Sunday’s win over the Saints provided some clarity for the Vikings. Saturday’s loss to the 49ers may have reduced it, a bit.
Ownership needs to make some important decisions in the offseason, which began the moment the clock struck 0:00 in the fourth quarter of a divisional round exit ramp in Santa Clara.
As to three of the most important jobs in any professional football organization, it’s pay or get off the pot time, as a practical matter. Coach Mike Zimmer has a contract through 2020. G.M. Rick Spielman has a contract through 2020. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has a contract through 2020.
Cousins will receive $29 million in guaranteed pay in the coming season, the last of his three-year, fully-guaranteed contract. He can’t be traded this, he can’t be transition-tagged next year, and due to the 44-percent bump he’d receive over his $31 million cap number for 2020, he won’t be franchise-tagged.
“That’s just not my focus right now,” Cousins told reporters after Saturday’s loss, via Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. “My focus is on this game and the playoffs. I certainly love it here and love being a Viking.”
But in the NFL money can buy me love. Or it can at least prove that the love is reciprocal. Since Cousins signed his bar-setting contract two years ago, the bar has been bumped from $28 million annually to $35 million. For a guy who is capable of playing extremely well under the right circumstances — but who struggles when the running game sputters and/or the blocking doesn’t give him enough time to find a receiver — it’s hard to apply a value to his next contract.
Before a decision can be made about Cousins, the Vikings must decide who the decision-makers will be. While hardly unprecedented, it’s far from ideal to have a coach or a G.M. working in their lame duck seasons. The Vikings currently are scheduled to have both their coach and their G.M. in that capacity.
Thus, Job No. 1 becomes making a decision about the future of Zimmer and Spielman. Nine days ago, owner Mark Wilf said in a statement that the Vikings have “every intent” to keep them. Ultimately, intent is in the wallet of the intender.
Then there’s the question of whether the Vikings will pay running back Dalvin Cook, who enters the final year of his rookie contract and who may not be inclined to show up for anything in the offseason, training camp, or preseason until he receives a reward for what he has done, compensation for what he’ll be expected to continue to do, and protection against further injury.
Other roster and employment decisions loom, especially if offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski ends up getting the head-coaching job in Cleveland (after Saturday’s game, the Vikings may be rooting for that outcome). But the biggest decisions relate to the biggest jobs, and the riskiest move of all would be to stand pat for 2020 as to Zimmer, Spielman, Cousins, and Cook.