NFL free agency: Kirk Cousins a risk worth taking for Vikings, Rick Spielman

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The Vikings' Kirk Cousins signing in NFL free agency is a splurge. But a look at the history of QBs under GM Rick Spielman in Minnesota helps explain why the Vikings are willing to take a chance on Cousins.

NFL free agency: Kirk Cousins a risk worth taking for Vikings, Rick Spielman

The Vikings' Kirk Cousins signing in NFL free agency is a splurge. But a look at the history of QBs under GM Rick Spielman in Minnesota helps explain why the Vikings are willing to take a chance on Cousins.

It took an $84 million fishing expedition, but Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has finally harpooned his white whale.

Kirk Cousins.

Once the three-year deal is officially signed after Wednesday’s start of the NFL calendar year, Spielman will have landed the franchise quarterback that has eluded him during two tenures as a general manager.

In fact, Spielman's futility in trying to snare that elite signal-caller may help explain why the Vikings have taken the unprecedented — and potentially dangerous — step of guaranteeing that Cousins will reportedly receive all of the money in what is believed a contract averaging $28 million per season.

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Spielman has tried every conceivable route possible to address the position when given the final say on personnel moves with Miami (2004) and Minnesota (2012 to present).

There was the 2004 free-agent gamble in Miami on A.J. Feeley, a backup in Philadelphia who Spielman incorrectly believed could become a quality starter. There was the draft with Vikings first-round picks used on Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater. There was the trade with Philadelphia for Sam Bradford during the 2016 preseason.

And there were varying fill-ins thrust into action like Case Keenum, Shaun Hill, Matt Cassel, Joe Webb and — shudder — Josh Freeman.

None of them provided anything more than short-term success (at best) for various reasons ranging from injury to simply not being as good as hoped.


In the process, some of the best years in future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson’s storied career elapsed without a Super Bowl appearance. The same goes for other Vikings standouts no longer in the league like Chad Greenway, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.

Minnesota was running the same risk of letting another window close on a new generation of defensive stalwarts by not having a difference-maker under center. That became evident in last season’s NFC title game when Keenum came crashing back to earth in a blowout loss at Philadelphia.

The Vikings headed toward the 2018 offseason with Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater set to become unrestricted free agents. Spielman didn’t believe strongly enough that any of the three were the answer.

The challenge was finding someone else who was.

Enter Cousins.

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Not that he has led the Redskins into the promised land, either. Cousins doesn’t even have a winning record as a starter (26-30-1) let alone a playoff victory after the 2015 Redskins were smashed by the Packers in his lone postseason appearance.

Cousins, though, has consistently shown the potential to make a championship run during his three seasons at the helm in Washington. He also is the free-agent version of Moby Dick.

That’s how rare the sightings are of injury-free quarterbacks under the age of 30 who hit the market with no string attached a la a franchise tag.


Mind you, Minnesota’s version of the Pequod spent a fortune in bait to net Cousins. Guaranteeing 100 percent of a player’s salary (or awfully close depending on the contract’s final wording) is unchartered waters for any NFL team since the current free-agency system began in 1993.

Beyond the gamble on player performance, it’s especially risky considering football’s inherent injury rate. The Vikings are painfully aware of what could happen from seeing Bridgewater suffer a catastrophic knee injury in a noncontact practice during the 2016 preseason.

Spielman, though, figured it’s worth the risk.

And why not?

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Minnesota put itself in a position to make this move through shrewd salary-cap management that yielded $53 million in space heading into the offseason (Vikings executive Rob Brzezinski, take a bow). Almost every key player is already under contract through at least this season, and prized running back Dalvin Cook is set to return after a knee injury prematurely ended his rookie campaign.

Spielman must now hope signing Cousins won’t lead to the Vikings suffering the same fate as Captain Ahab for both the short and long term. Minnesota might be unable to re-sign standout players in the future because Cousins is consuming so much cap space. That makes the margin of error even smaller in upcoming Vikings drafts.

So be it. And give Spielman credit for this:

He’s willing to go down with the franchise’s trademark dragon boat for the chance to reel in a Lombardi Trophy.

Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

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