Does Chiefs Super Bowl Victory Prove Vikings Should Move On From Kirk Cousins?
The 49ers had the better offensive line, defensive line, running game, secondary...the list goes on.
The Chiefs had Patrick Mahomes.
Ultimately, that was all that mattered in last weekend's Super Bowl. The 49ers, boasting one of the most talented, well-rounded rosters in recent memory, took a 20-10 lead and appeared to be on their way to a championship. Then Mahomes worked his magic, and in the blink of an eye, the Chiefs were celebrating a 31-20 victory and the franchise's first Lombardi Trophy in 50 years.
In some ways, Super Bowl LIV was an embodiment of the biggest long-term decision facing the Vikings as they move forward. The 49ers are the best version of what Minnesota, as currently constructed, can aspire to be. They're what the Vikings would look like with a great offensive line and defensive line, elite cornerback play, and a brilliant offensive coach. And even though the 49ers had all of those things, it wasn't enough to overcome their disadvantage at the most important position in the game. Jimmy Garappolo's flaws – and the brilliance of Mahomes – were the deciding factor on Sunday.
In Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have their own version of Garappolo. Both are highly-paid, firmly above-average quarterbacks. Cousins can safely be considered a bit better than Jimmy G, considering he outperformed him in 2019 with a worse offensive line, but the gap isn't huge. Both guys can win division titles and playoff games with the right situation around them.
But neither of them is Mahomes. They're not fellow Super Bowl winners Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Drew Brees, either. On Sunday, the Chiefs showed just how valuable it is to have a game-changing quarterback, especially one on a rookie deal. The three or four best quarterbacks in the league can elevate the talent around them and make up for a team's weaknesses. Cousins and Garappolo, for as good as they are, aren't in that tier.
If one chooses to go with this line of thinking, the Vikings shouldn't be satisfied with above-average at quarterback, and they should continue looking for an elite difference-maker to put them over the top. What could that look like? It could mean giving up a great deal – in the form of players and draft picks – to move up in the upcoming first round of the draft. Could they get high enough to draft Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who has some injury concerns but showed "special" qualities in college and will likely go in the top five? Would they move up for someone else, such as Oregon's Justin Herbert, Washington's Jacob Eason, or Utah State's Jordan Love?
Maybe it means addressing an urgent need in the first round and taking someone like Georgia's Jake Fromm in the second round or Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in the third or fourth. Back in early October, when Cousins had struggled mightily in losses to the Packers and Bears, I looked at all of the above names – and LSU's Joe Burrow, who is a lock to go No. 1 overall – as potential replacements. When Cousins took off in the middle of the season, that discussion mostly went away. But maybe it shouldn't. Maybe, even though Cousins finished fourth in the league in passer rating, the Vikings should still be actively looking for someone who can make plays outside of the pocket and lead them to a Super Bowl. Maybe they should do what Kansas City did in 2017 and not be satisfied with Alex Smith, but look for their Patrick Mahomes.
In turn, one must acknowledge the other side of the argument, which can be divided into two parts. The first is that it isn't as simple as finding the next Mahomes. If it was, everyone would do it. Mahomes is a once-in-a-generation type of talent and is already on track to go down as one of the greatest of all time. There are far, far more examples of first round quarterbacks, even those taken first overall, never reaching the level of play that Cousins showed in 2019. The second part of the counter-argument is to look at just how close Garappolo and the 49ers came to winning on Sunday. They used their overall talent to cruise through the NFC playoffs, and they had Mahomes on the ropes. If a couple plays, coaching decisions, or referee whistles had gone differently, they could've easily been the ones holding a parade this week.
Perhaps, that goes to show that the Vikings could, in fact, win a championship with Cousins at the helm. It would require hitting on early-round picks at cornerback, offensive line, and/or defensive tackle. It would require retaining some key pieces in free agency, and maybe even adding a solid contributor or two. It would require their key pieces on offense and defense staying healthy, and their changes at both coordinator positions bringing new life to the team.
Maybe, if everything worked out and they got a couple breaks, the Vikings could win it all with just above-average at quarterback. Or, maybe, they should keep looking for their Mahomes.