Kirk Cousins landing spots: The cases for, and against, Vikings, Falcons options

Facing the task of retaining Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota Vikings are very much on the clock.

 

According to ESPN, Cousins’ contract automatically voids on March 13, when the new NFL league year commences. That means that if the team does not re-sign him before then, he will become a free agent and will be free to test the open market.

 

Arguably no other contemporary player has bet on himself more than Cousins, whose longest-tenured contract, including both of his franchise tag seasons in Washington, remains his four-year rookie deal. With the NFL scouting combine now concluded, a pair of suitors appear to have emerged for Cousins: the Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons.

 

Here’s everything to know about the potential landing spots for Cousins, including cases for — and against — Minnesota and Atlanta.

 

This all comes down to familiarity and stability. Cousins, who will turn 36 in August, has spent the last six seasons in Minnesota and has become one of the faces of the organization. He connected instantly with coach Kevin O’Connell, from the moment the Vikings hired O’Connell ahead of the 2022 season. That made sense; O’Connell served one season as quarterbacks coach in Washington in 2017, a season in which Cousins led the NFL in game-winning drives, with four.

 

 

This connection goes a little deeper. The Vikings announced earlier this offseason that they were promoting Chris O’Hara from quarterbacks coach to passing game specialist. O’Hara had worked closely with Cousins after he joined Minnesota when O’Connell came on. The Vikings also announced in late February that they had hired former NFL quarterback Josh McCown as their new quarterbacks coach. Cousins undoubtedly is familiar with McCown, especially since both share an agent in Mike McCartney.

 

There’s another reason why stability could be particularly appealing for Cousins; he tore his Achilles in late October and has been rehabbing the injury with the intent to be ready for the start of the 2024 season. Though Achilles recovery times have quickened with advances in modern medicine, it’s still rare for franchise quarterbacks to switch teams immediately after suffering such injuries.

 

 

Because of the the nature of Cousins’ voiding contract, if Minnesota were to re-sign him after March 13, the new deal would trigger a dead money overlay on the salary cap of $28.5 million, according to ESPN. While not prohibitive, that certainly makes the prospects of signing Cousins after March 13 significantly trickier as Minnesota navigates its salary cap considerations. That also means the Vikings would perhaps be less inclined to match other lucrative offers Cousins could potentially field in the open market. Cousins, throughout his career, has prioritized guaranteed money and maximizing his contractual value, complicating the situation further.

 

The Vikings have even acknowledged that they expect the process to retain Cousins to be challenging.

 

“I know Kirk is going to go through a full process,” O’Connell said last week in a revealing interview with NFL Network. “He’s a process guy. Hopefully we continue to be a strong part in that process and we figure out a way to keep him a Minnesota Viking. My expectation is that we aren’t going to be the only ones that want Kirk Cousins to be the quarterback of our team in 2024.”

 

The other question with Minnesota relates to the rest of the roster. The Vikings have invested in receiver and tight end, though star receiver Justin Jefferson is set to enter the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. While the Minnesota front office has expressed a desire to retain Jefferson, it’s far from a certainty that it will be able to do so.

 

 

Perhaps no team in the NFL has more young, untapped potential at the offensive skill positions than the Falcons. Loaded with players like running back Bijan Robinson (eighth overall pick in 2023), receiver Drake London (eighth overall pick in 2022) and tight end Kyle Pitts (fourth overall pick in 2021), the Falcons appear to be a quarterback away from being an intriguing upstart in the NFC South. But there’s more to why Cousins would be a seamless plug-and-play option.

 

 

Here’s where this gets interesting: Robinson coached under Sean McVay in Los Angeles. McVay and Cousins have a connection back from their days in Washington, when McVay was an up-and-coming offensive coordinator from 2014-16. Cousins recorded his first Pro Bowl season in 2016.

 

O’Connell is also from the McVay coaching tree, and was the Rams offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021 — when Robinson was also on the coaching staff. Cousins shined in two seasons in O’Connell’s system. If Robinson implements a scheme similar to McVay’s — and there’s no reason to expect he would do otherwise — this may be the optimal non-Vikings spot for Cousins.

 

 

Despite similarities in system and philosophy, it would still take some time to acclimate to his new teammates, new facility, new everything. And Cousins would still be leaving an environment in which he had instant success; in his two seasons playing under O’Connell, Cousins completed 67.1% of his throws for 6,878 yards, with 47 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. A transition to Robinson is a transition nonetheless.

 

The other issue with Atlanta is that the Falcons may need to consider alternate plans in their pursuit of a quarterback. That could mean potential interest in a player like Chicago’s Justin Fields, a native of nearby Kennesaw, Georgia, who would need to be acquired through a trade.

 

 

Atlanta may also be looking at even more options, like Russell Wilson. That could theoretically lower the leverage Cousins would have with the Falcons, if Atlanta would choose to be careful about its spending. As mentioned above, this is particularly magnified since Cousins has been savvy throughout his career in maximizing his market value.

 

 

Any time a player of Cousins’ caliber hits the market, several teams are going to have varying levels of interest. While that interest may be passing or serious, quarterback-deficient teams — especially ones that are close to competing — could emerge as potential suitors.

 

Other teams in need of quarterbacks include the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Washington Commanders (where Cousins played from 2012-17) and Las Vegas Raiders.

 

 

 

Gideon Canice

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