The Minnesota Vikings will likely look very different in 2023, and there is a decent possibility they could struggle. Having won 13 games this season makes that surprising, but having done so with such a poor defense and need for roster turnover doesn’t put it out of the question.
Then, there is the situation at quarterback with Kirk Cousins.
Coming off another Pro Bowl year, Kirk Cousins set wide receiver Justin Jefferson up on a path that had him trending toward the single-season receiving yardage record. Although Cousins didn’t post as many touchdowns this season and did throw a few more interceptions, his yardage total was the second-highest of his career.
Vikings Face Need for Kirk Cousins Successor
Quarterbacking a team with a truly horrific defense, it was on Cousins to find ways for the offense to hold serve. With Minnesota bringing in head coach Kevin O’Connell, focusing on putting up points would be of the utmost importance. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had limited opportunity for roster turnover last offseason, and Cousins helped to mask that on offense.
Now, heading into an offseason where no one should be safe on defense, Minnesota has plenty of avenues to clear cap space. Unfortunately, Cousins doesn’t necessarily represent one of those avenues. He carries a cap hit of over $36 million, and his dead cap number is over $48 million. Moving on from Cousins at this juncture, with Jefferson looking for his payday, doesn’t make much sense.
What is a probability is that Cousins plays this year as a lame-duck quarterback. There is no reason to extend him again and kick money further down the road. He has earned every dollar the Vikings have paid him, but for a good-not-great option, tying that much up from a salary cap perspective is limiting. As has been the case in the playoffs this season, teams either need an elite talent under center or a young one on a cheap deal.
There aren’t a ton of options to explore for Minnesota this offseason. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan could all be available from the veteran perspective but provide little future to build around. Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill may be options as a stopgap type, but they are both far worse than Cousins. Where the Vikings truly must focus is finding a successor.
Looking at the NFL draft, Adofo-Mensah doesn’t have a first-round pick capable of netting a difference-maker, so this likely will come down to scouting. The Vikings swung on a pick of that ilk when they took Kellen Mond, but it was clear he would never pan out, despite the displeasure shown by then-head coach Mike Zimmer.
Whatever way they get there, it seems this is a crucial juncture for Minnesota to start looking at next steps.
Paying Jefferson the big bucks this offseason appears straightforward, but having no one capable of throwing him the ball a year from now can’t happen. We will probably see skill position players such as Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen gone by then, but if there is no one to utilize T.J. Hockenson, then he won’t matter either. If the Vikings brain trust doesn’t believe their guy is available during the draft’s middle rounds, contingency plans via trade or otherwise must be in motion.
It has been a good ride with Cousins in Minnesota, but rolling with him into his late 30s shouldn’t be an option, and kicking the can down the road again can’t happen.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.