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Monday Morning Mailbag: Examining All Vikings Options with Kirk Cousins

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Will Kirk Cousins remain in Minnesota?

— Darla Balk

Darla has asked the million-dollar question. And it's one that dozens and dozens of Vikings fans have sent to me in recent weeks.

So, here it is, a (mostly) Cousins-specific Mailbag that will examine the three options the Vikings have with the quarterback.

Before we get started, a few things to note.

First, I won't be giving my opinion on what I think the Vikings should or will do. As I've stated numerous times before, that isn't my role here. Instead, we'll objectively look at the three options — letting him play out the final year of his deal, extending and restructuring him or trading him — and what they would mean for the franchise.

Second, let's all take a deep breath before reading this. There are plenty of passionate opinions on Cousins out there. No matter where you fall, keep in mind that we're only talking about football here. People deal with much bigger life issues on a daily basis.

And finally, while everyone wants to know what the team will do, it's likely best to exercise some patience here, too. The 2022 New League Year begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 16, so we'll likely get some clarity around then. Answers might not come this week, and that's OK, too.

Vikings General Manager Kwesi-Adofo Mensah even said as much last week in Indianapolis at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

"Ultimately, with all these things, you have options. Just like [players] have options. And ultimately, we're trying to do the best thing for us. All these things are uncertain, how he's going to play, what's the market going to be, all these things, this puzzle. And ultimately, you're just trying to answer it not knowing today what's going to happen. So, I wish I could tell you for certain anything. Everything's in play, and I hate to be that general, but everything's in play with every player, and everybody's going to get up there and say that but it is just the truth."

With that, let's get into why the Vikings would consider letting Cousins simply play out the final season of his current deal, which might be the least likely option

Both the Vikings and Cousins would probably prefer to have a long-term plan in place sooner rather than later, and letting No. 8 simply play out the final year doesn't solve that issue.

However, it's tempting to think of what Cousins will look like in Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell's offense.

Minnesota has undergone a culture shift in recent weeks, and O'Connell's penchant and passion for offense is a stark contrast to the defense-mindset of former Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

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

Perhaps Cousins has been held back by a more conservative approach in recent years and is ready to flourish in O'Connell's system?

If that were to happen, then maybe the sides come to some sort of agreement next offseason?

The reasoning for letting Cousins play this year out would be a feeling-out period of sorts for both sides. Again, while that doesn't solve much long-term or provide relief against the salary cap, it's also one of three options the Vikings currently have.

View the best quarterback photos from the 2021 season shot by Vikings photographers.

I know you are getting a lot of emails about Cousins. I would love to have him on our team for the foreseeable future. Is it worth signing Cousins for two or three years at $40-plus million a year considering we may lose Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks as cap casualties? It may not be a rebuild season but losing a few key pieces is a little bit of a rebuild.

— David Gintert

Let's pivot the conversation and talk about Cousins and a possible extension.

We've played this scenario out back in 2020 when Cousins and the front office agreed to a two-year extension that gave the Vikings some salary-cap relief on the front end, but backloaded the contract with dollars.

That's where we are now, with Cousins' $45 million cap hit set to be the third-highest of any player in the league behind Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.

A restructure and an extension would be made from a financial standpoint for both sides, but it would also have to be backed by an admiration and a belief that Minnesota believes Cousins is its guy for the next few seasons.

Cousins will be 34 years old when the 2022 season starts. And while maybe he would have been nearing the end of his career in a previous NFL era, plenty of quarterbacks have shown they can still play (and play well) into their late 30s.

Cousins has also been very durable and didn't start right away upon entering the league, so he doesn't have as much tread taken off his tires, per se, than some others.

Plus, and this is an important point, Cousins is a good quarterback!

Is he ever going to be the best in the league at his position? Probably not.

But could he be a top-five guy given the absolute right circumstances? I could see it.

If, like we mentioned above, he flourishes under O'Connell, it wouldn't be a shocker.

The guy has always been among the league's most accurate and cerebral quarterbacks, and has plenty of arm talent.

Money, of course, would have to be agreed upon here, and that's always the starting point for these negotiations.

But if the Vikings feel like Cousins is their guy and that the struggles of the past few seasons weren't on him, then an extension could be in play.

As an avid Vikings fan, I thought I would put in my two cents worth on a trade for Kirk. I think Cousins is a very good QB and I have always supported him. However, he is not getting any younger and the Vikings should be able to get a first-rounder and then some for Cousins now rather than wait and get nothing for him later. Kirk is due $45 million, and if he won't budge on a restructure, why not trade him now when there are several QB-needy teams in the market for one? I hope Kwesi Adofo-Mensah reads the Monday Morning Mailbag. I think the Vikings ownership scored a touchdown with their new HC, GM and coaching staff hires.

— David Bond in Byron, Minnesota

I'm not sure if Adofo-Mensah reads the Mailbag. But if he does, that man is much, much smarter than I am, and doesn't need my help or advice in deciding how to build a football team.

However, if he were to trade Cousins — the third and last option we'll cover here — then this new regime would certainly start out with a bang in terms of a newsworthy move.

What would a Cousins' trade look like?

As David mentioned in his inquiry, Cousins is set to count for $45 million against the cap. If the Vikings were to trade him, they would still be on the hook for $10 million, while the trade partner would be responsible for $35 million (and would perhaps focus on an extension of their own).

I'm not enough of an expert to know what Cousins would fetch in return, so I won't speculate on compensation.

However, let's say the Vikings found a willing trade partner. If Minnesota were to offer more money up front and take on $20 million of Cousins' contract instead of the original $10 million, maybe that increases the Vikings return? That's just one hypothetical thought, as you could sit there and debate the numbers all day.

The bigger question we need to ask here is, what would trading Cousins mean for the Vikings?

For one, it would mean a total clean slate as the Adofo-Mensah/O'Connell era begins in Minnesota.

The Vikings might also shoot to the top of the list of teams that could draft a quarterback high in the 2022 or 2023 draft and look for a long-term franchise piece. In the short-term, a trade could also potentially mean something for Kellen Mond, too.

It would also mean the end of the Cousins era here after four seasons. When he signed here in 2018 as a free agent, many thought he was the missing piece for a team that was a win away from the Super Bowl the season before.

But the 2018 team and what will be the 2022 squad are vastly different. The Vikings themselves are in a much different place, with a new GM, head coach and direction of the franchise.

Perhaps the front office believes a change is needed at that position and want to capitalize on his value now.

If Cousins stays and then leaves as a free agent in 2023, Minnesota would likely get a compensatory pick. But if a trade this offseason would net them at the very least a third-rounder (and likely more) and also give the Vikings salary cap relief, then perhaps that's the way to go. Compensatory picks are first available in the third round.

As I mentioned above, Cousins has plenty of strong traits, and is viewed as a solid starter across the league. If a team feels like he would elevate their team, a trade scenario is more than believable to comprehend.

The Vikings might want to take the pick(s) in that deal and look for the future, which seems bright with Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell at the helm.

But if a trade transpires in the coming weeks, that would mean Minnesota's future obviously would not include Cousins.

Get a behind-the-scenes look of GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

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