EAGAN, Minn. — Kirko Chainz became a phenomenon in the past two Vikings seasons with memes and impersonators of multiple ages popping up across the internet and in stadiums.
The fun began in fall 2022 when teammates placed chains on Kirk Cousins at the front of the team's charter after road wins. Whether Cousins wore a white T-shirt or got teammates even more fired up by going shirtless in first class (please don't try on a commercial flight, by the way), the look — and the victories — were well received.
Another viral moment occurred this season when Cousins and his oldest son Cooper took off their shirts to reveal chains as they sounded the Gjallarhorn in Week 17. The crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium erupted at the sight, but it wasn't enough to propel the Vikings to victory against the Packers.
The chains, real or fake, have been quite conspicuous, but behind the scenes are where the links with teammates are the strongest.
Right tackle Brian O'Neill and receiver K.J. Osborn were asked about Cousins on Monday as players cleaned out their lockers at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
O'Neill said, "Absolutely. One thousand, million percent," when asked if he hopes Cousins returns. He added, "I can talk about Kirk for the next two hours if you want. He has that kind of impact on the locker room."
Most offensive linemen aren't famously loquacious, particularly during an open locker room session, even if O'Neill was comfortable holding court. Rather than two hours, we'll summarize a bit.
O'Neill noted Cousins' first days in the NFL as a fourth-round pick to a Washington team that had also used the No. 2 overall pick to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III.
"He maximizes 100 percent of everything he's given, and that story is relatable for a lot of guys," O'Neill said. "Regardless of what everybody in the world believes or whatever their purpose is, moral compass or how they go about their life, their philosophy, everybody can look at Kirk and say, 'Whatever his is, he lives that fully, 100 percent every day,' and he's more true to himself than most people I've ever met. He's true to himself, his preparation, his beliefs, and he's a baller."
Osborn entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2020. He played exclusively on special teams as a rookie, but by 2021 had earned Cousins' trust as a reliable receiver in some particularly clutch moments, like a game-winner at Carolina that season and a go-ahead touchdown against Detroit in September 2022.
"Kirk is my guy, man. I'm almost speechless, at a loss for words when I really reflect on what Kirk has meant for me in my career," Osborn said. "We had something last week, and I just told him how blessed I am to be with a person like him and a teammate and a quarterback and somebody that can lead this organization.
"I think we have so many characteristics alike, which makes us close, but he means so much on the field, off the field, how he prepares," Osborn added. "He's a pro. He's really meant a lot on my life and in my career, so whether we play together again or not, he's definitely somebody I'll keep in touch with."
Osborn caught 50 passes in 2021, 60 in 2022 and 48 this past season when the Vikings started four different quarterbacks for the first time in franchise history. Osborn is set to hit the free agency market for the first time in his career and could field offers from other teams.
Much of the speculation regarding the Vikings has been about Cousins' future. His contract expires in March, potentially placing him on the path to free agency for the first time in six years. He's been on the mend from the Achilles injury he suffered in Week 8 at Green Bay. The rehab efforts have been encouraging.
Cousins was asked what is most important to him as he considers his future.
"I think it ultimately is about winning football games, and so that will be the most important thing," Cousins said. "With that, no one thing is in a vacuum. Usually you win football games because there are some other factors that are really important to me that are going to have to be there to be able to win football games, so it ultimately all ties together. The factors work together, but I certainly believe we can do that here."
Cousins also was asked about the notion of a "hometown discount," a phrase used to describe taking less money than what another team might present on the market in order to remain with a club.
"I do think it's important to be aware of. I think God has blessed me financially beyond my wildest dreams, so at this stage in my career, the dollars are really not what it's about," Cousins said. "I had a coach who I was with, who was a younger coach at the time, this was back eight, nine years ago, before my first franchise tag [in Washington], and we were talking about the situation and he made a great comment and he said, 'Kirk, it's not about the dollars, but it is about what the dollars represent.' I thought that was an interesting comment that he made. There will always be some of that, but at today's point, structure is probably more important."
Cousins has described an interest in returning to Minnesota, and the Vikings leaders plan to have good dialogue with his agent, Mike McCartney.
Asked specifically about the comments O'Neill shared regarding him, Cousins said, "I'm not surprised in the sense that I know the kind of love that our teammates have for one another."
"That's a feeling that is mutual, back toward Brian, as well from me, and to many other people in this locker room," Cousins added. "We've been in it together a lot, through a lot of ups and downs, and so I know we'd all be able to do it again and get back together again and try to make another run."