The Vikings have a serious Kirk Cousins problem, and no way to solve it

Doug Farrar
·4 min read

The Vikings haven’t had a losing season since 2014, which was head coach Mike Zimmer’s first season with the team. They went 7-9. Overall, the Vikings were 57-38-1 under Zimmer before the 2020 season started. So, the team’s 1-5 record after their 40-23 curbstomping at the hands of a previously winless Falcons team that fired their head coach and general manager this past week should be a rather pertinent wakeup call.

What’s the problem? Well, the Vikings are trying to work with a new-look cornerback group, which is an issue, but the primary problem is the team’s most prominent, and most expensive: Quarterback Kirk Cousins. Coming into the Atlanta game, Cousins had thrown just eight touchdowns to seven interceptions. He ranked 17th in DYAR, 19th in DVOA, and 25th in Total QBR. Those metrics are about to plummet after what Cousins did on Sunday — he threw three interceptions in the first half, which were the headlines in an awful day in which he completed 24 of 36 passes for 343 yards, those three picks, and three garbage-time touchdowns. (Yes, his first touchdown pass to rookie receiver Justin Jefferson came early in the third quarter, but when you’re down 23-0 at the half, the second half can turn into garbage time pretty quickly).

And it’s not that Cousins threw three interceptions — there are games in which quarterbacks throw multiple picks and only certain percentages are their fault. In this case, it’s hard to assign blame anywhere else.

To his credit, Cousins was entirely transparent after the game regarding what occurred on all three interceptions. So, we’ll walk through all three with his analysis.

“The first one [to linebacker Deion Jones on the first play of the game], I thought, was the worst one of the game, if you will. First play of the game, the coverage was not confusing, it was just a zone drop. I simply forced the football into coverage and tried to do too much. That’s a mistake I may have made in Year 1, but I am disappointed that I would do that now.”

“The second one, third down, saw Cover-2 and felt [cornerback A.J. Terrell] squeeze Adam [Thielen], double Adam. I wanted to replace the squeeze with throwing it to Justin [Jefferson]. The cloud corner made a good play and jumped it.”

Then the third one, I was trying to work the bender to [Chad] Beebe and my arm got hit. It obviously went up in the air and was intercepted [by linebacker Foyesade Oluokun].”

I mean, full marks to Cousins for not shutting the media down when he was asked, but if Mitchell Trubisky threw those first two interceptions, we’d be calling for his head.

Zimmer, who has enough to deal with right now, was fairly succinct on the subject. When asked if there was a thought as to a quarterback change after the third pick, just to give the team some momentum?

“No.”

Zimmer then mentioned not running the ball “at all” — which you don’t tend to do down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and 23-0 at the end of the first half.

Alrighty then. Zimmer knows that at this point, he’s tied to his quarterback whether he likes it or not — not only for 2020, but also for 2021 and beyond. The Vikings gave Cousins a two-year, $66 million contract extension in March, and the cap hits are severe in both years. Per OverTheCap.com, Cousins has a $21 million cap hit with $62 million in dead money in 2020, and a $31 million cap hit with $41 million in dead money next year. Given the financial constraints in the 2020 season brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, there are estimates that the 2021 salary cap will come in at around $175 million.

Which means that no matter how bad Cousins is this season — and he has been as bad as he’s ever been at any time in his career — there’s no way for the Vikings to solve their crushingly obvious Kirk Cousins problem beyond waiting it out and hoping it gets better.