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Monday Morning Mailbag: Cousins' Extension, Hunter Thoughts & FA Reaction

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Vikings.com Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Vikings.com Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

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Happy that Kirk Cousins and the Vikings were able to come to terms on a contract extension. He had an uneven relationship with the previous coach. His stats are good with exception of overall win-loss record, and it doesn't seem there's anyone else really better overall out in free agency land. All plusses, so good news for this fan.

— Noel Hong

Thinking about not being a Vikings fan. Rewarding Captain Kirk for nothing. Now we have no money for help on the offensive line or anybody else. Very disappointed in the new hires.

— Mike Wolff

The Vikings are planning on being a contender in 2022. And they will attempt that approach with Kirk Cousins under center, with the quarterback fresh off a one-year contract extension.

That mindset became clear in the past week. Here is what Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah briefly said about the Cousins move on Thursday.

"A lot of things we talk about in terms of free agency, the first part of it, are keeping your own talent. Along those lines, really happy that we got an extension done with Kirk. We thought it was really important, a win-win solution for the player and the organization. It gives us the opportunity to add other players around him, but it also gives [Vikings Head Coach] Kevin [O'Connell] and Kirk time to get in the lab and really see how far we can take this team. So, we're excited about that outcome."

View the best photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from the 2021 season.

It's worth noting that Adofo-Mensah will hold another press conference on Wednesday or so of this week, so we'll get the chance to ask him deeper questions on the extension.

A quick note before we dive into what the Cousins move means for all parties involved.

As always, the questions selected for the Mailbag represent a wide scope of what the Vikings fan base thinks.

That aside, there are two big factors here in play for why Minnesota's front office decided to go with the extension.

The first, as always, is money. According to overthecap.com, the Cousins' extension saved the Vikings roughly $14 million dollars in 2022 cap space and significantly reduced his previous 2022 cap hit of $45 million.

According to overthecap.com, Cousins' cap hits for the next two seasons are now around $31 and $36 million, respectively. Still sizable hits, for sure, but not above the $40-million mark and far less than what his cap hit would have been this year.

Reason No. 2, and Adofo-Mensah alluded to this, is the chance to see how Cousins plays under O'Connell, who was his quarterbacks coach in Washington in 2017.

By all accounts, O'Connell appears to be a brilliant offensive mind and has talked openly about communicating and connecting with his players in any way possible.

Let me state if it here: it wouldn't be a surprise if Cousins produces the best season of his career, especially now that he'll be working with a head coach that has a similar vision as him, and one that he's familiar with.

But on the flip side…

As Mike's email alludes to, there were plenty of fans who wondered aloud why the decision to extend Cousins was a good one.

The move clearly signals that the Vikings believe they can win now. If they didn't, perhaps they would have hit the reset button and traded him away, starting fresh at that position.

But the onus is now clearly on Cousins and O'Connell to prove their relationship and familiarity with one another is what helps get the Vikings over the hump in 2022, something that Minnesota hasn't done since Cousins arrived in 2018. (And no, one playoff win in four seasons isn't getting over the hump).

And while I believe O'Connell is going to bring fresh offensive ideas and an overall great energy to the building, let's not forget that Cousins has worked with other solid offensive coaches in his time here or elsewhere.

In his 10 total seasons, Cousins has had Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden as head coaches in Washington, as well as Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel, Gary Kubiak, Kevin Stefanski and O'Connell as a coordinator or position coach at some point. That is a who's who list of offensive football minds, and every single one of them are either a current head coach or were one in the past.

In his four seasons in Purple, Cousins is 33-29-1 as the starter with one playoff appearance. And in 120 career starts, he is a dead-even .500 starter at 59-59-2. The Vikings, as a team, haven't been above .500 in the regular season in more than 800 days.

The bet the Vikings appear to be making is that a fresh start at the GM and head coach spots — and not one at the QB position — is going to be the difference between the past four years and the one coming up.

Besides Mike's email, others wondered why the Vikings would continue to pay Cousins such a significant amount of money – even if it was reduced after the extension — instead of going with a younger and cheaper option.

Minnesota could have potentially traded Cousins (and perhaps others on the roster) and loaded up on picks in 2022 and 2023, potentially sacrificing the near future for possible long-term gains.

Now, the Vikings will try to run it back with Cousins (and many other players) who went through the past four seasons that were collectively disappointing.

I'm a firm believer that new GMs and head coaches should get time to get their own players in the building and make changes they feel suitable.

But Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell bypassed a big equation of that process by hanging on to a quarterback who has put up strong stats, but as Noel mentioned in his email, hasn't been the biggest winner in Purple.

Time will tell on whether or not the Cousins extension works out. It very well might, but that must mean a deep playoff run right away.

Because if the Vikings end up without a playoff berth for the third straight season, the many fans who sent in emails upset with the move will surely wonder why Minnesota chose to repeat a cycle that hasn't really worked in recent seasons.

Hello from the complaint department. So, the Vikings give Cousins an extension, but are shopping Danielle Hunter? If Hunter is gone, get ready for another tire-spin season. He isn't the be-all/end-all of the team, but he sure is a force, and it seems plenty contradictory to let him go for a franchise that's "all in."

— Steven Terry

Lots of outside speculation on Hunter, who is among the most complex cases on the Vikings current roster.

Much like the Vikings had with Cousins before free agency, the Vikings appear to have three options with Hunter going forward.

They could do nothing, paying him a hefty roster bonus and keeping him under contract for the next two seasons. Or, much like Cousins, Minnesota could choose to extend or trade him.

Two of those three options keep Hunter on the roster going forward, which would make sense based on the Cousins' extension … which signals, once again, the Vikings feel like they can and should win now.

When healthy, Hunter is still among the best edge defenders in the league. In his past 39 starts, Hunter has racked up 36 sacks and 42 tackles for loss. That is incredible production.

View the best photos of Vikings DE Danielle Hunter from the 2021 season.

Alas, Hunter's health has been an issue of late. He missed the entire 2020 season with a fluky neck injury, then endured a bad break in 2021 when he suffered a torn pec after recording 6.0 sacks in seven games.

If he can stay healthy, and that is a fair question to ask about Hunter right now, then he's still a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball.

Of course, the money has to be figured out, just as it always does in the NFL (and in life).

The Vikings front office might feel like they can get solid value for Hunter and trade him to another team, a move that would free up more than $25 million of cap space and also hopefully net major draft capital.

However, and this speaks to Steven's point, does trading Hunter make the Vikings the best team possible in 2022? Remember, the Cousins extension makes it clear as day that Minnesota expects to win now.

But if Hunter is traded, then arguably the Vikings best defensive player is now out the door. And this is already a defense that still needs help, even after the signings or Harrison Phillips and Jordan Hicks in free agency.

We should know soon which direction the Vikings go with Hunter. And when that choice is made, we'll also know what vision Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell really have for Minnesota in 2022.

I don't think drafting a wide receiver in the first round ever crossed my mind until recent developments in the division. With more pressing needs at other positions, the front office will undoubtedly do what's best for the franchise. But what better way for the new regime to come in and add some excitement to a fan base than by drafting a prospect who can end up being Justin Jefferson's full-time running mate when Adam Thielen does start to decline? Skol!

— Todd Jewell

As I wrote last week, cornerback is one of the top positions of need on the roster. And that stance hasn't changed after the first wave of free agency, as Kris Boyd, Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Hand and Parry Nickerson remain the only cornerbacks under contract.

And there's a reason that all 17 experts in the most-recent Vikings 2022 Mock Draft Tracker went with a defensive player, including numerous cornerbacks at Pick No. 12.

But Todd's point about drafting a wide receiver in the first round isn't as far-fetched as one might think.

Imagine this extremely hypothetical scenario. The emphasis here is on extremely hypothetical.

What if the Vikings do trade Hunter and get a high draft 2022 pick? Then they use the 12th pick on a wide receiver and address defense with that pick received.

All of the sudden, you're looking at an offense featuring Cousins, Jefferson, Thielen, K.J. Osborn, a first-round rookie WR, Irv Smith, Jr., Dalvin Cook, two high-end offensive tackles and a decent starting left guard.

You still need to work on the interior of the line, but that's a very solid group, and one that would give O'Connell plenty of tools to work with in his first season as head coach.

Again, that situation is extremely hypothetical.

But if it were to happen, that first-round rookie wouldn't need to be a star right away like Jefferson was. If he is, great!

But he could also be the fourth passing option behind Jefferson, Thielen and Smith, with Osborn and Cook also big-time threats, too.

If that does indeed happen, then the Vikings would surely expect to win in 2022 behind an offense that would be counted on to be one of the best in the league. And the expectation for that unit would be a top-five offense based on the talent and resources provided.

We're about five weeks away from the 2022 NFL Draft, and the chatter will certainly ramp up as we get closer. But at this point in time, if a high-caliber wide receiver is sitting there at No. 12, it might not be a bad idea for the Vikings to pounce.

View photos of the Vikings 2022 coaching staff.

I've watched James Lynch over the last few years, I have to say, I love the way he plays. Maybe a throwback to Chris Hovan? What's the story on the internal development of our interior defensive guys like him?

— Matt Boffa in Sparta, New Jersey

A few thoughts here on Lynch.

First, I'm in agreement with Matt that he flashed some potential last season. But it's also fair to say he has a ways to go to make the impact that Hovan did on the interior.

One thing I'm interested in with Lynch — plus others such as Armon Watts, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Kenny Willekes and Janarius Robinson — is how they fit into the Vikings new 3-4 scheme?

It's a safe bet that Phillips will handle the nose tackle role right in the middle, which would then shift Dalvin Tomlinson to one of the other two defensive linemen with his hand in the dirt. Maybe Lynch and Watts battle for playing time at that spot?

And as it pertains to standup players in the outside linebacker role in a 3-4, Hunter would occupy a spot if he's here. That would leave Wonnum, Jones, Willekes and Robinson at those spots, although some of them could fit into the defensive end role inside, too.

That also doesn't factor in any more potential free agents the Vikings add, or any edge players selected in the draft.

As I've noted before here, so much of what we'll know about the Vikings defense will be figured out this spring and summer. In years past, it seemed like the same players plugged into the 4-3 scheme and there weren't many changes.

Now, all eyes will be on how the Vikings line up, who lines up where and what impact that unit can make in 2022 after back-to-back subpar seasons.

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