Vikings big question: Is the starting QB situation really settled?

Besides a couple of isolated examples at the end of the 2019 and 2021 seasons, Vikings head coaches haven't heard the question, "Who's your starting quarterback this week?" from Twin Cities reporters for six years.

The last time was in 2017, when Case Keenum took over for the injured Sam Bradford and won 10 of his final 11 regular-season starts and led the Vikings to the NFC championship game without Mike Zimmer ever naming him the starting quarterback. Keenum's weekly media availabilities were in the Vikings locker room at Winter Park, not at the podium customarily given to starting QBs in the old building, at first because the Vikings kept open the possibility Teddy Bridgewater would return from knee surgery to reclaim the job, and then perhaps because the coach didn't want to meddle with a magical run of success.

From the end of that season through Week 8 of the 2023 season, the Vikings' starting quarterback has been Kirk Cousins, who had started 88 of a possible 90 games and signed new contracts in 2020 and 2022 while playing for two coaches. Last week, when Cousins tore his right Achilles tendon, coach Kevin O'Connell announced Jaren Hall would start in his place Sunday in Atlanta. On Monday, O'Connell was asked for the first time as Vikings head coach whom he would start in the upcoming game.

The identity of the Vikings' starting quarterback could indeed be a weekly topic the rest of the 2023 season, with Cousins recovering from surgery and four other quarterbacks — Joshua Dobbs, Hall, Nick Mullens and Sean Mannion — on the roster as options to replace him. O'Connell said Monday that Dobbs, acquired Oct. 31 in a trade with the Cardinals, would get first-team snaps for the first time this week as Hall recovers from a concussion and Mullens looks to return from a low back injury that has had him on injured reserve for four weeks.

Dobbs is the obvious candidate to start on Sunday, given the fact Hall's time in the concussion protocol could limit his preparation time and the Vikings don't want to rush Mullens back. Mannion, who is on the practice squad, could end up as the second quarterback this week if Hall remains in the concussion protocol. O'Connell said Monday the Vikings likely wouldn't add a quarterback, though they'd need another option behind Dobbs for this week, especially since they lost running back Cam Akers (their emergency QB) to a torn Achilles on Sunday. Asked what would have happened if Dobbs had been hurt after Akers left in the third quarter against Atlanta, O'Connell smiled ruefully and said, "I'd rather not talk about it."

"I would have made a decision in the moment," he added, "based upon whether it was going to be a running back or a receiver. Maybe they would let me steal some pads and a helmet and sneak out there. But that would have been something we would have had to work through. That might have been a level of adversity that even our organization would have had to find a miracle there."

If Dobbs performs well against the Saints, the Vikings could keep riding with him as long as they see him as the best option. He might need to play well to hold onto the job; the team holds Mullens in high regard and brought him back on a two-year deal to be the No. 2 quarterback this year. Hall, whom the Vikings drafted in the fifth round this spring, was driving the team toward the end zone when he was injured Sunday. If the Vikings see him as a possible future starter, they might find some incentive to play him for his development. Overall, though, there's little to suggest the team would base its QB decisions for the rest of 2023 on anything other than which passer provides the best chance for success this year.

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Dobbs and Mannion will be free agents after this season, Mullens has only $375,000 in dead money for 2024 and Hall has a cap figure of just $984,818 for next season. There's little tying the Vikings financially to any of the four, in other words, and the team could head into next season planning either to start Cousins on a new contract or to bring up a first-round pick. With so little to influence the decision beyond short-term performance, the Vikings can choose whichever QB works for them in the moment.

They'd obviously prefer someone to lock down the job and provide some semblance of the continuity they've enjoyed with Cousins for years. Dobbs will get the first chance to show he can do it, with a full week of practice and game-planning meetings to help. A favorable schedule the rest of the way means whichever quarterback wins the job could follow Keenum's path to a start in the playoffs.