Kirk Cousins hasn’t taken Vikings where they thought he would
Elevated rookie quarterbacks rarely deliver championships, either in the first season or at a later date. Highly compensated free agent quarterbacks rarely achieve this either - although the sample size is much smaller.
In 2018, Kirk Cousins became the first healthy, accomplished quarterback on the right-hand side of 30 to hit the unrestricted free hand. The Vikings, apparently only competing with the Jets, gave Cousins a three-year, full warranty, worth $ 28 million a year, a record amount at the time.
The Vikings had big plans for further growing the franchise among cousins. In 2017 the Vikings went 13-3, with one start from Sam Bradford (a sweeping win on Monday night against the Saints) and 15 from Case Keenum, who lost his first start in Pittsburgh before going 12-2. Then came the Minneapolis wonder, one of the greatest moments in franchise history.
As with the Immaculate Reception, the Minneapolis Miracle was not followed by a Super Bowl appearance, but a defeat in the conference championship game the following week. Like the Immaculate Reception, many believed (or at least wondered if) the Minneapolis wonder would serve as the front end of an ongoing stretch of greatness.
Give cousins, objectively a much better quarterback Keenum (but subjectively not good for a team with a regularly suspicious offensive line). Dalvin Cook, whose 2017 rookie season ended with an ACL rift in week four, and Minnesota's offensive combined with Mike Zimmer's defense were reportedly ready to take over the league.
It was not like that. In 2018, the Vikings scratched and scratched to 8-7-1. A week 17 home game against the Bears, who suspended the division and played for free, resulted in a loss in Minnesota - and a failure in the playoffs. In 2019, the Vikings qualified 10-6 for the postseason and angered the Saints in a wildcard game before being splashed by the 49ers in the divisional round. That year Minnesota started 5-1, reached 6-6 and promptly fell apart on the track. (It was eerie like the 1990 Minnesota season, when the Vikings played table tennis from 1-6 to 6-6 to 6-10.)
With one game remaining in 2020, the Cousins-era Vikings have a record of 24-22-1. Without the fact that the Vikings extended his contract for two years in March (and now paid him $ 33 million a year), the Vikings could have walked away from cousins after the game next Sunday.
Property may have a tendency to think about the possibilities, but the organization is handcuffed by the contract, the cap hit, the guarantees, and the fact that no one (except maybe the 49ers) will ask for cousins. Unless someone is searching just well enough.
In all fairness this has become the way of the Vikings in recent years. Just good enough.
Just good enough to fight for a place in the playoffs every year. Just good enough to maybe win a periodic postseason game before taking on an elite team that suffocates the Vikings. Just good enough to make fans believe the team is trying to finally deliver a championship, but not good enough to ever actually get there.
Just good enough is very good for business. Although every team claims to want to win the Super Bowl every year, every team (even the Patriots) that uses Super Bowl victories as a barometer of success is preparing for consequent failure. Success flows from the argument into December. Of never having a lost season. From always being on the porch, or at least around it, even when there's never a chance of getting close enough to try and kick the door down.
They are the Vikings, or at least they have become in the last 20 years. Just good enough. But for the 3-13 in 2011 they were always able to do a December run for the postseason. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.
The best-known exception was in 2009 when the first season with Brett Favre raised a very realistic expectation that the Vikings would get the chance to take their Super Bowl record to 0-5. But for several Adrian Peterson fumbles a boneheaded "This is not Detroit!" Brett Favre's late interception in regulation and a certain scandal that had put Favre targets on his knees and ankles throughout the game would have happened.
Since landing on the wrong side of a 41-0 battle against the Giants in the 2000 NFC title game, it has been the day the Vikings beat the Saints and lost in early 2010, and the day the Vikings beat the Saints Leadership blew up and then a rabbit pulled out of her bum in early 2018 are the only high water marks in the past 20 years.
Just good enough. But never, never really great.
Here is my first of many predictions for 2021. Contrary to the many that will be wrong, this one is spot on: next year the Vikings will be just good enough again.
Kirk Cousins didn't get Vikings where they thought he'd originally appear on Pro Football Talk
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