Vikings Offseason Roster Question No. 1: Is Kirk Cousins the Future at Quarterback?
With dreams of a magical deep playoff run dying an unceremonious death in the Bay Area on Saturday, the Vikings head into the 2020 offseason with more crucial decisions awaiting them than they had first downs against the 49ers.
Will they mostly maintain the status quo and try to make some minor tweaks to the current roster? Or will they begin to shake things up in an attempt to go in a different direction over the next few years? The former seems far more likely, but there are still many questions to be asked and weaknesses to be fixed heading into next fall.
This week and throughout the offseason, we'll take a look at some key roster questions facing the Vikings. We start with the most important position in sports.
Question No. 1: Is Kirk Cousins the Vikings' future at quarterback?
Any way you look at it, Kirk Cousins had the best season of his NFL career in 2019. With the help of a system that played to his strengths, Cousins threw for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns, and six interceptions, with a passer rating of 107.4 that was fourth-best in the league. Perhaps most importantly, he won the first playoff game of his career, making some clutch throws to beat the Saints in the wild card round.
Cousins' deep ball accuracy is elite, and he has excellent chemistry with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. He's one of the best play-action passers in the NFL and doesn't make many mistakes. He showed this season that when everything is working, he can be one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
However, his limitations didn't disappear; in fact, they were amplified louder than ever in big moments. Cousins struggled in almost all of the Vikings' losses, especially when he faced pressure. Much of the blame for those losses falls on the Vikings offensive line – which is a topic we'll dive into later this week – but Cousins showed a consistent inability to escape pressure and make plays off-script. He has little to no mobility inside or outside the pocket, which is trait so many of the game's best quarterbacks (Rodgers, Wilson, Jackson, Mahomes, Watson, etc.) possess.
Additionally, his lack of mistakes isn't always a good thing. Too often this season, Cousins settled for a checkdown rather than taking a chance down the field. It happened at times throughout the season, and on numerous plays against the 49ers, as Sage Rosenfels detailed on his Twitter feed on Monday.
As he heads into the final year of a three-year, $84 million deal with the Vikings, Cousins will be the team's starter next season. That's a sure thing. Zimmer said on Monday morning that the Vikings will keep the same offensive system next season in an effort to create some continuity for Cousins, who he believes was "helped by the scheme quite a bit" in his most productive NFL season.
"It’ll be the same system," Zimmer said. "Obviously [Kirk] is going to have a new offensive coordinator. It’ll be his fifth coordinator in five years, I think he told me yesterday, or at least voice in his ear on game day. So I mean there’s nothing I can do about that, but I think it’s important not just for Kirk, but for the entire offense, to have the same system, the same calls and things like that so that when they come in here on day one it’s not completely foreign to them."
"I like the scheme, I like the continuity that we have offensively with the coaches, and I feel like if we add a couple more pieces and continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it’ll definitely help the offensive players."
Heading into 2020, the priority for the Vikings has to be putting Cousins in the best position to succeed. That's why Klint Kubiak, who worked closely with Cousins this year, seems like the heavy favorite to be the next offensive coordinator. That also means upgrading the offensive line, because Cousins clearly needs good pass protection to succeed.
However, they also must think about the future with regards to Cousins. Will they sign him to an extension that will keep him in Minnesota for years to come? Turning 32 in August, Cousins isn't old for a quarterback. If the Vikings believe in him, he could be the guy here for a long time. Even through it might require paying him around $33 million per year, that seemed more and more likely after the win over the Saints.
But with the 49ers loss offering another example of his flaws in big moments, an extension isn't a sure thing. The Vikings could wait until mid-season to decide on offering him an extension, or simply let him play out the final year of his deal and become a free agent. If they're not sold on Cousins long-term, they could take a quarterback with the No. 25 pick in the upcoming draft and let them learn for a year. They could also address the offensive line or another position in the first round and take a late-round QB, or wait until 2021 to potentially draft a signal-caller.
Or, they could hope that this season was just the start of a long run of success for Cousins in a Vikings uniform, and do everything they can to maximize his talents.
When it comes to Cousins and the Vikings' quarterback situation, the questions are plentiful, and their answers are crucial to the direction of this franchise.
The Vikings offseason roster questions series is a deep dive into the biggest decisions facing the Vikings as they look to upgrade their roster in 2020.
Question No. 1: Is Kirk Cousins the Future at Quarterback?