Charley Walters: Vikings’ QB future as muddled as ever with Cousins’ injury

Even before the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins tore his right Achilles’ tendon last week and was lost for the season, the team’s quarterback future for 2024 was unclear.

Now it’s even more unclear.

As for Cousins, who turns 36 next August, it might be difficult for him to pass a physical when NFL free agency opens in March. It generally takes nine months of rehabilitation to fully recover to return to high impact activity after an Achilles rupture.

It’s completely unknown whether Cousins will be back with the Vikings in 2024, or try to play somewhere else, or even retire. He has made well over $200 million during his 12-season NFL career.

There is reason for hope. It was 30 years ago, at age 32, that Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino tore his Achilles in Week 5 of the 1993 season but came back after surgery to play six seasons in Miami, some superbly.

—The Vikings’ 2024 quarterback picture probably won’t be known until mid-March, when the NFL’s official league year begins.

—The dilemma for the Vikings in trying to trade up to get a franchise quarterback in the first round of next April’s draft is that there already are too many teams with substantially more trade capital.

The Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals each have two first-round picks (Cardinals currently No. 1, Bears Nos. 2 and 3). The Green Bay Packers currently have the No. 6 pick, two picks in the second round and two picks in the third. Washington currently has the No. 11 overall pick, two picks in the second round and two picks in the third. The New York Giants currently have the No. 4 overall pick and two second-round picks.

The Vikings have one first-round (No. 20 overall), one second-round, no third round, two fourth-round, three fifth-round, two sixth-round and one seventh-round pick.

—It’s clear, by the way, that the Cardinals are tanking the season for the top draft pick.

—In retrospect, had the Vikings lost their past three games, they would be 1-7 and serious contenders to draft an elite QB.

—The way it looks now, the Vikings (4-4) might win just two more games, finishing 6-11 and no playoffs, and then have to figure out who their QB will be next season.

—The playbook the Vikings installed for Sunday’s game in Atlanta with rookie QB Jaren Hall starting won’t at all resemble what it would have been had Cousins been able to play. It will be about protecting Hall, who will throw a lot of short passes and dump-offs.

—Part of the reason Minnesota last week traded for QB Josh Dobbs from Arizona is that Vikings backup Nick Mullens, 28, has a stress fracture in his back, and his return from injured reserve is unknown. Mullen’s contract is for $2 million this season.

Dobbs, 28, is playing for the NFL veteran minimum $1.5 million. He’s expected to finish the season as the starter. Had Mullens been healthy, the Vikings would not have traded for Dobbs.

—The Vikings’ bye week is Dec. 3.

Teddy Bridgewater, 30, the former Vikings QB who is backup for the Detroit Lions, was never a serious consideration by either team to replace Cousins. Bridgewater’s salary is $2.5 million this season.

Mac Jones, 25, of the New England Patriots has to be intriguing to the Vikings. When he came into the NFL from Alabama three years ago, he was considered a Cousins-type of player — not great, but one who could run an offense with similar skills. He played well as a rookie but has since regressed. It’s unclear whether the Patriots are ready to move on next spring.

—Another intriguing QB choice for the Vikings could be Gardner Minshew of the Indianapolis Colts. Minshew, 27, becomes a free agent after the season.

—Vikings to-be-free agent pass rusher Danielle Hunter, who turned 29 last week, could cost $25 million a year over three years. It will be challenging how the Vikings could budget for Hunter, Justin Jefferson and Cousins for 2024.

—When QB Aaron Rodgers of the New York Jets went down with a torn Achilles nearly eight weeks ago, he was replaced by Zach Wilson. When Cousins went down with an Achilles tear last week, he was replaced by Hall.

Hall, by the way, replaced Wilson as QB at Brigham Young.

Rodgers, who turns 40 next month, still has a goal to return to the field this season, but that’s unlikely.

—When the Vikings traded Ezra Cleveland to Jacksonville last week, teammate linemen Brian O’Neill and Garrett Bradbury lost one of their regular golf partners at Southview Country Club, where they are members. It was O’Neill a couple of years ago who bought Cleveland an expensive set of PXG clubs as a reward for playing well against top defensive linemen.

—Northwestern University grad Erik Bremer, 27, son of Dick Bremer, 67, whose retirement as Twins broadcaster after 40 seasons was announced last week, this year worked his eighth minor-league season as a broadcaster for the Miami Marlins’ Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

—A move of Cory Provus, peerless as a play-by-play voice, from radio to TV would seem prudent for the Twins. There are a lot more viewers than listeners for Twins games.

—There is no better brotherhood in sports than among hockey players. That’s why four of Herb Brooks’ 1980 Olympic gold medal champions — Mike Ramsey, Rob McClanahan, Buzz Schneider and Dave Christian — and nearly two dozen former NHL players showed up at Dave Brooks’ St. Paul hideaway recently for a $350 per ticket fundraising dinner to honor late Olympian-NHLer Mark Pavelich in support of Mark’s wish for a mental wellness facility for former players.

—Had the Twins advanced to the World Series, Game 1 at Target Field would have had a temperature of 35 degrees at first pitch; Game 2 would have been 33 degrees.

—Ex-Gophers football coach Jerry Kill’s New Mexico State team needs one victory in its final four games to qualify for its second straight bowl game. Kill, whose Aggies defeated Bowling Green last season in the Quick Lane Bowl, is in the second year of a five-year contract worth $3.1 million, excluding incentives.

—Edinburgh USA club pro Don Berry, 61, who holds a record 54 Minnesota state championships and 17 times has been the Minnesota PGA Player of the Year, last week in Port St. Lucie, Fla., qualified for next summer’s Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Mich.

—Classy Cottage Grove native Jeff Nelson’s retirement at age 58 after 25 seasons leaves Mark Wegner, 51, from St. Paul as Minnesota’s lone major league baseball umpire.

—Longtime hall of fame multi-sport official Bill Ivory, 86, from St. Paul is recovering well after stomach-related complications.

—Stillwater grad Whitney Windmiller Blasko the other day became Columbia’s first woman golfer to be inducted into the New York university’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

—The suddenly improved University of St. Thomas men’s hockey team has three transfers from Wisconsin, three from Colorado College and one from Niagara.

Among the Wisconsin transfers is Jake Ratzlaff, the ex-Rosemount multi-sport star who initially committed to play hockey at Minnesota, then decided to play football for the Badgers.

Don’t print that

—One way, and probably the only way, the Vikings could move up in April’s draft to take either of QBs Caleb Williams of Southern California or Drake Maye of North Carolina would be trading the face of the franchise, Justin Jefferson. Presumably, the Vikings wouldn’t have the stomach to do that. If the Vikings don’t do that, though, it’s likely their starting QB next year will be somebody already in the NFL.

—Word is last March the contract extension the Vikings offered QB Kirk Cousins was for just 2024 guaranteed, and that Cousins wanted a two-year guaranteed deal. A good guess is that he wanted nearly $80 million guaranteed for the two seasons.

By declining a one-year offer, the Achilles tear may have cost Cousins nearly $40 million. Whatever contract he gets next will be incentives-laden, because the signing team needs to protect itself against further injury.

—Among teams that could be interested in Cousins, depending on health, would be the San Francisco 49ers, coached by Cousins fan Kyle Shanahan, or even the Packers, who run an offense similar to that of Shanahan.

—Suddenly, the Vikings, who are not a running team but a passing team, don’t have a quarterback who can fully utilize the best wide receiver duo in the NFL — Jefferson and Jordan Addison — the way Cousins did. Hall and Dobbs are certainly more mobile than Cousins and will feature more rollouts and short passes.

—Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has made some poor draft picks, but not on Addison, who has turned out a big hit with the No. 23 overall pick last spring.

—It has been two straight years for Vikings Achilles tears — lineman Brian O’Neill suffered his against the Packers, but it was a partial tear.

—If the Bears take a top QB in April’s draft, does that make Justin Fields available to the Vikings?

—Tom Izzo, the great Michigan State men’s basketball coach, was at Target Center recently for Big Ten media day, sitting not far from courtside where Flip Saunders used to coach the Timberwolves before becoming general manager.

Izzo confirmed to the Pioneer Press that Saunders, when he became the GM, offered him the team’s head coaching job and that Tom came very close to accepting.

“One of the reasons I was going to, and one of the reasons I wasn’t going to, was Flip,” Izzo said. “I told Flip, ‘why do you want to hire me and then you’re going to have to fire me, and we’re good friends.’ You know what his answer was? ‘Just think how much fun we’ll have
every day, though. We’ll go get a burger and beer at lunch, and we’ll talk basketball, basketball, basketball.’

“And you know what? That and the fact that not being a pro coach or in the NBA in any aspect, here’s a good friend of mine who I value that could help me along those lines. And so, of all the jobs that I was offered, and there were more than a few, that made this one special.”

—Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, during the 29 years he has owned the Timberwolves, will tell you his favorite GM was Saunders, who died at age 60 eight years ago last month.

—The Colorado State men’s basketball team, coached by Niko Medved, the Roseville grad who certainly will be considered if the Gophers make a coaching change after the season, pummeled the Gophers in a private, controlled scrimmage the other day.

—Gophers men’s basketball coach Ben Johnson has a $2.75 million buyout if he isn’t retained after this season.

—Coach of the Bethune-Cookman men’s basketball team the Gophers host in their season opener Monday evening is Reggie Theus, the former NBA all-star who also is the only Division I coach also to be athletics director.

—New coach of the California-Berkeley men’s basketball team that finished 3-29 last season and hosts St. Thomas in the season opener on Monday is Mark Madsen, the popular former Timberwolf.

—Andrew Rhode, the 6-foot-6 point guard who transferred from St. Thomas to Virginia for his sophomore season, won’t start for the Cavaliers but will get impactful minutes.

—Ex-Gophers guard Marcus Carr is playing for Aris Thessaloniki in Greece.

—The name, image and likeness (NIL) price for 6-foot-11 Wisconsin freshman Nolan Winter, the Lakeville North grad, to make a personal appearance at a practice or event is a minimum $184; $80 for an autograph.

—The St. Paul Saints are conducting a weeklong live auction for royal blue authentic player-worn jerseys from the 2023 season. Highest bid is $500 for Royce Lewis’ No. 26. Byron Buxton’s No. 25 jersey has received a $300 bid.

Lewis, by the way, has given three of the baseballs he hit for grand slam home runs this year to his parents in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

—The Indiana Pacers signed 6-8, 245-pound ex-DeLaSalle star Reid Travis for one day, then released him. It’s an odd quirk, part of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement — teams often sign, then quickly release players because it gives them first right for G League assignment.

Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards have signed ex-Gophers guard Gabe Kalscheuer, the DeLaSalle grad who could end up with the Capital City GoGo G League team.

—There were nearly 400 Baseball Writers Association of America members who voted in last year’s hall of fame election. Former Twin Joe Mauer will certainly get a great majority in his first year of eligibility (voting is next month), but it will be close as to whether he’ll get the required 75 percent for election. Harmon Killebrew wasn’t elected until his fourth year of eligibility.

Among 270 former major league players in the hall of fame, just 58 were elected in their first year of eligibility.

—Injustice: Tom Kelly, who managed the Twins to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, isn’t among finalists on baseball’s hall of fame managers ballot. Results of voting will be announced next month.

—The Yankees have renewed trade interest in Twins outfielder Max Kepler, who turns 31 in February and whose $10 million option for 2024 was picked up last week.

—New GM at the posh Minikahda Club in Minneapolis will be Taylor Ashworth, who is a Fergus Falls High grad and was assistant GM at the high-end Stock Farm Club in Hamilton, Mont.

—The Gophers’ 2024 football schedule released last week looks like a 6-6 win-loss season.


—Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, who is 6-11 and weighs 284 pounds, after physically dominating 7-1, 195-pound rookie Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 128-95 victory last week, on advice to the Minnehaha Academy grad, per Denver Post: “I think he needs to be a little bit fatter, to be honest.”