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Questions About Cousins Front & Center as O'Connell Begins Vikings Tenure

EAGAN, Minn. — Kevin O'Connell will call the Vikings offensive plays as the head coach, and he wants Minnesota's offense to look similar to the team he just left.

You know, the Los Angeles Rams? The team that just won Super Bowl LVI?

"The system we run here will have a lot of characteristics of what we did in Los Angeles," O'Connell said Thursday during his introductory press conference. "The ability to have that attacking mindset, the ability to utilize our offense at the line of scrimmage.

"And with that, you have to have ownership of what you're doing to call it, you have to have ownership of what you're doing at the quarterback position to run the offense," O'Connell added. "I feel very strongly about the circumstances and situation here to be really prepared to do that."

Ah yes, the quarterback position.

While O'Connell certainly impressed Thursday in his introductory press conference, it was clear that the main thing people wanted to know was this:

What is the plan with Kirk Cousins?

To quickly recap, Cousins has been Minnesota's starter for the past four seasons, going to a pair of Pro Bowls but making just one trip to the postseason in that time.

Statistically, he's been among the NFL's better quarterbacks, but also has just a 33-29-1 record in 63 starts in Purple.

And as the 2022 offseason rolls along, Cousins is also set to enter the final season of his current contract, which carries a $45 million cap hit.

Essentially, the Vikings have three options: 1. let Cousins play that year out; 2. restructure and extend him (which is what happened in March of 2020); or 3. try to find a trade partner for him, which could involve trying to extend him.

View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his introductory press conference with the media on Feb. 17 at the TCO Performance Center.

And while that decision will play out in the coming weeks and months, here's what O'Connell said about Cousins the first time Thursday.

"Well, I think Kirk has played at a very high level, and he's done a lot of really good things throughout his career," O'Connell said. "I know who he is as a player, and I know what he's capable of, and part of our job as coaches is maximizing a player's ability to go out every single Sunday and have success.

"I feel that's going to be an advantage for us as we build our system offensively, make sure we really focus on the things Kirk does well, which I do think are a lot of aspects of playing the position," O'Connell added. "And help him on a daily basis connect with his team, lead us, be a completely quiet-minded quarterback that can go play because he's talented enough to go do that, putting him in the best possible situations to have success."

O'Connell knows Cousins, as the two spent 2017 together Washington, with O'Connell as Cousins' quarterbacks coach.

Cousins threw for 4,091 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his lone season with O'Connell, and then promptly joined the Vikings as a free agent.

Still, O'Connell — and Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah – were pressed again on whether or not Cousins would be in Purple in 2022 (and beyond).

"I know he's under contract, and I'm excited to coach him," O'Connell said. "We've already started thinking about how we're going to build those systems for him and our other quarterbacks and really the tremendous skill group that we have, our guys up front.

"It takes all 11 to move the football on offense, to run it, to throw it, to score points in the red zone," O'Connell added. "But I'm anticipating Kirk being a part of what we do."

Adofo-Mensah said: "Yeah, just to reiterate, I'm excited that he's excited to coach [Cousins] and lead him, and we're focused on building the team around him to set us up to succeed the best we can."

After O'Connell's press conference was over, Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf held a side session with Twin Cities media members.

Naturally, the topic of Cousins came up quickly.

Zygi Wilf mentioned O'Connell's previous experience with Cousins as a strong potential starting point.

"What's interesting, of course, is that he worked with Kirk for a year over in Washington and he knows him. It's a good start," Zygi Wilf said. "Like he said in the interview, he'll bring the best out of him and he'll boost the offense to another level. Everyone's excited on both sides of the ball to have him here, and we are very excited to have him here, too."

Mark Wilf reiterated a point he made when Adofo-Mensah was introduced at the end of January that ownership expects the Vikings to be competitive in 2022.

"I'm not going to get into any details of contracts and that piece of it," Mark Wilf said. "Kwesi and Kevin have spoken very extensively on it. I certainly do believe, and even more so now that we've got our leadership here in place, that we are built to be successful right away.

"We feel very confident about that, and like you heard before, we're going to work with Kirk as our quarterback and we'll move forward from there. But for 2022, for sure, we're going to be super competitive," Mark Wilf added. "Sustained success is the goal, and I think we have it with this leadership."

View photos of new Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell during his first day at the TCO Performance Center on Feb. 17.

If Cousins is back for his fifth season with the Vikings, the blueprint to follow could be the one O'Connell just helped build with the Rams.

Los Angeles traded for Matthew Stafford last offseason, and promptly got the veteran to play the best football of his career on the way to a world championship.

O'Connell said Thursday that he sees many similarities between Cousins and Stafford, the latter of whom had never won a postseason start (in three trips with Detroit).

"They have a lot of similarities when it comes to the physical nature of throwing the football. I think those guys are elite throwers," O'Connell said. "Accuracy is the number one requirement in this league as a quarterback from a physical standpoint. We can talk a lot about makeup and obviously the ability to process at the line of scrimmage and play fast, but if you can't be accurate with the football, it becomes very difficult to consistently move the ball for an offense.

"I think Kirk, the one thing I've always noticed about him is he's incredibly accurate with the football. He plays with great rhythm and timing and precision, and I think we can build an offensive system like we had in L.A. to take advantage of that skill set," O'Connell continued. "Matthew Stafford is one of the most talented players I've ever been around. I have so much respect for him, obviously from a physical standpoint but also that makeup and that ability to process and do a lot of things at the line of scrimmage.

"I see Kirk being able to do a lot of those things, and I see us being able to build an offense to maximize what he does best, which happens to be what a lot of quarterbacks want to be able to do best," O'Connell added. "A quarterback friendly system where they can have an attacking mindset, aggressive mindset, but I use this term a lot, 'on our terms.' On our terms, to go play the game we want to play and keep it on our terms, and then when it's time to go make plays to win a game, our guys feel really good about going to do that."

With the start of the New League Year (and free agency) less than a month away, and the 2022 NFL Draft set for late April, the timeline on Cousins will be known relatively soon.

No matter which of the three routes the Vikings decide to go with Cousins — letting him play out his final year, extending him or trading him — the storyline will be one of the most fascinating around the league in the coming weeks.

And the decision will set an early tone as the Adofo-Mensah/O'Connell era gets started in Minnesota.