Souhan: Here is my ranking of the four possible Vikings QB outcomes

The Vikings have four distinct paths they could take toward their quarterback future. Each offers risk and potential rewards.

Here are their options, ranked in reverse order of desirability:

4. Start over

They don't sign incumbent starter Kirk Cousins and decline to use the 11th pick in the 2024 draft on a quarterback who might be good enough to start immediately. They go back to the mid-'90s Vikings quarterback plan and sign the best available free agent to a short-term deal.

This could happen. Cousins could decide he wants $40 or $50 million a year, or a long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money, and the Vikings could refuse. They could also get to the 11th slot in the draft and find that the college quarterbacks they value are gone.

This approach would likely lead to a true rebuild and might make Justin Jefferson yearn to play elsewhere. This approach would also require some guidance from ownership, which is enjoying constant sellouts and a dynamic environment at U.S. Bank Stadium.

3. Go all-in on Cousins

The Vikings could re-sign Cousins and decide to try to win now. Cousins won 13 games in his first year in Kevin O'Connell's offense and was putting up career-best yardage totals this season before tearing his Achilles tendon. Had he been healthy all season, the Vikings likely would have reached double-digit victories again.

Despite some of O'Connell's funky play calls, the structure of his passing offense works quite well. Receivers are always open. Jefferson is always open even when teams double-team him.

Cousins has become a leader and beloved figure in the locker room and says he wants to stay in MInnesota. This is the test. If Cousins wants top dollar, the Vikings likely will let him leave. If he really wants to stay in Minnesota and play for O'Connell and with Jefferson, he can sign a team-friendly deal that could make Jefferson's deal easier to close and leave room for other signings.

If the Vikings keep Cousins and don't use their first-round pick on a quarterback, they could draft defensive help and hope that their 2023 failures were caused mostly by injuries.

2. Go with a rookie

Most young quarterbacks fail to meet expectations, either because they were misjudged, or they wound up with a bad team or bad coach. The Vikings could, though, look at the immediate success of a few recent first-round draft choices and yearn for the benefits of drafting and developing the right young quarterback.

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Starting over with a young starter might buy O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah time to simultaneously build the roster, instead of feeling like they need to win now with a veteran quarterback to keep their jobs.

C.J. Stroud, the second pick in the 2023 draft, excelled as a rookie in Houston. Patrick Mahomes, still the best quarterback in the league, was taken with the 10th pick. In this draft, someone like Michael Penix Jr. or J.J. McCarthy could be ready to jump-start an NFL team and might be available with the 11th pick.

This would be the most exciting prospect, and the riskiest. If they wind up with someone like Christian Ponder, they will waste a season or two and likely get everyone fired.

1. Go big, go for both

The Vikings could bring their favorite phrase — "competitive rebuild" — to life by keeping Cousins and drafting his successor.

The draftee could learn under Cousins for a year or two and be ready to perform whenever he takes over as starter. He would also be an upgrade at backup quarterback.

Yes, the Vikings have other needs they could address with their dollars and draft picks. But just about every NFL team has personnel flaws. The ones that win make up for their flaws with coaching and quarterbacking.

Nine of the top 11 quarterbacks in ESPN's QBR — an overall quarterback effectiveness rating — made the playoffs. The two who didn't? Cousins and Chargers star Justin Herbert.

Should the Vikings keep Cousins or draft their future quarterback?