Kirk Cousins endured highs and lows during the 2020 season, which was his third in Minnesota and ninth overall in the NFL.
But the Vikings starting quarterback turned it on in the second half of the season, capping off a strong stretch by earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his Week 17 performance of 405 passing yards and four total scores.
Cousins also garnered that accolade after a Week 12 comeback win over the Panthers, as Cousins completed 12 of 13 passes for 136 yards with two touchdowns on Minnesota's final two possessions.
ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin wrote that although Cousins struggled at times early in the season, the quarterback's strong finish meant he was the ‘best version’ of himself since landing with the Vikings.
It took the first half of the season for the Vikings to figure out how to best use Cousins in this scheme. It yielded the best version of the quarterback since he arrived as a free agent in 2018. The biggest takeaway for Vikings brass is figuring out how to make this version of Cousins appear again in 2021.
Cousins is not standing in the way of the Vikings reaching their playoff goals. His success, however, hinges on an improved offensive line and the resurgence of a rebuilding defense.
The quarterback threw for 4,265 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a passer rating of 105.0 this past season.
Cousins' touchdown pass total set a career high and was the second-most in a single season in franchise history.
And after throwing 10 interceptions in the first six games of the season, the quarterback had just three in the final 10 contests.
The quarterback is set to begin the first year of a multi-year contract extension in 2021.
Graff: Vikings could upgrade O-line in free agency
The 2021 NFL league year is scheduled to begin March 17, which means the start of free agency is almost two months away.
Chad Graff of The Athletic recently unveiled 10 offseason predictions for the Vikings, but one of his most notable projections is that the Vikings will look to address their offensive line in free agency.
Granted, I don't expect the Vikings to have any truly big free-agent signings. Their salary cap situation doesn't allow for that. But it is possible (and perhaps even probable) that their starting left guard in 2021 is someone they sign in March. While it may not feel like it, they have used a draft pick in the first two rounds on offensive linemen in each of the past three seasons, taking Brian O'Neill No. 62 overall in 2018, Garrett Bradbury No. 18 overall in 2019, and Ezra Cleveland No. 58 overall in 2020.
Because of that, the Vikings may use their premier draft picks on other positions come the draft in April. Instead, they may turn to free agency to [potentially] find Dakota Dozier's replacement. It's hard to imagine they'll be able to afford the top options like Joe Thuney. But Cam Robinson, David Andrews and Jon Feliciano could all be options.
The Vikings won't be active in free agency. I'd imagine they sign a cheap safety, wide receiver and defensive tackle. That makes this prediction a bit of a low bar to clear. But I'd bet the most money they give out in free agency goes to an offensive lineman.
The Vikings had five different starting combinations along their offensive line during the 2020 season.
Bradbury and Dozier each played every snap, while O'Neill started all 16 games. Riley Reiff missed just one game, but the Vikings started four different players at right guard.
Cleveland led that group with nine starts after being a second-round pick in 2020.