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Matthew Coller: Vikings next QB can't just fill the void

PFT says the Vikings could be interested in Baker Mayfield, which feels like repeating history

If the Minnesota Vikings were looking to stay on theme with their history, Baker Mayfield would be the perfect fit for the team’s next quarterback if Kirk Cousins signs elsewhere.

Mayfield, connected with the Vikings by a Pro Football Talk tweet on Wednesday, would be joining his fifth team and arriving with hopes of finding stability after an uneven career. That description doesn’t sound too much different from quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Matt Cassel, Brad Johnson (the second time), Jeff George, Randall Cunningham or Jim McMahon.

Each of those QBs had seasons to write home about in their past before joining the Vikings. Bradford was rookie of the year, Cassel won 11 games with the Patriots, George put up huge numbers in the run-’n-shoot, Johnson won a Super Bowl with the Bucs and Cunningham and McMahon were legends in Philly and Chicago, respectively.

Most of those quarterbacks worked out somewhere between pretty well and great for the Vikings overall but the results were always fleeting. After a good 2016 season and blazing start to 2017, Bradford got hurt and watched Keenum lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship game from the sidelines. Cunningham led the best offense ever in 1998 and was riding the pine in 1999. Brad Johnson 2.0 went 7-2 in ‘05 after Daunte Culpepper got hurt but only 6-8 the next season. George, McMahon and Keenum signed elsewhere after their big seasons in purple.

There is a chance that Mayfield could be great as a Viking. He has twice led teams to playoff wins and in both postseason Divisional Round losses he played well enough to win. He has the arm talent to push the ball downfield to Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison and the moxie to make enough plays outside of structure to make up for some of the reckless throws.

Maybe Kevin O’Connell’s offense is a perfect fit for the aggressive former No. 1 overall pick and his positive coaching style is exactly what Mayfield needs (and he thrived under last year in Tampa Bay). Maybe the Vikings add a guard who blocks like a Mack truck and they add a running game to support Mayfield like when he won 11 games for the Browns under Kevin Stefanski.

Maybe his contract would be flexible enough and the Vikings have set up their salary cap well enough to support a fairly expensive deal that didn’t break the bank.

Of all the teams who could be interested in Mayfield, the Vikings’ weapons, coaching staff and resources make them the most likely location where he could succeed. The Vikings would be competitive and go into each season with him at the helm with a good shot at making the postseason.

Is that what they should really be going for though?

The thought of signing Mayfield carries along some intrigue because he’s an entertaining player who has become an underdog and you can imagine Minnesota being a place that makes good quarterbacks great. But if we were to run 10,000 simulations of Mayfield as a Viking and take into account all the factors of team building around him, what’s the most probable outcome? That the Vikings are pretty competitive and even exciting but aren’t quite good enough to play with the big boys in the playoffs? Could we reasonably project based on his history that he would outperform what Kirk Cousins did over the last six years? Probably not.

As the Vikings consider all of their options, it seems that anyone who can capably toss a football is going to be mentioned but players like Mayfield, Russell Wilson, Sam Darnold, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo aren’t going to change the fate of a franchise that has been banking on these types forever. If they wanted that level of QB they should just stick with Cousins on a Viking-for-life deal.

When the Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell it appeared that they had a multi-year plan to take one last swing at a championship with the remainder of the Zimmer-Spielman players in 2022 and then tear down the older parts of the roster in 2023 and draft a quarterback with the aim to use the surplus cap space created by the rookie QB contract to spend on beefing up the roster to look like the Phillys, San Frans and Dallas’ of the world.

If they went with a different veteran QB with hopes and dreams of more upside than has previously been shown, it would feel more like diverting from the plan despite the fact this year’s QB draft class has plenty to offer.

The road block might be if O’Connell doesn’t see his future franchise QB anywhere except the top three picks and the Vikings aren’t able to swing a trade up to the top. Despite the history that suggests taking a swing at a quarterback is a good move, it would be hard to convince the former QB and ownership that it’s totally cool to roll the dice on somebody they aren’t totally sold on.

Even if O’Connell does like someone from the second tier of QB prospects JJ McCarthy, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr., they all come with questions. Is McCarthy a project? Was Nix a product of the system? Can Penix Jr. be a playmaker?

Dare I say it: What if the guy they pick becomes the next Christian Ponder?

It stands to reason that you would rather risk a QB prospect going bust than continue to go down the same road just with a different name on the back of the jersey, as it seems they would be by signing Mayfield.

It’s worth stopping to note that any of these QB options on a short-term deal and paired with McCarthy/Nix/Penix Jr. would make sense. The point is that just filling the quarterback position isn’t enough. Just getting another guy while the division and conference grabs the likes of Caleb Williams and possibly Jayden Daniels/Drake Maye at No. 1 and 2 overall isn’t enough. Settling for the 10% chance that Mayfield is better than he’s ever been or Russell Wilson finds 2020 again or Sam Darnold unlocks his magic is more risky than flipping a coin with a first-round pick.

Mayfield specifically would make it hard to figure where we should set expectations. If the Vikings signed him (without drafting a first-round QB) and went 8-9, is that different than how we would have viewed Cousins doing the same thing? Or would we give it multiple years because Mayfield is younger than Cousins? What do you do with a QB who isn’t an all-in type and isn’t a bridge type?

The tough part for the Vikings is that they can guarantee a certain level of play if they sign Mayfield or Russell Wilson. They know the guy will be able to learn O’Connell’s offense and win some ballgames. They can’t say that for sure about any of the potential draft picks, even the guys at the very top. That unknown has always scared this franchise. This is the right time to change that rather than going down the path so often traveled. 

Feb 1, 2024; Orlando, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) participates in the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Competition at the UCF NIcholson Fieldhouse.

Feb 1, 2024; Orlando, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) participates in the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Competition at the UCF NIcholson Fieldhouse.