, who had stints as defensive coordinator for the 49ers (2007-10), Chargers (2011), Colts (2012-15) and Commanders (2017-19), played for the Vikings from 1991 to 1993. He was a defensive quality control coach the past two seasons at Kentucky.
  • There have been a few questions raised now that the Wild have lost six of seven and dropped four in a row. The first is where will general manager Bill Guerin look for an upgrade on a team that has more holes than many thought? The center and goalie positions remain a concern, but back-to-back losses to Calgary also showed just how small the Wild are on the blue line. The absence of Matt Dumba doesn’t help, but the smallest of the Flames’ defenseman in their 5-1 win on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center was 6-footer Oliver Kylington. Calgary’s third pairing on defense featured 6-foot-6, 235-pound Nikita Zadorov and 6-5, 222-pound Erik Gudbrandson. The Flames are designed for the playoffs and showed the Wild that over the past two games.
  • Dumba, by the way, is 6 feet but only listed at 185 pounds. Jonas Brodin is 6-2, 196 pounds; Dmitry Kulikov is 6-1, 201 pounds; and Jon Merrill is 6-3, 204 pounds. The Flames defensemen move opponents with ease and leave little room to operate. The Wild’s blue line looks more like an NFL offensive line that wants to excel in zone blocking but lacks strength in the trenches.
  • Calgary coach Darryl Suter, 63, who was brought out of retirement by the Flames last March, should receive plenty of support for the Jack Adams award.
  • The New York Giants released tight end Kyle Rudolph in a salary cap move after only one season. The 32-year-old former Viking had 26 catches for 257 yards with a touchdown in 16 games in 2021. Rudolph had been scheduled to count $7.4 million against the Giants’ cap in 2022. The team will save $5 million. Rudolph said in a text to Adam Schefter of ESPN that he plans to continue his playing career.