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Monday Morning Mailbag: An Intriguing QB Comparison

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Hello Craig,

Enjoyed your writing about "later bloomers" or fireworks by Year 3. I'm feeling strongly about one who I believe will flourish "late" in a different way and am wondering your thoughts on this wearisome narrative:

I fully get the adage that QBs often get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. As Vikings fans, we've all heard the negative talk and lack of recognition that Kirk Cousins is largely becoming a reliable and quality QB.

While he is not yet Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, etc., I fully believe Kirk is following another former Viking's path: Rich Gannon took a while to fully mature as a quarterback. Regretfully, he didn't do so as a Viking (although a good Vikings team did well with him), but after about 10 years in the league, he went on to All-Pro status and even became league MVP.

I see Kirk following a similar path (he has already played pretty well). What is it with shortsighted national pundits who tread out the old narratives of Kirk being mediocre and some of our own fans — those who just don't seem to recall how difficult it was around Vikings land not that long ago without a consistent, quality, injury-free QB?

Your thoughts are appreciated.

— Chris Pellerito

I'm so curious to see if Cousins can play not scared and like a leader. Put this team on his back. I know it takes a team to win, but you need a leader to follow and believe in. I hope these coaches and his experience with all the other coaches can mentally help him. I believe he has the arm and tools. But he needs to stop playing scared!

— Toby Smart in Alaska

An interesting comparison for Chris to make to start us off this week.

The career trajectory of Gannon, who joined Minnesota in 1987 after initially being selected that year by the New England Patriots, certainly places him among late bloomers who eventually reached an elite level.

Gannon didn't make his first NFL start until 1990. He opened at least 11 games each season from 1990-92 for Minnesota, and the Vikings went 19-16, including 8-4 in 1992 to help the team win the NFC Central in Dennis Green's first season as head coach.

Stops in Washington (he missed all of 1994) and Kansas City (1995-98) followed before Gannon made his first of four consecutive Pro Bowls as a member of the Oakland Raiders in 1999 — his 13th season. Gannon garnered NFL MVP honors from The Associated Press in 2002 after leading the NFL in attempts (618), completions (418) and passing yards (4,689). He threw 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, totaling a passer rating of 97.3 that season, helping the Raiders advance to Super Bowl XXXVII.

Cousins' season averages over his first four campaigns with Minnesota are 363.3 completions on 531.7 attempts with 4,096.8 yards with 31 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. His cumulative passer rating with Minnesota is 103.5.

He's thrown at least 25 touchdowns in each of the past seven seasons.

Those are impressive numbers, for sure, and a reflection of the way NFL passing games have continued to improve over the years, but there's still a sense in some circles that Cousins can reach another level during different situations. I recently wrote about how Vikings quarterbacks (and the entire offense) have an opportunity to improve this year during two-minute drills before halftime.

To Toby's point, I don't know that the "scared" moniker is one I'd use, but I do think Cousins can reach even better results than he's posted. So I'll offer that he's not been at his best when playing hurried. Some teams have been better than others at clouding the process.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said the following about Cousins back in March.

"He's an incredibly consistent passer. I don't think people realize it. Essentially, every play has a result built into it based on factors that he can't control. I think what you know about Kirk, is when the odds are shifted in his favor, he gets the most out of it, right? And I think people don't appreciate that skill enough. But he is incredibly consistent, an incredibly accurate thrower. Tough. Durable. He plays every game. He stands there and takes those hits when those throws are a little bit harder to come by. He's an incredible player. Really cerebral."

So one of the biggest goals for Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and the staff is to equip Cousins with some odds-tilting play designs that allow him to play with a clear mind. If able to cleanly read the defense, Cousins has the accuracy to deliver the football.

Regardless what the Vikings do to improve their team, they are never in the national conversation as a team to beat. WHY? … SMH.

— Jim Akpan

Every year at this time, the hype of a grand season begins. Just like the broadcasters always tell you how this player is in tune, but they will never tell you how many catches he drops.

— Bill Gagnon in San Jose, California

I'm combining the questions/comments from Jim and Bill here because they seem loosely related.

First, I think we're all excited for the new era of Vikings football under O'Connell's direction. The Vikings strategically added pieces during free agency to supplement returning cast members or add to the competition at a few spots.

View the best photos of Vikings players from production day which included a photoshoot at U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of the 2022 season.

Excitement can sometimes trickle into hype territory. The good news is that hype season is almost over and will be giving way to prove it or lose it season. All teams will have training camps and preseason games before Minnesota hosts Green Bay on Sept. 11 to open the 62nd Vikings regular season.

I get Jim's point about wanting to hear more about the Vikings when football is discussed. That's probably a sentiment within much of the fan base.

But I think it's quite OK to not be on the national radar, particularly during offseasons. Once the regular season rolls around, each team will have an opportunity to play its way into types of conversations.

To Bill's point, catch percentage and drop rate have emerged as statistics have gotten deeper and deeper over the years, so I expect their mentions will increase over time.

View photos of the Vikings 2022 coaching staff.

I like to see our team active in the Minnesota community. Justin Jefferson and Alexander Mattison ran football camps for kids. Adam Thielen had a charity softball game. Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips were both nominated for [Walter Payton] NFL Man of the Year for their former teams. The same with Anthony Barr. I am just mentioning the tip of the iceberg. Character seems to be high on the Vikings radar when picking up players for their team. What are your thoughts on the Vikings importance of character in a player.

— Gerald Goblirsch

There's no shortage in the Vikings locker room of players who want to help make their communities better. It's so wonderful to have the opportunities in working with Lindsey Young, who leads our written coverage of community events, to relay the important work our players are doing in Minnesota, their hometowns and beyond.

She and I are so proud for Barr to be recognized during this week’s ESPY Awards as one of four finalists for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. Even if he does not win the award, it is tremendous to see Barr recognized for the incredible work he's done to support single-parent families through his Raise the Barr foundation. Barr’s impact resulted in his 2021 selection for the Vikings Community Man of the Year award and his nomination for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

The ESPYS are scheduled to air at 7 p.m. (CT) Wednesday on ABC.

I think Ed White should be in the Hall of Fame. Long career and dominant in the '70s.

— Mark Drechsel in Fergus Falls, Minnesota

This comment from Mark rolled in after last week's Mailbag that discussed the best former Vikings who are eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but not yet enshrined.

The response centered on Jim Marshall, Chuck Foreman and Keith Millard, but White has a pretty strong case for Canton.

Drafted in 1969, White was the only rookie to make the squad. He was a reserve that season on the team that went on to win the NFL Championship. He played in four Super Bowls with Minnesota and started 93 of the 122 regular-season games for the Vikings from 1969-77 before joining the San Diego Chargers. White started 117 of 119 regular-season games for the Chargers before finally retiring at the end of the 1985 season. He garnered four Pro Bowls, including after three consecutive Vikings seasons (1975-77).

The Bengals will have a white helmet. The Saints will have a black helmet. Have you heard anything about an alternate helmet for the Vikings? What would your design be for the alternate helmet?

— Kevin, Deep South Vikings fan

The NFL last season agreed to allow teams to use an alternate helmet beginning in 2022.

There is nothing in the works yet for the Vikings.

View photos of the Vikings 2022 schedule at U.S. Bank Stadium and on the road.

I don't want to reach over my skis by suggesting designs, but I've kind of thought it would be cool to see the horns in all yellow when Minnesota has worn its #PrimetimePurple uniforms with the purple jerseys and pants and yellow letters and numbers.

If that's not drastic enough, maybe white helmets with purple horns when Minnesota has used the white jerseys and pants combo?

Generally, I think there's probably a happy medium between upholding NFL traditions and the number of special uniforms and helmets that are being utilized at the college level. I think the new looks that we will see around the league will be good for continuing to build enthusiasm.

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