EAGAN, Minn. – Kirk Cousins is still very much a part of this Minnesota Vikings football team.
He's had to learn a new routine since suffering a torn Achilles at Green Bay in Week 8, but his presence in the building – and specifically the quarterbacks room – continues to be felt in a positive way.
Cousins spoke to media members Friday afternoon, standing at a podium with a gray walking boot on his right foot. The 35-year-old is recovering from surgery for the first time in his 12-season NFL career.
Orthopedic Surgeon J. Chris Coetzee performed the surgery at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Viking Lakes location next to the team's headquarters.
"I have never gone through this, so I was really confused as to, 'How do I most strategically use my time?' " Cousins acknowledged. "Just trial and error, I feel like my time is best used coming to the quarterback meetings and kind of having that hour, hour-and-a-half, with the quarterbacks to see the game plan, learn it, offer the occasional thought if I have one, but mostly just be a part of that."
Cousins has been able to be a resource for Joshua Dobbs, who joined the Vikings via trade on Oct. 31 and, when rookie Jaren Hall suffered a concussion at Atlanta later that week, stepped in and helped lead Minnesota to an improbable win.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said earlier this week he's been grateful for Cousins' insight and impact.
"In addition to him being out in the community and just the way he feels about his role within the Twin Cities and his connection with our fans, he has been fantastic in the building already," O'Connell said. "Based upon the timeline, we really didn't think we'd be able to have him much in the building, [but] he has already been in a bunch of quarterback meetings, and I know he and Josh have talked a lot, he and I have talked a lot."
O'Connell said he's giving Cousins "projects" to work on.
"He knows our offense. He knows it as well as any of us, pretty much. Whether he is watching some third downs or first and second downs trying to find a good look for an explosive or a keeper play-pass – it is kind of similar to our normal dialogue of Monday and Tuesday," O'Connell explained. "And as he gets into his tape study, I just asked him, 'I just want you to be involved. I just want you to be around our team. Be around.' He is going to start traveling when he gets cleared to do that. I think it will be a huge bonus for everybody to have him around."
Cousins plans to be on the practice field sidelines more as his mobility increases but, until then, is happy to support in whatever capacity he's asked.
"[O'Connell] said basically, 'Text me thoughts you have on the game plan, the d-coordinator, the third-down plan, whatever you have," Cousins said. "I'll have a thought, but at the same time, I'll let them do their thing, let Josh do his thing and make myself available."
Cousins appreciates the chance to maintain a role within the team and is excited about the direction Minnesota is headed. He recalled speaking to reporters when the Vikings started 0-3, then when they were 1-4, and he's enjoyed watching them stay on track, extending the current win streak to five games.
There was, Cousins admitted, a brief moment after being loaded onto the medical cart at Lambeau Field that he took in the scenery in front of him and wondered if it would be his last time playing football.
He offered media a look inside his head from the point the tendon first tore, detailing his inner monologue that first assumed a sprained ankle.
"When I did it, I thought, 'Oh, another sprained ankle. A couple of tough weeks of rehab, but we'll play through it,' " Cousins said. "Garrett [Bradbury] helped me get up, and I went to press into the ground, and I thought the ground fell down because I felt no ground. 'OK, that's a problem.' I started walking and thought, 'Maybe it's like a nerve or the nerve has been firing because I don't feel my foot,' which again, I was like, 'It's all right. We'll work through that. I can handle not feeling my foot.' And then, 'I can't even walk,' so I just started hopping.
"I'm like, 'I don't think I tore it.' I don't know whether to call it denial or cluelessness, but Dr. Coetzee, I was just giving him 'day one install, you tore your Achilles,' and then we went into the blue tent and I put my foot up, took my sock off, and he basically [felt it] for half a second and said, 'Yeah, you tore it,' " Cousins said. "I kind of laid back on the table and took a deep breath. 'OK,' but I also wanted to win the game. I wanted to leave Lambeau with a win. That's a special place to leave with a win, so as we were carting off, I was looking at the guys, 'You better come back to that locker room with a win,' and they did."
Now almost two full weeks removed from the injury, Cousins no longer wonders if he'll play football again – he's confident that he will – but still acknowledged questions up ahead.
It's no secret Cousins is slated to become a free agent following the 2023 campaign, and while he continues to feel strongly about remaining a Viking, he emphasized he isn't yet thinking that far ahead.
"Certainly your mind goes there, and you know that's coming, but similar to what we said in April or August, March will happen in March, February will happen in February. Those conversations will happen, but it's just not time for them," Cousins said. "We've got so much to focus on this season. Guys are playing so well, and that's really where the attention needs to be. That's where my attention will be. We'll cross that bridge when we get there."
"I'm excited to kind of write the next chapter and see what God wants to do with it, whatever it might be," he said, referencing his Christian faith. "And just kind of been reminded again that it's not my career. It's His career that I steward. And I've just got to surrender myself and let Him lead where He wants to go. And when that's a torn Achilles, I have to accept it just as much as if it's a win on Monday Night Football."
Cousins leans heavily on that faith while also admitting the reality of his emotions in the face of adversity.
He laughed that he "Googled the five stages of grief" as early as that Sunday night after returning home to Minnesota.
"I don't think it's stages; I think all five just swirl all at once – for the last couple weeks. But I had a great meeting with [Vikings Team Clinician] Dr. [Brownell] Mack, talking through that, and he had a great line last night he texted me. He said, 'When you face adversity like this, you'll look back down the road, and many times you're better because of it, not in spite of it,' " Cousins shared. "I thought that was a good point. That it's not something you look back and say, 'Oh, in spite of that, I did this or was a part of this.' It's more of a, 'Because that happened, it made me better and enabled me to go where I want to go.' So that's kind of the way I want to look at it, and you kind of have to check back in five years and say, 'What happened?' Until then, you're just on the journey.
"I'm still mad. I'm still disappointed," Cousins later added. "But then you go right back to all the things you know: I can't change it, you've gotta move forward. It's what we sign up for when we step between the white lines, and I'm fortunate to have come this far and not had a surgery in football. You're also very grateful, too. I just believe that there's more to the story up ahead. That's what I really believe in the core of my being."