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Vikings Mailbag: Kirk Cousins Edition

Although we normally post Mailbag only on Monday mornings (and updated them this year for the first time), there were so many emails sent this week that I wanted to do a special edition that focused on Kirk Cousins, who just wrapped his fifth season in Minnesota.

The regular edition of the Mailbag will be back next Monday.

As a reminder, click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag.

In case you missed it, General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell put a bow on their first season in Minnesota with a collective press conference Wednesday.

Adofo-Mensah was asked about the possibility of extending Cousins and answered, "It's our expectation that he'll be our quarterback, but I can't say exactly how that would look. Again, we have everything at our disposal, and we'll consider those things just like we will with everyone else on the roster."

O'Connell was asked about the next set of goals for Cousins.

"When I envisioned this offense and his fit within the offense and then watching him really flourish throughout the year and come to life in big moments," O'Connell said, "his toughness, his durability, his ability to go out there each and every week and try to put our offense in optimal situations through his play and his leadership, his ownership of the offense.

"I thought his growth from the beginning to the end and just our personal dialogue week in and week out with the game plan. I'm excited for not only Kirk but a lot of our players who will now have a year in the system and can really build off that," O'Connell added. "We can evaluate all the things that we did and all the things that we did well, things that we need to improve and then tie our players into that, as far as how we foundationally build that, starting day one of our offseason program. We're going to want to have a clear-cut plan of where we want to take our offense and continue to grow roles and responsibilities within it, and I think Kirk will be leading the charge with that, with his ability now one year in to know there is not so much learning that needs to take place of the base way of doing things. Now we can tweak, now we can adapt, now we can evolve and continue to allow him to feel as comfortable as possible with what we're asking for him to do, and I think that's where real growth can come."

Although his season-long passer rating (92.5) was 11 points lower than what he totaled through his first four seasons with Minnesota, Cousins tied an NFL record set in 2016 by Matthew Stafford with eight fourth-quarter comebacks. That was two more than the six he recorded with the Vikings from 2018-21.

Cousins was unable to match that Sunday, as Minnesota's final four pass plays resulted in an incompletion on a deep pass to Adam Thielen, an under-pressure checkdown to Dalvin Cook for a gain of 2, an incompletion to K.J. Osborn and a 3-yard gain to T.J. Hockenson when Minnesota faced a fourth-and-8. We'll get into a bit more of that below, but sneak peak, it wasn't all Cousins' fault.

Was watching the final interview with Kirk Cousins with the media.

Of course, nobody likes to lose, but the young man is a class act, as are many of those kids who play for the Vikings.

He made a comment about the media in this market being so informed and perceptive in the game, and in what type of questions they asked during the season. He is correct.

He ended his comments in thanking the local media for being so informed as they went about their job. He is correct in that also.

It stuck me that there was an opportunity for the media to get up and applaud the young man as he was leaving the spotlight at the end of the Vikings season.

How wonderful that would be for the local media to do that in the future, as so many of these kids are courteous in their answers, and so encouraged to do something good for others by ownership.

What is special about this area of the country is that some of those very good basic values are so ingrained in the population. Seems a good way to accentuate that going forward.

Skol.

— Bruce Malby

Appreciate the comments here that remind folks of the human elements. Football is entertaining, enthralling and something in which people invest their energy and passion. It's one of the reasons that makes covering an NFL team so incredibly special.

Cousins puts in so much work behind the scenes to try to be his best for teammates, coaches and fans in games — my hope is someday we can spotlight his prep work with more depth.

His position requires a deep knowledge of the game, and everyone is able to benefit from media sessions in which he explains more about playing quarterback in the NFL, which helps those of us who haven't played quarterback in the NFL — or in my case, at any level beyond a backyard or intramural field.

Bruce is referring to what Cousins made a point to say while he was still reeling from Sunday's loss. Even though he was expecting to replay everything in his mind instead of sleeping that night, he concluded his media session with the following:

"Thank you for your hard work all season. It was obviously fun winning 13 games. It was fun to have the weekly pressers and talk. Hopefully we can do more of that, more winning up ahead and continuing to be fun. I appreciate the way, especially our local media, really get it right, study it, cover it, dig in and get the facts. I really appreciate you guys and the way you go about it. It's very classy. It's a great media market and it's a real privilege for me to be able to play in a media market like this thanks to you guys. We'll keep working and continue to have the goal that someday I'm standing here talking to you all, and it's a much bigger stage."

While I don't think an ovation from the media is in line or required, I do think respectful relationships are important and wish they prevailed throughout sports and beyond. I started my career covering high schools a long time ago, and it was important to me that I never tried to make a high school athlete look bad with the way I wrote things. I continued that in covering college athletics and the NFL, which is much different with adult, paid, professionals taking the field instead of teenagers. If things go well, we say what went well. If they don't, we say what happened but don't pile on people as we try to figure out why.

But in today's age of hot takes and anger-fueled-content-creation strategy and social media reactions, there does seem to be a lot of piling on by media personalities (there's a difference in my mind between media personalities and journalists), particularly when people don't feel the need to establish or maintain a relationship with an athlete or coach.

I also believe there's a great deal of nuance that gets smothered by the overflowing emotions or desire to generate a buzz through stylized but sometimes not fully informed delivery.

That brings us back to our desire to explain what it's like to play quarterback — or any of the other positions — to continue to advance the understanding.

QBs have to try to feel the rush while surveying options and get the ball out before the protection window expires.

You see the rusher coming so clearly when watching, but the QB must focus on the defense's coverage and his targets. There are multiple times when he has to get up off the ground after getting walloped, take a deep breath, listen to the play call, relay it in the huddle or at the line and be on the lookout for other pre-snap adjustments.

Aside from Cousins' weekly and postgame sessions, there's been a few times I've interviewed him for specific stories. Colleagues have spent even more time with him on special features, and we know there's more than what reverberates in the national narrative — so do several external media members here who have worked in greater depth.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be differences of opinion or that people can't expect a high level of performance or be critical. But I have been amazed at how polarized opinions are toward Cousins and believe there's a spot for the ultimate Kirk "Stans" to meet and have a conversation with Cousins' critics.

Why didn't Cousins go for the first down at the end?

— James Saunders in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

You knew when the play happened just how much it was going to be shown on loop, but Cousins candidly lamented the throw to Osborn the most. You can hear the disappointment in his voice during his comments.

He didn't lead the receiver as far as he wanted, and defensive back Cor'Dale Flott was able to recover and break up the pass that Osborn had to slow down and wait for. On the final play, Cousins again was under duress as the ball was thrown.

People — including yours truly in the moment — couldn't believe a ball was thrown so far shy of the sticks on Minnesota's final pass attempt, but Cousins explained his decision after the game. He noted wanting to avoid a sack and at least give a teammate a chance, but Hockenson was immediately smothered.

Thielen and Justin Jefferson were running routes well beyond the line to gain (nearly two minutes remained in the game), and Osborn had inside leverage but also was well beyond the line to gain. Cook was available for a checkdown and would have had some space between catching the ball and safety Tony Jefferson, but that also would have been a throw well behind the line of scrimmage, so that's asking Cook to gain significant ground and elude a defender who would have likely had an angle in pursuit.

Thielen had a 1-on-1 with heavy contact from a defender down the left sideline, and Jefferson's route took him into a triple team, which was the "best bad option" back at Buffalo on fourth-and-18 in Week 10.

While the easiest thing is to go with what was most visible on the TV copy (the 3-yard pass), there were other elements affecting the ill-fated play, including the missed opportunities on the three plays before that one.

There is so much more talent and football knowledge on the coaching staff than I can offer, but I would not have minded a run play on the second-down pass because the Vikings were going to get the clock stoppage for the 2-minute warning, whether it was a run or pass play. That would have given the line a bit of a breather at a time when New York's front was charging hard and may have created a more favorable distance on third and fourth down.

View game action photos from the Vikings-Giants Wild Card game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Jan. 15, 2023.

Obviously disappointed to see the Vikings bow out so early in the postseason, but overall, I'm so proud of what they've achieved. I can't imagine anyone thought we'd be 13-4 going into this season, so to achieve that in the first season of a new regime is encouraging.

Kirk had a terrific season, and I think fans need to remember that, rather than focus on that last decision, which was made in the split second he had before being taken down.

What do you think needs to be our focus going into the offseason? Obviously, we've seen a lot of points given away by our defense, but with the amount of talent we have there, I feel it's more of a coaching issue than anything, so it'd be best to look at getting Kirky some support on the O-line.

Looking forward to seeing what this group can do next season, with a tougher schedule to overcome.

— Nicola (Skol from Durham, England!)

The Vikings managed to limit injuries to starters for much of the season, but the bug bit hard down the final stretch. Garrett Bradbury was sidelined after playing the Jets on Dec. 4 until returning for Sunday's game. Austin Schlottmann filled in for Bradbury until suffering an injury on Minnesota's fifth play at Green Bay. He was replaced by Chris Reed in that game and against the Bears.

Minnesota also lost Brian O'Neill to a non-contact injury early against the Packers. He was replaced by Olisaemeka Udoh, who started at Chicago and on Sunday against New York.

So, one priority is getting injured linemen healthy. Contracts for Bradbury and Schlottmann are expiring at the end of the league year, so figuring out whether to extend either or both will be important. Reed signed a two-year contract last April.

Rookie Ed Ingram was the only player to be on the field for every offensive snap in 2022, but he experienced a learning curve that usually happens to young offensive linemen. With O'Neill and Christian Darrisaw, the Vikings have two young players under contract on the edges, but they'll have multiple decisions on the interior.

View images from the Vikings locker room at TCO Performance Center on Monday as players cleaned out their lockers at the end of the 2022-23 season.

I've written in several times. I'm a 50-year fan and continue to be disappointed, and I see the same issues each year. I think the culture needs to change. Different coaches and players but same sad results. I heard Chris Broussard call them "soft." I don't think it's that but an attitude. Any fan of the Vikings can see where they're headed every year. Have good offense one season, and the defense is less than stellar. Then, the defense will be lights out and the offense is weak. As Mike Florio says, Cousins will play great and is guaranteed to make a bonehead one (the checkdown to TE for 3 yards when it's fourth-and-8). All year he throws to J.J. in double/triple coverage (Bills game!). Frustrated way too long! Will they ever get it right? I could go on forever but why bother? Over 50 years of this. Don't know if I can stand it any longer.

— Frankie in Connecticut

I think most would say quite a bit of culture and approach changed in the first season under O'Connell.

"Soft" is a moniker no football team wants. Teams would rather be "bad" than labeled as "soft." But we did see the Giants offense and defense repeatedly win on the line of scrimmage, not too dissimilar from some other games in recent years (San Francisco playoff game in January 2020 and again at the 49ers last season come to mind).

The Vikings shifted from a run-first mentality to a pass-first approach, but a consequence of that is the number of hits Cousins repeatedly took.

Jefferson in a 1-on-1 is a lot more than a 50-50 ball in his favor. Jefferson in a 1-on-2 might still be worth a shot. Jefferson in a 1-on-3 means it's time for a teammate to make a play — or take the improbable chance that succeeded at Buffalo and hope for the best.

View behind-the-scene photos of Vikings Legend, John Randle's pregame hype video ahead of Super Wild Card weekend.

I have been a fan since Fran Tarkenton. My hope is that I see the Vikes win a championship in my lifetime. It has been plain to me that if you have a stellar offensive line and marginally better defense you would be hard to beat. A pocket QB is only as good as his pocket.

If you can't afford a stellar O-line, get a mobile QB like many other teams have done.

— Walter Kapica

I do think Cousins has done well on plays designed with movement (bootlegs, keeper routes), but he will never be the most elusive QB in the NFL. There were a number of throws on which Cousins hung in the pocket, knowing he was about to get rocked, and delivered the ball with accuracy.

The Vikings believe in the foundation they set and are encouraged by the results, but they'll make multiple efforts this offseason to elevate the entire team and improve it.

The Vikings have above-average skill players on offense. But what gets Cousins in trouble, and results in poor throws, turnovers, lack of receptions, not to mention the hits he took this season, and a lousy run game, it's the O-line.

They are subpar. Very poor.

Changes, upgrades are necessary, or next season will just be more of the same.

I am a Vikings fan since 1961.

I really hoped for a Super Bowl title for me team before I die of old age.

67 years old now, so hurry up Vikes!

— Gary in Mesa, Arizona

So many aspects can help elevate a quarterback, including scheme and comfort within a system, consistently reliable protection and an efficient run game.

Darrisaw is truly a player to be excited about, and O'Neill has provided great leadership.

Because of the nature of player contracts and other factors, first-year head coaches try to maximize players' skill sets at every position while remaining committed to the way they believe is the best way to play football under their coaching philosophy.

Sorry that you're not going to get a visit from the Vikings in Arizona in a couple of weeks.

The Vikings will never win the big game with Cousins at quarterback.

— Bret Reynolds

Much has been made of Cousins' statistical differences depending on time and day of the week. I can't really explain why, but prime-time games usually feature two quality teams and/or division foes, resulting in tough matchups.

This season, what stood out to me were Cousins' splits on weeks with short rest vs. weeks of long rest.

Shorter rest than normal

Week 3 vs. Detroit (Monday to Sunday): 24-of-41 passing, 260 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, 93.5 passer rating

Week 12 vs. New England (Sunday to Thursday): 30-of-37 passing, 299 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, 116.1 passer rating

Week 15 vs. Indianapolis (Sunday to Saturday): 34-of-54 passing, 460 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT, 99.3 passer rating

Averages: 66.7 completion percentage, 339.7 passing yards, 103.1 passer rating

Longer rest than normal

Week 2 at Philadelphia (Sunday to Monday): 27-of-46 passing, 221 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 51.1 passer rating

Week 9 at Washington (Bye to Sunday): 22-of-40 passing, 265 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 81.8 passer rating

Week 13 vs. New York Jets (Thursday to Sunday): 21-of-35 passing, 173 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 82.2 passer rating

Week 17 at Green Bay (Saturday to Sunday): 18-of-31 passing, 205 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 49.2 passer rating

Averages: 57.9 completion percentage, 216.0 passing yards, 65.8 passer rating

While the three short rest were all home games and three of four were road games, there might be a benefit in evaluating the way Cousins and the Vikings approached games with longer gaps.

One thing we haven't seen in Minnesota is Cousins working in consecutive full seasons with the same offensive coordinator (Wes Phillips) and play caller (O'Connell). I think all are excited about that prospect.

In my opinion, it all came down to the lack of defense all year, especially pass defense. I think this falls on the DC! Not impressed. Yes, Cousins made a bad throw, but should have never come down to that play. When you rank at the bottom all year in pass defense, enough said. Cousins has made numerous great comebacks all year.

— Del Ammermann in Diamondhead, Mississippi

I guess that provides an opportunity for empathy toward kickers who are often tasked with staring down the uprights as hopes and dreams rest on their shoulders and feet. In almost every game, there's a point where something could have prevented it coming down to the final play, whether it is a pass or kick or tackle.

Can we please not re-sign Cousins next year???

— Kathy Stanton

You need to cut Kirk Cousins.

— Donovan Bowens

Do you think Kirk Cousins would take a team friendly contract so the team could sign players?

— Tom Goldammer

I'm combining these sentiments because it shows how varied opinions are. I think there are probably a few more Vikings fans in Cousins' corner after this past season.

The comments from Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell point to their intention for Cousins, who is under contract for 2023, to be with the Vikings. Is that for one year? Is it on the heels of signing another extension that spreads out some of the current cap hit?

I do think Cousins enjoyed this season for multiple reasons, starting with the W-L record of the team, as well as how connected this group was.

This is not trying to knock any of the previous conversations that went into bringing Cousins here or retaining him, but I think the collaboration that Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell have shown, along with Cousins' professionalism will assist conversations.

Our first-year coach did a good job this football season. Too much to deal with on offensive line with Cousins getting hit way too many times. A defense that you never knew who would show up to play. Allowing too many passing yds. The Vikings management needs to figure out how to correct their salary cap problems. There's always next season!!!

— Dan Gallagher

Just in general observations from limited direct interactions with Adofo-Mensah, but I believe he loves solving unique problems. The challenge and opportunity to find solutions seem to make up a substantial part of his "why." Minnesota still has salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski as its Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Brzezinski's solutions of past cap challenges, as well as Ownership's commitment should instill confidence in the Vikings ability to navigate this year and beyond.

Yes, it was an extremely disappointing end to the season but one an honest fan could see happening. Our defense and DC are beyond bad and killed us. But we also have to look at Cousins. He did put up amazing stats this year. Nobody can argue that. When things are going good, and he doesn't have the pressure on him, he can look like a top 5 QB. The issue comes when the pressure comes on him. We see a QB who the game looks too fast for him to read. He makes poor decisions. And against a decent defense, he isn't going to lead a comeback. Unfortunately in the playoffs you see teams turning up the gears, and QBs also need to do this. Cousins doesn't have that ability. His scrambling is pretty poor, and his awareness is bad. But unless a miracle happens, he is the QB for next year. He is getting to that age you don't build a team around him. My question is what do the Vikings do? We don't have a guy sitting behind him that could be our franchise QB as the franchise seems to neglect the future. We aren't going to be picking high up. Our trade baits like Cook were held on too long and don't look so hot now.

I stopped watching after a little after the half as it was clear there was zero adjustments made. It frustrating as the fan base deserves so much better than what the organization keeps putting out.

— Eric Purcell

I think most NFL quarterbacks will perform better when protection is going great. There are a few with elite scrambling ability. I do think the comeback wins at Washington and Buffalo were impressive and against good defenses.

I'm incredibly intrigued to see what can happen for Cousins in his second year with the same play caller and offensive coordinator, as well as a full offseason with Hockenson as the starting tight end. Here's what Cousins said about Hockenson:

"He's a really good football player, in this offense, in this system, the Y, the tight end will always, especially someone of T.J.'s ability, will always have a big role. We're grateful to have a guy who's that capable, and we're going to give him a lot of opportunities."

Ideally more time within the system enables faster play, which can help protection.

Behind Cousins, Nick Mullens is scheduled to become a free agent, so we'll keep an eye on what happens to him. Josh Rosen joined the practice squad after David Blough headed for Arizona's 53-man roster, but Rosen's contract is up as well.

The Vikings were assigned the 24th overall pick, which will actually involve making the 23rd overall selection because Miami forfeited its first-round pick. They currently have four total picks, so that's not a lot of capital.

I'm not discounting the season by Cook, who ranked sixth in rushing yards despite Minnesota skewing heavily toward the pass. He's one of two players with at 1,300 scrimmage yards in each of the past four seasons, joining Alvin Kamara.

It seems strange that the Rams were able to get Cooper Kupp the ball in the last scoring drive of Super Bowl LVI every play and the Vikings couldn't get the ball to [Jefferson] in the whole fourth quarter.

Your thoughts please.

— Craig in Boston

There isn't much that surprises me about Vikings football or the NFL in general, but I'm still surprised that Jefferson was not targeted and Cook did not run a single time in the fourth quarter.

That's the league leader in receptions and yards, as well as the sixth-ranked rusher, not doing what either does best. Green Bay and New York did a better job of taking options away from Jefferson in the rematch games this season after Jefferson put up big numbers the first time around.

Stafford and the Rams were able to get Kupp the football even after Odell Beckham, Jr., left last year's game with a torn ACL. I'm sure Cincinnati was focusing on Kupp, but maybe the Rams just out-executed the Bengals in those moments and the Giants outflanked the Vikings.

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