Kirk Cousins

Vikings GM Rick Spielman: Kirk Cousins Is Our Quarterback, We Anticipate Having Danielle Hunter

The Vikings were a big disappointment in 2020, sparking some murmurs that the team could potentially look to move on from Kirk Cousins. Mike Zimmer tried to nip that in the bud about a month ago, and now Minnesota GM Rick Spielman is coming down emphatically.

Kirk Cousins is our quarterback,” Spielman said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around out there, but Kirk Cousins is our quarterback. We felt that he played very well, probably the best that he’s ever played down that stretch last year. Kirk is our quarterback going forward, and I look forward to him (having) another year in this system.”

Some people connecting dots have floated the 49ers as a potential landing spot due to Cousins’ history with Kyle Shanahan, but that sounds exceedingly unlikely. Cousins signed an extension around this time last year that has him wrapped up through the 2022 season. Assuming Cousins is on the roster past March 19th, his 2022 salary of $35MM becomes guaranteed, so they won’t be able to just dump him after this season if he doesn’t perform.

Spielman also provided an update on star pass-rusher Danielle Hunter. There had been a report last year that Hunter would look for a trade if Minnesota didn’t adjust his contract, but Spielman said he hasn’t heard anything about a possible trade demand.

Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019, didn’t play at all last year due to a herniated disk in his neck. Spielman said his rehab has gone well, “he looks in great shape,’’ and that “we anticipate him being here.’’

He also said the team anticipates having defensive tackle Michael Pierce back in the fold in 2021. Pierce signed a three-year, $27MM deal with the team last March, but then opted out of the season due to COVID-19.

Kirk Cousins, Mike Zimmer Discuss QB’s Future

The quarterbacks carousel is already spinning, but it sounds like one name may not be involved in the trade chatter. During an appearance on NFL Network, Vikings head coach offered some rare praise for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“Kirk’s our guy,” Zimmer said (via NFL.com’s Kevin Patra). “You know, he had a terrific year this year. We were fourth in the league on offense. We have to get better on defense — we had a lot of injuries and young guys — that’s my job to get it fixed.”

As Patra notes, Zimmer has traditionally been “vague and cantankerous” when discussing his franchise signal-caller, so this is an interesting pivot. While Cousins hasn’t been roped into trade rumors by any reputable sources, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com threw some fuel on the fire when he examined the intricacies of a hypothetical Cousins trade earlier this week.

As Florio writes, if the Vikings were to move on from Cousins, they’d presumably be eyeing one of the few potential upgrades at the position. Alternatively, the organization could look to move on from the $56MM remaining on his deal, including a $35MM base salary for 2022 that becomes fully guaranteed in mid-March. After signing a two-year extension last offseason, the two sides could work on a new deal to save the organization same cash. For what it’s worth, Cousins recently told Florio that he’d be open to sticking around Minnesota beyond 2022.

“Honestly, I just signed the extension last offseason and it really doesn’t kick in ’til this coming year,” Cousins said. “It’s a two-year deal. Those two years begin with 2021. . . . I think it’s more about going out there next season and the year after that and playing at a high enough level that would justify being able to do another deal beyond that. That’s really where my focus is. As I said earlier, would like to be a Viking for the remainder of my career. I’ve got to play well enough to make that happen.”

While Minnesota struggled a bit in 2020, it wasn’t because of a lack of production from their quarterback position, as Cousins tossed a career-high 35 touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC North Notes: Vikings, Cousins, Packers, Workouts, Bears, Castillo

The Vikings fell to 1-5 after their lopsided loss to the Falcons on Sunday, and Kirk Cousins had another bad game. He ended up leading a few scoring drives in garbage time to make his final numbers not look too bad, but his three early interceptions sealed the loss. It was his second game of the year with three picks, and he now has a league-high ten on the year. Speaking to the media after the game, Cousins acknowledged that his turnover issues could lead to a benching if he doesn’t get things cleaned up. “The reality is if the pace that I’m on, in terms of the interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season. I won’t,” Cousins said bluntly, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

There’s a little bit of – you’ve got to improve whether it’s them telling me ‘hey, we’ve got to improve’ or them pulling me, you’ve got to get better and that will be what the rest of the season will be about for me,” the Vikings’ signal-caller said. For what it’s worth, head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game that he didn’t consider benching Cousins during the loss. Minnesota’s backup is former Jared Goff clipboard-holder Sean Mannion, who isn’t exactly the most appealing second-string option. Cousins signed an extension back in March that has him under contract through the 2022 season. His dead cap hit would be $41MM next year, so moving on after this season isn’t really an option. As such, Zimmer is in a pretty tight bind if Cousins keeps playing like this.

Here’s more from the NFC North:

  • The Packers worked out kicker Giorgio Tavecchio earlier this week, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). There’s no indication there’s any problem with Mason Crosby, so this was probably just Green Bay doing some due diligence in the event of an injury of COVID-19 problems. Tavecchio has kicked for the Raiders and Falcons in recent years, and also spent time with the Los Angeles Wildcats of the XFL.
  • Tavecchio isn’t the only one the Packers are planning on working out. Green Bay will host linebacker Alvin Jones as soon as he clears the COVID-19 protocols, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Notably, Jones is the win brother of Packers star running back Aaron Jones. A fellow UTEP product, the linebacker spent the past couple years with the Ravens, mostly on injured reserve and the practice squad. He’s yet to appear in a regular season NFL game. “I’m glad he’s going to get his opportunity and get a chance to work out,” Aaron said to the media. “I know he’ll do whatever he needs to do and hopefully he’s on the team with me. I’d love to have that. That’d be a true joy.
  • The Bears improved to 5-1 with their win over the Panthers on Sunday, and they did it without one of their position coaches. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is away from the team as he self isolates due to a close exposure to someone who is COVID-19 positive, Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Castillo is apparently considered high risk, and the positive he was in contact with was someone away from the team and not a player.

Vikings’ Kirk Cousins On Diggs, Contract

Naturally, Kirk Cousins wants to see life return to normalcy as soon as possible. But, if this year’s NFL games have to be played without fans in the crowd, he’s willing to take an optimistic view.

Honestly, we practice every day in an empty grass area and pump in fake crowd noise for away games,” Cousins told reporters (via Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com). “But more often than not, you’re used to it. OTA practices don’t have a lot of pomp and circumstance to them. So honestly to go out and just play the game would kind of be refreshing, a breath of fresh air, to just let us know that we don’t have to have all the smoke and the fire, we can just play football. As long as we’re playing the game, I won’t have a lot of complaints, and hopefully if it’s still not returned to normal, we can find a way to make it work.”

Meanwhile, Cousins has extended his contract with the Vikings, agreeing to a new two-year, $66MM add-on to give him a grand total of $96MM over the next three seasons. This week, Cousins opened up to beat reporters about his shiny new deal and also gave his thoughts on Stefon Diggs for the first time since the trade. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.

On his contract:

We felt like with the CBA and the shifting landscape that it was going to be difficult to know where this was going to go from here, so the timing was not going to be easy. I think that was a big point of communication through the process…a long contract would have been difficult because of the changing landscape of the CBA and I think that’s true for both sides. It was a win-win to get that contract structured the way it was.” (Twitter links via Cronin).

On the talks and the cap space provided by the extension:

It was a no brainer to be back with the Vikings and find a way to make it work,” Cousins said (Twitter link via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press).

On his reaction to Diggs being traded to the Bills:

It became apparent that he [Diggs] wanted to play elsewhere, and I think it was smart of the Vikings to grant him that opportunity…I think it wasn’t a mystery, and that’s OK. I wish him really well. I just so enjoyed playing with him. He’s a special player, and we now have to find a way to move forward and replace that, if you will, with a variety of players.”

On bidding Diggs farewell:

“I think my text message to him said something along the lines of, ‘You’re as good as any receiver I’ve ever played with. That includes some names like Adam Thielen, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon … he’s elite. I just wanted to affirm him, and thank him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Contract Details: JPP, Cousins, Weatherly

Deals are coming in quickly, so we’ve compiled some important contract details below:

Contract Details: Castonzo, Kirksey, Cousins, Jarwin

Vikings, Kirk Cousins Agree To Extension

The Vikings will make a major move before the tampering period begins. They have reached an agreement on a Kirk Cousins extension, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It’ll be a two-year deal worth $66MM, bringing the grand total to $96MM over three years, with $61MM guaranteed at signing.

This could be a significant help to a franchise that is annually up against the cap. The Vikings authorized a historic three-year, $84MM fully guaranteed Cousins pact two years ago. This move will help bring down their quarterback’s $31MM 2020 cap number.

While a Minnesota-Cousins re-up was rumored, this stands to change the Vikings’ near-future outlook. Cousins had one season left on his initial Vikings contract. The soon-to-be 32-year-old passer is now signed through the 2022 season. This will put to rest any further rumors of a Cousins-Kyle Shanahan reunion. With the 49ers also passing on Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo again appears to be in the clear.

Minnesota already cleared cap space by cutting Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes, going from over the 2020 cap to $15MM-plus under it. This Cousins accord will create additional space for the team in free agency.

Cousins has played fairly well since choosing the Vikings in 2018. He has thrown 56 touchdown passes compared to 16 interceptions. The former fourth-round pick, however, has only finished 14th and 13th in QBR during his two Vikings seasons. The Vikings did win a playoff game in 2019, but their offense accomplished little in a divisional-round loss to the 49ers.

Nevertheless, this deal will keep Cousins in Minnesota for the foreseeable future. While it is likely not a fully guaranteed contract like the 2018 deal was, Cousins surely did well again. Given where the quarterback market has gone since Cousins’ landmark deal, it’s likely this contract will come in north of $30MM per year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Rumors: Cousins, 49ers, Seahawks

Prior to the Patriots sending Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for merely a second-round pick, rumblings of a Kyle ShanahanKirk Cousins reunion occurred. Shanahan admitted Cousins was in the 49ers’ pre-Garoppolo plans. Although Garoppolo just quarterbacked the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, the prospect of the 49ers jettisoning Garoppolo and signing Cousins in 2021 has popped up on some radars around the league, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Cousins’ fully guaranteed Vikings contract expires at season’s end, and Garoppolo’s 49ers-friendly deal contains no more guaranteed money.

Cousins played under Shanahan with the Redskins from 2012-13, though Robert Griffin III was Washington’s starter for most of that span. Cousins will turn 32 this year, and the cap-strapped Vikings are expected to explore an extension for their third-year starter soon. If no deal gets done by Week 1, the throwback Cousins-to-San Francisco plotline may gain steam.

Here is the latest from the NFC West, moving first to the defensive side of the 49ers’ depth chart:

  • DeForest Buckner‘s fifth-year option price will drop from $14.36MM to $12.38MM, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). This reflects Buckner’s place as a defensive tackle, and not an end, in the 49ers’ 4-3 scheme. The 49ers hope to finalize a Buckner extension this offseason, and this adjustment figures to play into the talks. The Pro Bowl inside defender is entering a contract year.
  • Linked to being less than eager to wade into deep salary waters to retain Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks may be concerned with the free agent-to-be’s injury history. That could well be the reason the Seahawks are not prepared to pay Clowney north of $20MM AAV, John Clayton of 710 AM Seattle notes. A few other Clowney suitors have emerged — including the Giants, Colts and Titans — and Clayton expects the 2019 trade acquisition to leave Seattle soon.
  • Not only is Clowney a free agent, but so are D-linemen Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Ziggy Ansah. The Seahawks would like to re-sign Jefferson, but Clayton adds that the defensive tackle has generated steady interest on the market. Jefferson has 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons and, thanks to plus run defense, graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 27 interior defender in 2019.
  • The 49ers will be in the market for receiver help, but Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required) the cap space-starved franchise’s likely goal will be for a modest Emmanuel Sanders market to entice him to re-sign. Shanahan and John Lynch may be waiting to see what teams offer the soon-to-be 33-year-old wideout, with Sanders revealing this week he and the 49ers had not engaged in an extension talks this offseason.
  • Despite the 49ers using Tevin Coleman as their RB2 in Super Bowl LIV, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida remain low-cost options and may have better routes back to the 2020 roster. In addition to Jerick McKinnon needing to redo his lucrative deal to stay on the team, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News writes Coleman might have to do the same. It would be interesting to see Shanahan cut bait on Coleman, whom he’s now coached for two teams. Coleman is set to make $4.55MM in base salary in the final year of his deal.

Vikings Expected To Explore Kirk Cousins Extension

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins receives his fair share of criticism, but regardless of how one feels about his job performance, there is no denying that he has been handsomely compensated for said performance. He is entering the final year of the three-year pact that he signed with Minnesota in March 2018, and he is due a $29.5MM salary in what would be his platform campaign.

But that salary now ranks as the seventh-highest in the league, and it could go down several more spots after QBs that are currently slated for free agency find new homes or sign extensions with their current clubs. And the Vikings have the lowest amount of cap space in the NFL at the moment, so it may make sense for both sides to work out a new deal.

According to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune, that’s exactly what execs around the league expect to happen. Goessling says that there was a “widely held belief” at the scouting combine that the Vikings will pursue an extension for Cousins this offseason, though he cautions that such an extension will not necessarily give Minnesota a ton of financial breathing room. After all, the QB market remains player-friendly, and Cousins is coming off the best year of his career. Whether or not a new CBA is ratified by the league’s workforce could also impact the structure of the deal, as Goessling sets forth in more detail.

The Vikings fell short of capturing the NFC North in 2019, and though they upset the Saints in the wildcard round of the playoffs, they laid an egg in a divisional-round loss to the 49ers. Cousins was not the only culprit in that loss, but he has yet to shake the notion that he is incapable of winning big games.

However, in guiding a more run-oriented attack in 2019, he did post a career-high QB rating of 107.4 while throwing 26 TDs against six interceptions. He may have his flaws, but it’s not easy to find that type of production.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Vikings, Kirk Cousins

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins managed to quiet his critics for a week after last week’s upset win over the Saints in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but those critics are back with a vengeance after Cousins and Minnesota went out with a whimper in the team’s divisional round loss to the 49ers on Saturday.

To be sure, the loss did not fall entirely at Cousins’ feet. The Vikings gained just 21 yards on the ground against San Francisco’s stout defensive front, and Cousins was sacked six times. But for a highly-paid player who repeatedly faces questions about his ability to win meaningful games, it was a disappointing performance.

Nonetheless, Cousins is going to be back with the Vikings in 2020, the last year of his current contract. The real question is whether the team will seek to extend its relationship with the 31-year-old signal-caller beyond that.

As Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out, Minnesota is currently projected to have the least amount of cap room in the league entering free agency. Cousins will count for $31MM against the team’s cap in 2020, but an extension could lower that number and give the Vikings some much-needed breathing room.

And Cousins did post a career-high QB rating of 107.4 in 2019 while throwing 26 TDs against such six interceptions, so an extension would make plenty of sense. After all, it would be difficult to find a free agent or rookie QB to replicate that type of production.

In the immediate aftermath of elimination, though, Cousins and head coach Mike Zimmer — whose current contract also expires after 2020 — did not want to talk about the future. “I don’t know what [Cousins’] contract situation is, so I’ll worry about that down the road,” Zimmer said.

Cousins, meanwhile, said, “[t]hat’s just not focus right now. My focus is on this game and the playoffs. I certainly love it here and love being a Viking.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.