The Minnesota Vikings will reportedly name Kevin O’Connell as their next head coach later in February. Currently the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, O’Connell can’t officially head to Minnesota until after Super Bowl LVI is completed on February 13.
Once that game comes to a conclusion, the real work begins for a Vikings squad coming off a disappointing 8-9 season and entering a new era in Minneapolis.
O’Connell will work with highly-respected new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to find a path forward for this organization. That includes the future of a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who is entering the final year of his contract.
Below, we look at three moves the Vikings must make this off-season after finding what the organization hopes to be the perfect pairing.
Minnesota Vikings must cut the fat from the roster
One of the reasons Vikings fans must be happy about the new regime is the fact that O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah don’t have a built-in relationship with the organization. This means moving off aging and expensive pieces on the roster won’t be as difficult as what we saw under Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman.
- Harrison Smith stats (2021): 73% completion % allowed, 98.7 QB rating allowed
Already a projected $14 million over the 2022 NFL salary cap, the Vikings need to clear a ton of room. The idea here is to make an impact in free agency while building the team in the mold of O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah. Multiple veterans could now ended up being released, including franchise stalwarts such as Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen. If designated post-June 1 cuts, moving off this trio would save Minnesota a whopping $34 million against the cap in 2022.
Minnesota Vikings entertain trade offers for Dalvin Cook and Danielle Hunter
Sensing a theme here? It’s a new era in Minnesota with two up-and-comers calling the shots. Given the make up of the NFC right now, there’s no real reason to believe the Vikings are going to contend for a conference title in 2022. The idea has to be to build this team for 2023 and beyond. If so, moving Cook and Hunter would make a ton of sense in the grand scheme of things.
- Dalvin Cook contract: 5 years, $63 million ($11.88 million 2022 cap hit)
- Danielle Hunter contract: 5 years, $72 million ($26.12 million 2022 cap hit)
That’s just a whole lot of cash for two players who are seemingly replaceable. When healthy, Cook is one of the top all-around backs in the game. The issue here is that aforementioned contract and injury concerns surrounding the Pro Bowl running back. Minnesota also has a youngster in Alexander Mattison who could step in on the cheap (719 total yards, 4.3 yards per touch in 2021).
As for Hunter, the two-time Pro Bowler missed all but seven games to injury in 2021. There’s also concrete evidence that he’s not happy with his current contract. At just 27 years old and having recorded 29 combined sacks in 2019-20, Hunter would net a nice return. The same thing could be said for Cook — helping Minnesota’s brass retool on the fly.
Minnesota Vikings stick with Kirk Cousins…for 2022
Kirk Cousins‘ $45 million cap hit for next season is a real albatross. Short of Minnesota designating him a post-June 1 cut, moving off the quarterback would result in a $45 million dead cap hit. Regardless, Cousins is not being released. He’s been too good during his four-year stint with Minnesota for a new front office to simply bite the bullet and take that dead cap hit.
So, what should the plan be for Cousins in 2022? The status quo. Minnesota can let the veteran play out his contract year under an offensive-minded head coach who had a ton of success with Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles. If Cousins performs well, look to re-sign him in free agency. If not, the Vikings’ new dynamic duo would then be able to find a quarterback of their liking.
- Kirk Cousins stats (2018-21): 68% completion, 16,387 yards, 124 TD, 36 INT, 103.5 rating
Anyone who thinks those are bad numbers should self report to a padded room. Sure there’s issues with the Vikings’ lack of team-wide success under Cousins. That’s understandable. But he should be given a shot to succeed with an offensive-minded head coach. It’s not like the Vikings have many more options given his cap number and the team’s financial hardships.