Vikings GM Adofo-Mensah says it’s his intention to have Cousins back at QB

Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell met reporters on Wednesday for a news conference that was ostensibly to recap the season they just finished. They spent much of their time fielding questions about the offseason that is to come.

The Vikings enter what might be the most pivotal offseason of the GM and coach's time together, with a long list of important decisions topped by the choice they'll face at quarterback. Kirk Cousins will be a free agent in two months, after six seasons in Minnesota and the torn right Achilles that ended the 35-year-old's strong 2023 season after eight games.

The Vikings could bring Cousins back on a new deal, select his successor with the 11th overall pick in the draft or begin 2024 with both Cousins and a first-round pick at QB. On Wednesday, Adofo-Mensah reiterated his interest in signing Cousins to a new deal.

"I have said it — I think I have been pretty consistent with that," Adofo-Mensah said. "Kirk, the player, is someone that we saw what he does to this team. I thought we were playing really good football before he got injured, and it is the most important position in sports. Ultimately, it always comes down to, can you find an agreement that works for both sides and all of those things? But as a player, it is certainly my intention to have him back here."

Cousins has said he wants to remain in Minnesota, and signaled some openness to at least discussing a deal that would give the Vikings a discount on what he might make as a free agent. "At this stage in my career, the dollars are really not what it's about," he said. "At this point, structure is probably more important."

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The Vikings added two void years to Cousins' deal last spring, after talks broke off on a long-term extension. Multiple sources have said Cousins sought guarantees into 2025, while the Vikings were only willing to offer guaranteed money through 2024. The guarantee structure in a deal could again determine whether the Vikings and the quarterback can come to an agreement after his injury.

"I mean, there are a lot of factors that go into these things. It is age. It's injury, but it is also performance," Adofo-Mensah said. "How do you believe the performance will go? And there's different examples through time. Obviously, you have to also pay attention to the person and what he puts into his body and how regimented and detailed he is. All those factors go into it. At the end of the day, we are just taking risks, and we try to measure it as best we can and protect ourselves and ensure against it. On his side, he is trying to take less of it. That is his job and they should do that and we will try and find a place in the middle and see where we end up."

The moves the Vikings made last year, cutting popular veterans such as linebacker Eric Kendricks and wide receiver Adam Thielen, helped them regain some of their financial flexibility, Adofo-Mensah said. They are projected to have more than $35 million of cap space at the start of the league year, and could push that number close to $50 million through moves with veterans such as safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Dean Lowry.

In addition to the quarterback question, they'll try to finalize a contract extension with receiver Justin Jefferson after talks ended with the sides on the cusp of a deal the day before the regular season. Adofo-Mensah said he had talked with Jefferson's agents on Wednesday morning. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw could also be an extension candidate, and the Vikings might try to re-sign edge rusher Danielle Hunter, who's headed toward free agency for the first time in his career after a 16½-sack season.

Hunter will be 30 in October, but Adofo-Mensah said he isn't worried physical decline is around the corner for an athletic specimen like Hunter. "You walk by Danielle; I think you understand what I'm talking about," he said.

The team reworked Hunter's contract in the first week of training camp, ending a hold-in that seemed at one point like it could end with him being traded. But teammates voted him a captain for the first time when he returned, and O'Connell said Wednesday he saw a change in Hunter because of it.

"It was not lost on Danielle being voted a captain and kind of what that looked like — [how] his teammates look at him," O'Connell said. "And I saw some tremendous growth from Danielle in that side of things, to go along with production on the field. I think that was really part of it."

The Vikings went 20-14 the past two seasons, as O'Connell broke Dennis Green's team record for the most wins by a head coach in his first two years. The Vikings followed their 2022 division title, though, with a 7-10 season where they became the first team in franchise history to start four quarterbacks in a season. O'Connell wondered aloud on Wednesday if he needed to do more to adjust the Vikings' offense and accommodate their backup QBs once Cousins went down, though he said in the end, "it was a pretty unique year."

It preceded an offseason where quarterback decisions could shape the rest of the decade for the Vikings. On Wednesday, Adofo-Mensah made it clear he's aware of the stakes.

"I put that pressure on myself every offseason, but I think it's of the utmost importance," he said. "To say [it will affect us] five to eight to 10 years probably depends on what positions you address, but it's an important offseason. I can't really run from that in any kind of way."