The Minnesota Vikings’ plane ride home from their 24-10 victory Sunday in Green Bay should have been a celebratory journey filled with laughs and the satisfaction that they had overcome a 1-4 start to even their record at 4-4. The fact they did it against their arch-rival should have only added to the enjoyment.
Instead, the guess is the trip was filled with players speaking in hushed tones and filled with uncertainty. That’s because the Vikings’ season took a shocking turn with 9 minutes, 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kirk Cousins reportedly suffered a torn right Achilles tendon.
Cousins was replaced by fifth-round rookie Jaren Hall, who finished off the somber victory. The Vikings now face multiple questions with the NFL trade deadline set for 3 p.m. Tuesday. Let’s examine some of them.
Is Jaren Hall the starter for the rest of the season?
The answer is almost certainly no.
Hall likely will start next Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta, but the fifth-round pick was supposed to spend this season learning behind Cousins and backup Nick Mullens. Mullens went on injured reserve this month because of a back issue and isn’t eligible to return until Week 10 against the Saints.
Mullens, 28, is in his sixth NFL season and has started 17 of the 24 games in which he has appeared. He was acquired by the Vikings from the Las Vegas Raiders last season and played in four games in relief of Cousins, completing 21-of-25 passes for 224 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Mullens, assuming he’s ready to return for the Saints game, would be the favorite to start. The Vikings also have veteran Sean Mannion on their practice squad, but odds are he will remain there when Mullens returns.
As for Hall, he would have to really wow coach Kevin O’Connell to remain ahead of Mullens on the depth chart. That is a possibility and Brock Purdy stepped in for the San Francisco 49ers in 2022 after being the last pick in the draft but that can’t be considered the norm.
Would the Vikings be wise to look to the outside for a replacement?
The Vikings’ victory on Sunday wasn’t even an hour old and some were suggesting that general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah should lure Tom Brady out of retirement, or sign veteran free agent Carson Wentz, or make a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for Kyler Murray or the Los Angeles Rams for Matthew Stafford.
But the odds of any of those things happening are extremely small.
The Vikings traded a first-round pick for veteran Sam Bradford in 2016 after starter Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic injury just before the regular season, but these Vikings are in a very different position. That team had Shaun Hill as its backup and was starting a season with big expectations.
These Vikings have pulled to .500, but are already eight games into the season. One of the most important things is familiarity with the system and expecting someone to step in and run the show at this point is a significant ask.
Also, what would the Vikings be willing to give up in a potential trade? The guess here is that Brady already has turned down offers from other teams to return. Wentz, meanwhile, is out of work for a reason and is the 30-year-old really going to provide an upgrade when he hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since last Jan. 1?
In other words, don’t expect any quarterback from outside the organization to come in and save the season.
Should the Vikings start looking toward 2024?
This would be a tough one for any player, and many fans, to accept but it at least has to be broached.
The Vikings have gone from an expected seller at the deadline to a team whose recent resurgence made it more likely they would buy. But that was before Cousins hobbled to the sideline at Lambeau Field.
His loss creates questions about what direction this franchise wants to take and there isn’t much time for contemplation. Adofo-Mensah has said the Vikings were in a “competitive rebuild” since he took the job after the 2021 season. That meant if the Vikings were going well, he would look to make moves to improve the roster.
That’s what happened last year when the Vikings acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson from Detroit on trade-deadline day during a season in which Minnesota won 13 games and the NFC North title.
Vikings’ officials must now decide what this team can accomplish after a disappointing start, a strong rebound and now the loss of a starting quarterback who had never missed a game because of injury since signing with the Vikings in 2018.
It seems unlikely the Vikings will trade any of their key veterans, but they will definitely continue to get calls on a guy like standout pass rusher Danielle Hunter. Hunter had a sack on Sunday and leads the NFL with 10 this season. He is set to become a free agent this offseason and could get the Vikings a nice return, if he’s moved before Tuesday’s deadline.
That might make the most business sense, but Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell also know they have a locker room full of players who have bought into the coach’s message about not giving up on the season.
There are cases to be made on both sides, but any way you look at it the next 48 hours are going to be extremely stressful at TCO Performance Center.
What does this mean for Kirk Cousins' future?
The 35-year-old Cousins was having an excellent season, even with the Vikings’ early struggles, and appeared set to cash in with one more big contract. The question was whether that would be with Minnesota.
Cousins was playing in the final season of a contract for the first time since he signed with the Vikings after the two sides could not agree on an extension last March.
While there was some thought that O’Connell might want to move on to a younger and cheaper quarterback, he also has consistently spoken very highly of Cousins and was hired in part because of the organization’s confidence that coach and quarterback would work well together.
Cousins entered Sunday ranked among the leaders in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating. But an Achilles’ injury could keep Cousins out into next season and create questions about his future.
While the guess was that Cousins would only do a multi-year contract with his next team, would he now be willing to take less term and money to prove that he’s recovered from this injury? That’s a possibility and means you can’t discount that he could return to the Vikings.
The Vikings also could be planning to position themselves to draft a quarterback in the first round to serve as their next starter. That’s what makes this so interesting. Do the Vikings still see themselves as a legitimate threat to make a playoff run or will they embrace the “rebuild” portion of things?
There were unanswered questions when Sunday’s game began. By Sunday evening those questions had multiplied as the Vikings faced playing the rest of the season without Cousins.
The Real Forno Show
Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com.