John Shipley: The Kirk Cousins Experience all but over for Vikings

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Jan. 10—A few hours after firing player personnel chief Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf mostly talked around what kind of replacements he and brother Zygi are looking for.

Wilf did, however, spread a few tea leaves about the team's quarterback while talking to reporters on Monday.

Given the opportunity to put the organization's arms around Kirk Cousins, Wilf demurred.

"We as ownership hopefully know what we don't know," he said, "and we're going to make sure we have the right people as general manager and head coach, and they're the ones who are really going to get the proper input, give us their evaluation before we make any of those decisions."

The opacity was deafening.

While everything he said is sensible, rest assured that if Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes were the Vikings' quarterback, Wilf would have proclaimed him a key part of the team's future. Of course, if either of those two had been the Vikings' quarterback the past few years, there's a good chance the Wilfs don't fire their GM and head coach.

But we digress. Whoever the new GM is, his first job will be to jettison Cousins and his albatross contract to the highest bidder, like maybe a second- or third-round draft pick. The Vikings will have to pay some of the $35 million Cousins is guaranteed in 2022, but it will be addition by subtraction — maybe not for next season, but for the team's competitive future.

If Cousins' future in Minnesota wasn't clear after another losing season — his third in four seasons here — it was made implicit by something Wilf said when painting in broad strokes the kind of people the Vikings want in charge. "We want strong leaders," he said.

Welp.

Cousins brings some valuable assets to the table; leadership is not one of them, and never was it more obvious than Sunday, when, after helping the Vikings rally past the Chicago Bears, 31-17, in the season finale at U.S. Bank Stadium, he was asked to address the persistent rumors that his coach was about to be fired.

"I just kind of go to work. I really insulate myself," he said by way of not answering. "So, I just know I have a job to do and try to do that job the best I can, and that's that."

It wasn't so much that Cousins didn't endorse Zimmer — the two seem to have a complicated relationship — as much as the fact he felt it necessary to explain that reading the room and making declarative statements aren't part of his job. No surprise that he didn't show up for Monday's media access.

Pro tip: If you're paid like the CEO, your portfolio is varied and substantial. You don't see Karl-Anthony Towns ducking out.

Besides, it's not as if all that insulating himself from the outside world resulted in playoff appearances, let alone playoff wins. Get involved, big fella. As it stands, Cousins' few stabs at conspicuous leadership stand at pushing Zimmer after a victory over winless Detroit on Oct. 10, and honking at some Vikings fans from his Mercedes after he and his teammates beat the Packers on Nov. 21.

Look, signing Cousins in the wake of a 38-7 loss to Philadelphia in the 2017-18 NFC Championship made complete sense, even at a then-record three years and $84 million guaranteed. The Vikings seemed to be a quarterback away from a Super Bowl, and Case Keenum — while mostly terrific while leading the team to an NFC North title — wasn't the answer. No one else available was, either.

Cousins wasn't so much the smart move as the only move. It just didn't work, and if new leadership decides the team is better off with an overpaid, lame-duck quarterback than a cheaper short-term fix next season, it will raise the final bill to $149 million over five years.

Cousins' performance has played a larger part in the Vikings' mediocrity the past four years than Zimmer's, and the Vikings just fired Zimmer. Why would they stop there? For all intents and purposes, the Cousins Experience is already over.