Charley Walters: If Kirk Cousins wants to win, Falcons provide easier route

The way it looks now, the Vikings won’t be the highest free agency bidder for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who still seems destined for Atlanta with the Falcons.

The Falcons have more talent than the Vikings, and their NFC South division, which Tampa Bay won last season by going just 9-8, would be easier to win than the Vikings’ NFC North.

The Lions clearly are the best team in the NFC North, the Packers are on the rise, and the Bears probably will take QB Caleb Williams with their No. 1 overall pick in next month’s draft.

The Bears also have the No. 9 overall pick.

If winning is Cousins’ priority (besides an anticipated $90 million, two-year guaranteed contract), he’ll have a much easier path in Atlanta than in Minnesota.

>> It also looks like there are teams willing to pay free agent Danielle Hunter more than the Vikings can pay. Hunter, 29, is expected to cost in the range of $70 million over three years, with nearly $40 million guaranteed.

>> To move up from the Vikings’ No. 11 slot in next month’s draft to No. 3 to take an elite QB, it would cost at least this year’s first-round pick plus first-round picks in 2025 and 2026.

Carolina last year, tired of signing veteran QBs like Sam Arnold, Baker Mayfield and Teddy Bridgewater without success, decided to gamble and moved from No. 9 overall to No. 1 to take Alabama’s Bryce Young, who was underwhelming in his rookie season. The move with Chicago cost the Panthers their Nos. 9 and No. 61 picks in 2023, their first-rounder this year, a second-rounder in 2025 plus standout wide receiver DJ Moore.

>> For years, the Vikings haven’t had favorable salary cap situations. But in 2025 they could have as much as $100 million in cap room.

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>> The Twins haven’t yet commissioned Bill Mack, the noted sculptor who produced bronze statues at Target Field of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Tony Oliva, for a Joe Mauer statue. But that’s expected at some point in the near future.

>> Mauer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y., will begin at 12:30 p.m. Minnesota time and will be televised live on MLB Network. Mauer’s Hall of Fame plaque, which won’t be revealed publicly until just before his induction speech, will be limited to about 90 words.

>> The Pohlad family that owns the Twins is planning a special party for Mauer’s family and friends on Saturday evening in Cooperstown, the day before his induction. A number of Joe’s former teammates plan to be in Cooperstown for his induction.

>> The Mauer family will be inducted into the Catholic Athletic Association Hall of Fame during its 75th anniversary celebration on April 15 at the University of St. Thomas.

>> Look for Andy MacPhail to present Terry Ryan when he’s inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame on Aug. 10 at Target Field.

>> The only other city besides St. Paul to produce four Hall of Famers (Mauer, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Jack Morris) is Mobile, Ala., which produced Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige and Ozzie Smith.

There are just 78 living Hall of Fame members, including Bert Blyleven (72), Rod Carew (78), Jim Kaat (85), Mauer (40), Molitor (67), Morris (68), Tony Oliva (85) and Winfield (72).
Kaat is the oldest living former Twin. Mauer is the youngest Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, Willie Mays (92) the oldest. Mays, the former Minneapolis Miller, recently underwent a second hip replacement.

>> The reigning division champion Twins, who had an attendance of 1.98 million last year and hope to go well past 2 million this season, have renewed full-season ticket equivalents at nearly 97 percent. Attendance during 18 spring training games in Fort Myers, Fla., is expected to finish at more than 120,000.

>> Tickets remain for the Twins’ Target Field opener against Cleveland on April 4, as well as the Dodgers series April 8-10.

>> Future hall of famer Clayton Kershaw, 36, (shoulder injury) will not be available to the World Series favorite Dodgers when they face the Twins.

>> Simley grad Michael Busch, 26, whom the Dodgers this winter traded to the Cubs, homered on Thursday night against the Reds’ Hunter Greene.

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>> Mounds View grad Sam Hentges, the 6-7 left-handed Cleveland reliever with a 95-mph fastball, enters this season with a $1.2 million contract.

>> Sonny Gray, 34, who fled the Twins for a $75 million, three-year contract from St. Louis, was to be the Cardinals’ opening day pitcher against Miami before straining a hamstring the other day.

>> Ex-Gopher Max Meyer from Woodbury, recovered from Tommy John surgery, struck out two in his initial two-inning appearance for the Marlins this spring and has fanned three in four innings overall. He hasn’t given up a run in his two outings.

>> Iowa senior Caitlin Clark, national women’s basketball player of the year in 2023 and will be this year, too, is averaging 32 points and 8.6 assists per game. Hopkins grad Paige Bueckers, who was national player of the year in 2021 as a freshman at UConn, is averaging 20.7 points and 3.7 assists as a junior.

Clark, whose name, image and likeness (NIL) earnings at Iowa are worth an estimated $2 million annually, will make a first-year salary of about $76,000 as the anticipated WNBA first-round draft pick by the Indiana Fever. She’s at Target Center for the Big Ten tournament.

>> Minnehaha Academy 7-1 grad Chet Holmgren of the Thunder, competing against Victor Wembanyama for NBA rookie of the year, is averaging 17 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 54 percent. The 7-4 Wembanyama of the Spurs is averaging 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.4 blocks while shooting 46.9 percent. The Thunder, though, are winning while the Spurs are losing.

>> Multi-faceted Tim Laudner returns for his 17th season as pre- and postgame TV analyst for the Twins and is expected to work at least 100 games.

>> If Gophers 6-11 Dawson Garcia, 22, isn’t a second-round pick in June’s NBA draft, he probably can land a $500,000 job playing overseas, assuming he doesn’t return to Minnesota.

>> Sportswriting awards keep coming for St. Thomas Academy grad Judd Spicer, based in Palm Springs, the latest from the Golf Writers Association of America for an amazing real-life story that has a Hollywood movie company interested.

>> National sportscaster Dan Patrick is celebrity grand marshal for downtown St. Paul’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade beginning at noon Saturday.

>> Nice to see former Cretin basketball standout Bill Madden, who turns 99 in May, as sharp as ever and doing well at Indian Wells in Palm Desert, Calif.

>> The only current NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches with at least 10 seasons experience and a better winning percentage (.735) than St. Thomas’ Johnny Tauer are Kentucky’s John Calipari, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Kansas’ Bill Self.

Don’t print that

>> Pssst: Another deadline extension for Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore to close the $1.5 billion sale of the Timberwolves and Lynx, initially set for last Dec. 31, has been granted by owner Glen Taylor. After several delays, the last deadline of Feb. 29 has been extended to March 27.

Awkwardly, Rodriguez and Lore still have not provided sought-after documents or even communicated with Taylor since January. But the buyers recently provided sale information to the NBA, which of last week hadn’t had time to review it.

If Rodriguez and Lore, who appears to be the lead investor, don’t comply by the coming deadline, the sale agreement could be canceled. If the sale is canceled, Taylor and his limited partners would get to keep payments totaling about $600 million that have already been secured.

Meanwhile, a little birdie says Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, has invested 3.5% in the sale with Rodriguez and Lore. Hall of Fame former Timberwolf Kevin Garnett has been approached by Rodriguez and Lore to be part of the new operation, but there’s no official agreement.

>> If Kirk Cousins leaves the Vikings via free agency, and team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf really believe in GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell, both entering the third year of four-year contracts, it would seem they would pay whatever it takes to move up in next month’s draft to take a quarterback. If they have doubts about Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell, though, they would seem to have them bring in a Band-Aid quarterback, then clean house at the end of the year.

>> Should Timberwolf Anthony Edwards, 22, be named to either a first-, second- or third all-NBA team this year, which is probable, he’ll receive a $40 million contract increase, bringing his new five-year extension to $260 million.

>> There’s a decent chance that 6-8, 321-pound Joe Alt, 21, the former Totino-Grace and Notre Dame left tackle, could be blocking for Aaron Rodgers next season for the Jets, who have the No. 10 pick in April’s draft.

>> Bloomington Jefferson and U of Minnesota grad Brian Dutcher, the San Diego State men’s basketball coach who was contacted by the Gophers after Richard Pitino’s firing, last week received his anticipated contract raise of nearly $1 million as part of a new five-year deal worth $2.3 million annually with a $10.2 million buyout.

>> National champion Michigan had 18 players at the NFL Combine. The Gophers, who finished in a last-place Big Ten West division tie, had two (tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford and safety Tyler Rubin).

What’s amazing is that University of Minnesota regents two weeks ago approved $5.7 million in retention bonuses for football coach P.J. Fleck based on a rumor that UCLA might have been interested in Fleck, who is paid $6 million a year. The contract for the coach UCLA hired, DeShaun Foster, is only slightly more than half of what the Gophers pay Fleck. And Foster’s predecessor, Chip Kelly, was paid less than Fleck, too.

>> It’s unclear where free agent ex-Vikings QB Josh Dobbs will end up, but probably somewhere as a second-stringer.

>> Best odds are that Danielle Hunter will sign with either the Jaguars, Bears or Lions if he isn’t re-signed by the Vikings, per

>> Counting the $221,000 Eric van Rooyen, 34, earned for finishing in a tie for eighth in the recent Mexico Open, then the $801,000 the ex-Gopher won last week for finishing in a tie for second in the Cognizant Classic in Florida, he now ranks No. 23 on the PGA Tour money list with $1.54 million. The top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings the week prior get invited to the Masters (April 11-14) at Augusta National. Van Rooyen, who is playing in the $20 million Arnold Palmer Invitational this weekend, ranks No. 59.

>> The Twins remain in active conversations with a number of potential jersey patch sponsorship partners for this season. Fifteen of baseball’s 30 clubs already have jersey patch deals. A Twins patch deal, counting associated sponsorships that could go with it, could be worth more than $5 million a year. A Yankees jersey patch sponsorship is worth a reported $25 million annually.

>> The Twins continue to study how to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) and how it can affect their organization, including the way they procure talent and develop players, as well as for custom fan experience at Target Field.

>> Ex-Twin Miguel Sano, 30, listed in spring camp with the Angels as a 272-pound first baseman on a minor league deal, has four hits (two home runs) in 26 at-bats (.154), with 11 strikeouts.

>> First baseman Joey Gallo, 30, struck out 142 times in 282 at-bats for the Twins last season, for which he was paid $11 million. This season he got a $5 million contract from the Nationals, for whom this spring he is hitting .074 in 14 at-bats with eight strikeouts.

>> Lake Elmo resident Jake Guentzel, 29, the former Hill-Murray hockey star traded on Thursday night by Pittsburgh to Carolina, can expect a salary in the $8 million per season range this summer.

>> New head golf professional at Stillwater Country Club will be Matt Skoglund, who was head pro at Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, Minn. His father, Tom, is head pro at Town and Country Club in St. Paul.

>> Long-hitting Cretin-Derham Hall golfer Joe Honsa, a junior, has committed to the Gophers.

>> The Twins aren’t the only club to open the season with a lower payroll than last year. Eighteen others are projected to do the same, per Front Office Sports.

>> Ex-Apple Valley point guard Tyus Jones, 27, playing for $14 million for Washington this season, becomes a free agent at season’s end. Timberwolves point guard Mike Conley, 36, playing for $24 million this season, recently agreed to a $21 million, two-year contract extension.

>> Former Apple Valley power forward Gary Trent Jr., 25, paid $19 million this season by the Raptors, becomes a free agent at season’s end.

>> Plans are for the $100,000 initiation-fee Tepetonka golf club near Willmar to break ground in 60 days. Tentative opening is for July of 2025.

>> Among a myriad of responsibilities officially listed last week for applicants for the Gophers head baseball coaching job: possibly “moving, lifting and carrying material weighing up to 70 pounds.”

>> Esteemed former Gophers baseball assistant Rob Fornasiere will be TV analyst for all Gophers Big Ten Network Plus home games.

>> The Twins fantasy camp for January 2025 in Fort Myers, Fla., already is sold out at $5,495 plus tax for first-year campers, $4,995 plus tax for returning campers. It’s another $200 if paying by credit card. Among the 128 campers last January, five were women.


> Twins president Dave St. Peter, considering Minnesota’s abnormally warm winter weather, on his club’s April 4 Target Field opener against Cleveland: “I hope Mother Nature has something in reserve.”

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