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Minnesota Vikings: Looking at life without Kirk Cousins

Andrew Buller-Russ

Will the Minnesota Vikings trade Kirk Cousins this offseason? That’s the million-dollar question in the Twin Cities right now.

We’ve already seen quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, and Aaron Rodgers settle into their 2022 starting roles, but there are likely several more names who could be on the move over the next few weeks with free agency around the corner.

Despite the new regime appearing to be favorable of Cousins sticking around, with the intention of continuing to build around him, hoping to unlock some hidden potential, a fifth season for Cousins in the North Star State is no guarantee.

Kirk Cousins trade rumors continue to circulate

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

As teams around the league have begun making several moves in an effort to improve their rosters for the 2022 season, new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has been awfully quiet in his new digs. But there’s no doubt he’s been working behind the scenes.

Likely the largest task he’s working through is the future of Kirk Cousins.

There’s likely to be no shortage of suitors for the three-time Pro Bowl QB this offseason. In fact, we’ve already heard of the Carolina Panthers calling, likely the Washington Commanders, and now, the Indianapolis Colts.

These are merely just the reports that have leaked so far, it doesn’t mean there haven’t been others. There’s a strong chance others have inquired.

Back to the Colts report, which, according to Judd Zulgad and Phil Mackey of SKOR North, the Colts recently made a trade inquiry for Cousins, but it didn’t gain much traction, according to the source.

“A little birdie has told Purple Daily that the Colts and Vikings have had a conversation about Kirk Cousins,” Mackey said. “It hasn’t gotten very far to this point because the Vikings aren’t just going to give Kirk Cousins away. But with six days until the league year opens up, there is a lot of conversation happening behind the scenes.”

SKOR North on Kirk Cousins (H/t to Heavy.com)

Related: Kirk Cousins reportedly played role in Minnesota Vikings hiring Kevin O’Connell

What would a Kirk Cousins to the Indianapolis Colts trade look like?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously when two sides talk, there is a lot of pushing and pulling coming from both negotiators. The Colts feel they have a roster mostly built to compete right now, aside from a competent starting quarterback. After all, they went to the playoffs with one season of Philip Rivers at the age of 39 in 2020. Last season with Carson Wentz didn’t quite work out the same, falling just one win shy of the postseason.

Now, in 2022 the Colts feel they can get back to the elimination games as long as they can secure a better QB under center.

As options begin to dwindle down, teams in contention will only grow more desperate. Perhaps the Vikings are playing the waiting game for that exact reason, trying to drive the price up of one of the last remaining starting quarterback options on the market.

Or maybe they simply haven’t received an offer they’re intrigued by just yet, who knows. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the Colts have at least a passing interest in trading for Cousins, and for all we know, he’s their No. 1 priority, but that’s just reckless speculation at this point.

Still, if general manager Chris Ballard is serious about trading for Cousins, what would a potential Vikings-Colts trade look like?

  • Minnesota Vikings trade: Kirk Cousins
  • Indianapolis Colts trade: 42nd pick, 2023 first-round pick

A trade such as this would provide the Vikings with a first-round pick next season in what’s expected to be a more quarterback-rich draft class, including the likes of C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young, while also providing some immediate draft capital should the front office want to move up the draft board.

For the Colts, it gives them a quarterback they feel they can win with while parting with next season’s top draft pick when they’re expected to, based on their expectations, be a playoff team. This means the draft pick is likely to convey somewhere between the 20s to pick 32. Not a bad price to pay, if Cousins can lead them to the playoffs.

Some might say, the Colts wouldn’t part with so much draft capital for a player they also have to pay a large amount to, but what is the better scenario, having $30 million in leftover cap space and Jake Ehlinger as their starting QB, or a player capable of leading them on a playoff run?

Related: Love the Vikings? Get involved in the discussion on the Purple Pain forums

Factors that could lead to a Kirk Cousins trade

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the final year of a contract signed two years ago, Cousins hasn’t exactly shown a willingness to sign another extension to lower his 2022 cap number. Instead, he seems steadfast in his approach to holding up his end of the deal he’s already agreed to, and he likely expects the Vikings to do the same, even though there are now new decision-makers in the front office.

The Vikings would surely appreciate Cousins being willing to entertain at least a short-term extension, even just one year if it means lowering his $45M cap number for 2022. It’s currently the second-highest amount on the books across all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season.

  • Kirk Cousins contract (2022): $35 million base salary, $10 million bonus = $45M cap hit

This is a financial figure that’s generally set aside for franchise-elevators, players who are undeniably crucial to the overall team success.

For Cousins, that argument can’t really be made as most will point to his career record, which sits exactly at .500, having gone 59-59-2 in his starting career.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Cousins is a bonafide starting quarterback. Few would argue otherwise. He’s certainly an accurate thrower, he’s had incredibly productive seasons, such as the 33 TD-7 INT season from 2021, and he’s been able to lead high-powered offenses in multiple seasons.

There’s no one saying he shouldn’t be able to lead a team to the playoffs and be better than his record indicates, yet across 10 seasons, Cousins’ teams have only been to the postseason twice.

Some of the biggest issues that have plagued Cousins’ career has been his inability to thrive when the play breaks down, not to mention a contract that’s set to account for 21.45% of the total 2022 team salary cap number.

Related: Minnesota Vikings talk to QB prospects with Kirk Cousins unlikely to take pay cut

The Vikings may simply opt to start over in a sense. Choosing to wipe the salary cost of Cousins off their books, finding a different quarterback in the hopes that one step backward can eventually mean two steps forward. It’s a big risk, but when missing the playoffs three of the past four seasons has been the result, how much do they have to lose? The answer is, still a lot.

While no fanbase wants to miss the playoffs, a team could go much lower. Some organizations would dream of having a chance each season, always being just a few plays away from contention, instead of folding on their season by Week 6.

In the end, it all comes down to contract negotiations. If Cousins won’t budge on his 2022 salary, not wanting to take something resembling more of a team-friendly deal, they just might call his bluff and trade the QB. Keep in mind, Cousins has noted that he wants to retire a Viking, so if he’s being honest, the front office will give him a chance to put his money where his mouth is.

“I certainly want to be a Minnesota Viking for the rest of my career.”

Kirk Cousins on future with Vikings in January of 2022

Vikings fans are about to find out just how real their starting quarterback is. At the end of the day, no one will blame Cousins for choosing what’s best for him. Just as no one would shame the Vikings for parting ways with Cousins, it’s just business.

Related: Justin Jefferson calls Kirk Cousins a Super Bowl QB, says he’d like to play with Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady

Teams who could emerge as suitors for Kirk Cousins

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As the quarterback carousel continues to turn, there are still several teams who may be feeling left out. Let’s do a quick count of teams who absolutely need to add a starting quarterback yet this offseason.

  • Carolina Panthers
  • Houston Texans
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As you can see, there are still plenty of teams without a quarterback solution for 2022. This should only help both Cousins and the Vikings in their negotiations. For Cousins and his agency, they can smell the desperation. They know there are organizations who wouldn’t balk at his asking price if he were a free agent right now.

And the same is true for the Vikings, they have plenty of trade negotiation leverage to any team that calls. The biggest question that would remain is, what would the Vikings do for a starting quarterback in 2022 if Kirk Cousins is traded?

Related: 3 Kirk Cousins to Carolina Panthers trade scenarios this offseason

Options for Minnesota Vikings after Kirk Cousins

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If the Minnesota Vikings are truly considering trading their starting quarterback who has a relationship with new head coach Kevin O’Connell, well they better have a strong plan in mind. Who might those plans revolve around?

There are several candidates the naked eye may not realize.

For one, the ongoing Deshaun Watson situation bears watching for any team without a franchise quarterback, simply because he’s one of the best in the business. Unlike Cousins, Watson has shown an ability to elevate those around him, even when the talent level wasn’t quite up to par. The Vikings have already reportedly expressed their interest in trading for Watson, depending on what happens with Captain Kirk’s contract.

Then, there’s the befuddling Kyler Murray contract negotiation, which is really only worth mentioning because the 2019 No. 1 overall pick grew up idolizing the Vikings as his favorite team.

And of course, there are names that aren’t so shiny like Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mitchell Trubisky, or Teddy Bridgewater. All of them would likely act as a one-year stopgap at the very least.

Basically, if the Vikings trade Cousins and don’t land Watson or Murray, expect them to have their eyes on selecting either Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis with their 12th selection in April’s draft.

Related: Minnesota Vikings mock draft: 2022 NFL Draft projections and analysis