Kirk Cousins Trade Destinations: will Cousins reunite with Kevin Stefanski?

What is the most realistic trade destination for Kirk Cousins?

By: Jake Rajala

The Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, also known as “Captain Kirk”, has been heavily rumored to be shipped out of the Twin Cities. Cousins is heading into a contract season and it doesn’t appear that he will be on course for a long-term contract next offseason. 

Cousins is coming off a season where he posted his second-lowest passer rating as a Viking (103.1). After bringing the Vikings to two straight winning seasons in 2018 and 2019, the former Washington QB hasn’t helped the Dalvin Cook featured team claim a winning record in each of the last two seasons. Cousins has only made one Pro Bowl appearance for the Vikings, as well (two in his career). 

There have been “some” positives from the highly paid Vikings QB. Cousins did throw for 35 touchdowns last season and 33 passing touchdowns in 2021. He also had four game-winning drives in 2021, which was the most he’s had in a season since 2017. Still, he hasn’t won football games “when it matters the most” and he’s not a quality fit with a Vikings team that’s decaying on defense and on the offensive line. The Vikings OL was ranked 24th by PFF in late November of last season and that was a generous ranking. On defense, the safety Harrison Smith is 32 years old and he will likely be the next great Vikings defensive back to leave (Xavier Rhodes being the most recent). 

Cousins is 33 years old, being overpaid, and he hasn’t proved that he can put the team on his back to win games. It will take time to rebuild the supporting cast around the QB situation and it will be difficult to retain the Vikings starting QB that has the “third-largest 2022 salary cap number” while rebuilding the roster.

The 8-9 Vikings from 2021 clearly have their sights set on restructuring their team and returning to post-season glory. The Vikings want to properly add talent and build around gifted players like Justin Jefferson and Cook. Mike Zimmer has already been dismissed from the organization. It appears that Cousins, who has failed to take the North North to the next step, could be the next face to lose key swiping privileges to the building. 

“Heavy.” has predicted Cousins to land with the Browns, while Sports Illustrated is convinced that the Broncos are the “top option” to acquire the Vikings QB. The Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, who was the former offensive coordinator in Minnesota, clearly has strong ties to Cousins. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos have a massive question mark at the QB spot and a boatload of cap money to solve it. The Browns and Broncos clearly make a lot of sense to acquire Cousins. All in all, we should expect a strong chance that Cousins is sent packing from Minny and that he will be playing for a different team in the 2022 season. 

With that said, what are most likely landing spots for Kirk Cousins? Well, I’m going to untwine five landing spots for Cousins that make the most sense. 

Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks have to be the best landing spot for Cousins that nobody is talking about. Russell Wilson seems fed up with the lack of support he’s been awarded since leading the Hawks to Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014. He isn’t technically requesting a trade yet, but he has already publicly stated via Ian Rapoport that he “wants to explore his options”. The odds in many eyes are that he finds his next home in New Orleans. If Wilson leaves, I don’t feel the sense that the NFC West squad will completely hit the reset button. The Seahawks could add Captain Kirk, a couple of pieces on offense, keep Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap, and Bobby Wagner, then hit the ground running in 2022. The Seahawks could extend Cousins’s contract after acquiring him and virtually save money “long term” by switching from Wilson to Cousins. 

Cousins can continue to very well light up the scoreboard with WR D.K. Metcalf and WR Tyler Lockett. It’s evident that the Seahawks have the toys in Metcalf and Lockett, who both combined for 20 receiving touchdowns in 2021. Seattle’s defense can complement Cousins better than the Vikings defense, as well. The Seahawks defense was ranked 11th in PPG allowed last season, while Minnesota’s defense was ranked 24th in the league. As widely enunciated, they have impressive chess pieces in Adams and Wagner. The captain of the defense Wagner has made eight Pro Bowls in 10 seasons. His age is ascending at 31, but that shouldn’t slow him down anytime soon. Demario Davis is 33 years old and coming off a second-team All-Pro season. The legendary Ray Lewis was a stud and key factor in his team winning the Super Bowl in his last season at age 36. The 27-year-old Jamal Adams is a monster and he will simply be around the rainy city for at least a few more seasons, too.

The Seahawks even have a very slightly better offensive line than the Vikings OL unit. In Week 15, PFF placed the Seahawks offensive line at 24, while the Vikings offensive line was a hair behind at 25. The OL position unit for both NFC teams is a work in progress still. If the Seahawks can add a couple of talented offensive line pieces and CB talent in the next few offseasons, the Seahawks can be a competitive playoff team with the middle-aged Cousins in the future. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers just snuck into the 2021 playoffs, but T.J. Watt’s game-wrecking ability wasn’t enough for the Steelers to overcome Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. So, the Steelers lost “big time” to the Chiefs and now they enter the 2022 offseason with an earth-shattering question mark at QB. 

Mike Tomlin has boldly stated that Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins will have an opportunity to start for the Steelers in 2022. Tomlin made the right statement regarding the two current Steelers QBs situation professionally speaking, but all options are honestly on the table for the future Steelers starting QB. 

The Steelers clearly have talent around the QB position and a modest starting QB is the only missing link. The Steelers made the playoffs with a bit washed-up QB that only threw 22 touchdowns in 16 games. Cousins may not only be able to replace Big Ben, but he could be a likely upgrade. The Steelers are 7th in cap space, so they may be able to ink Cousins. I wouldn’t be going on a limb to say I don’t expect Wilson in a Steelers uniform. It also is basically impossible that the AFC North Browns would trade Baker Mayfield to the AFC North Steelers. Cousins could be the top option for the Steelers on the trade market. 

The Steelers could realistically decide not to take the risk on Cousins, but find a cheaper option in free agency or a young QB to groom. The dual-threat QB Marcus Mariota would be a stout value pickup or the Steelers could look to make the selection and home run with the very athletic Ole Miss QB Matt Corral in the first round. 

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns and Browns General Manager Andrew Berry are tough to crack. Still, It sadly seems the former first overall pick Baker Mayfield isn’t a part of the disappointing Browns big picture. It would be ideal if the Browns sent Baker packing for draft compensation and took the Cousins jersey off the back of Vikings nation. Cousins can be the conservative QB that the Dog Pound has desperately wanted. We know that former Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was an assistant Vikings coach from 2006 until 2019. Then the clean-cut head coach took over OC duties in 2019 and he would impressively help the Vikings climb to a 10-6 record and divisional round appearance. 

Similar to the Steelers, the Browns can be competitive with a smart, talented signal-caller. Cleveland’s football team had high hopes for good reason in 2021. The Browns carried Top 5 DE Myles Garrett, Top 5 Nick Chubb, and many other shiny pieces. Yet, Mayfield essentially threw away pivotal late-season games at ease. It seemed the Packers game and Browns loss was the nail in the coffin for Mayfield’s tenure in Cleveland. The Browns don’t want to take a step off the gas pedal, but rather find a quick answer at QB and make Browns fans not disgruntled again. To make matters worse for the Browns, they play in the absolute frigid AFC North division that held four 8+ win teams in 2021. They will need to be spot on with their big QB decision if they don’t want to be left in the dust.

New Orleans Saints

It’s sexy to imagine the Top 5 QB Russell Wilson joining forces with Sean Payton, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas. Saints fans may see similar offensive production that they were given from Drew Brees with Wilson walking around and potentially celebrating on Bourbon Street. It would be a surprise if Mickey Loomis can’t help Wilson escape his personal Alcatraz, as well. Nonetheless, there needs to be an option B at the QB position for Who Dat Nation if the Wilson trade doesn’t come to fruition. The former Michigan State QB Cousins is quietly a smooth fit for Sean Payton’s short passing, balanced offense. Cousins is overwhelmingly a smarter choice for Payton than the Browns QB Baker Mayfield/poor man’s version of Brett Favre or 95% of the rookie QBs in the 2022 draft. 

The Saints need an accurate, sharp QB not named Taysom Hill and they need it now. Sure, Hill has been 6-2 as a starting QB in the last two seasons. But, it doesn’t look like Hill can be the Saints QB that can go blow for blow with opponents that yield Dak Prescott and Josh Allen. The Saints went from a regular Top 5 passing offense with Drew Brees to the 32nd ranked passing offense in 2021. It’s plain and simple. The Saints may revert to putting bags on their heads if the Saints passing offense is dead last ever again.

I really don’t foresee Payton taking a rookie QB not named Matt Corral in round one. And it doesn’t seem like the Saints will get their hands on Corral is a realistic, positive scenario in round one. He opted to hand the keys to Jameis Winston this season and I expect Payton returning to Winston to be the worst-case scenario in 2022. Winston had a “bounce back” type of season after being the worst NFL starting QB in Tampa Bay and then the clip holding QB behind Brees for a season. On the flip side, I would fully prepare for Payton being aggressive and finding a more talented QB to complement his Top 10 defense and rare weapons on offense. I believe Cousins would be a logical landing spot if Wilson doesn’t convert to the Black and Gold uniform. Some might say if the 9-8 Saints from 2021 had a healthy Kirk Cousins, they may be currently getting ready for a divisional round showdown in the dome. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I would love to proudly state the Buccaneers are the perfect “wildcard” team for Mayfield’s services. Bruce Arians likes to drink whiskey and roll the dice. This is of course BA we’re talking about. 

He knows that Tom Brady could retire after this playoff season or at the end of the next playoff season most likely (right?). If TB12 has finished his GOAT career, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians would want to saddle up with his “win now” roster and find a new veteran QB to come out guns blazing in 2022 or 2023. 

The Bucs have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Devin White. Half of the profiles mentioned above likely won’t be playing for the Bucs in 2025. The Bruce Arians offensive scheme can nicely insert a lot of QBs (who don’t require Lasik eye surgery) that can put “madden numbers”. Arians may be tempted to find a QB like Cousins that can utilize the talent on the roster after Brady leaves soon. But, will Brady leave soon? That is a difficult question to answer. 

Who is to Blame for the Minnesota Vikings?

The Minnesota Vikings need an answer

By: Grant Schwieger

The Minnesota Vikings have been in a treacherous cycle of disappointment since being blown out by Philadelphia just one game from a Super Bowl in their own stadium in January of 2018. Kirk Cousins was brought in to lead a team that went 13-3 with a backup QB the year prior, so a Super Bowl was in the minds of everyone involved. The result? Missing the playoffs completely that year, and one playoff win in the three seasons since, soon to be four.

2021 was supposed to be a big bounce-back for the Vikings, and instead, it has been as disheartening as one could imagine. It all came to a head in Week 8, as Minnesota, fresh off a bye, lost at home, on primetime, to a Dallas Cowboys team led not by their MVP candidate QB Dak Prescott, but by Cooper Rush and all of his three career pass attempts. Rush spent most of the game being unable to hit a moving target, yet with his back to the wall, led a game-winning drive in front of the entire country. It was the perfect storm of embarrassment for Minnesota and appears to be the tipping point for many fans. Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and Kirk Cousins are all in the crosshairs of fans’ anger, and rightfully so. But who really is to blame for the Vikings’ perpetual letdown year after year? The answer is everyone.

Kirk Cousins

We start with what is Kirk Cousins’ fault. In the eyes of many fans, everything is his fault. He is paid too much money, checks down too much, the whole nine yards. Many other fans do not fault Cousins at all. The reality is somewhere in the middle. Kirk Cousins did not pay himself $84 million to play in Minnesota. In fact, he has been a much better QB in Minnesota than in his time in Washington. That being said, he certainly is at fault for some of the Vikings’ woes. Let’s look at how that is the case.

The first issue with Cousins is his general obliviousness to many things around him. That goes for situations both on and off the field. His “If I die, I die.” quote about coronavirus is one example, as is his suggestion that he surrounds himself with plexiglass wherever he goes in the Vikings’ facility to prevent contracted COVID-19.

Cousins also appears to be oblivious of what is expected of him when he is paid like a franchise quarterback. He is only the 8th-highest paid QB now per overthecap.com, but one would expect such a handsomely-paid QB to have control over timeouts during two-minute drills. And yet, he let the clock run out in the final seconds of the first half last Sunday because he thought it was best to leave that decision to Mike Zimmer.

Cousins was asked after the game about his performance and the offense overall not being very aggressive. This was his response:

Blaming a conservative offense on a “combination of coverage and pressure” might be one of the most tone-deaf quotes of all time. There is coverage and pressure on literally every snap where a pass is attempted. That is the point of defense in football. Any time a defense has a good pass-rush and coverage, to just throw your hands up and say “well shoot! They got us!” is frustrating for fans to hear, to say the least. Defenses play well sometimes. It is up to the special players at the QB position to overcome that.

Kirk Cousins has long been considered to lack that “it” factor that a lot of professional athletes possess, including most, if not all, franchise QBs. His impressive start to 2021 almost tricked a lot of football savants, including myself, into thinking he had turned the corner in that aspect. The scary excuse of an offense he led on Halloween was a reminder to all that he is the same old Kirk Cousins.

Ignoring the blatant cluelessness, there are other faults to Kirk Cousins’ game that hinder the Vikings. In his first year in Minnesota, Cousins was often criticized for checking the ball down far too often. His average depth of target (aDot) in 2018 was 7.9 yards downfield. After bumping his aDot above 8.0 yards in 2019 and 2020, Cousins is back down to 7.0 this year, ahead of only Jared Goff.

There can be many reasons for this. Play callers can call plays where there are no deep options, a lot of quick game, and screens to lower a QBs aDot. While it can be difficult to parse out who is truly at fault for a lack of passes downfield, the availability of All-22 film from the NFL allows many to rewatch games and see the whole field. Luke Braun of Zone Coverage and Locked on Vikings charted 11 times in the Dallas game alone where Cousins threw the ball short when he had a window to throw the ball farther downfield.

Cousins did not throw the ball past the first down marker ONCE on Minnesota’s 13 3rd downs in that game. This is not some anomaly either, as time and time again Kirk Cousins has failed to make a big difference on 3rd down.

Per Arjun Menon of PFF, Cousins has the 20th best EPA/play on 3rd downs in the NFL. Minnesota also on average has the farthest to go on both second and third downs this year. Cousins might not be to blame for that (more on that later), but he does not do much to help his case, either.

The chart above looks at the difficulty of NFL QBs’ throws and if their situations are harder or easier on average. Cousins is in the “hard situations, easy passes” group, which means he typically is faced with difficult situations, yet makes the easy pass, such as a check down. No matter how you draw it up, it is never good to be grouped with Davis Mills, Jared Goff, and Jacoby Brissett.

Now, earlier I mentioned that Cousins is not really to blame for Minnesota often being well behind the sticks on second and third downs. That leads us to the next culprit who is to blame for the Vikings’ struggles…

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer took over a Minnesota Vikings team in 2014 that was fresh off 3.5 mostly uninspiring seasons under Leslie Frazier. Frazier was well-respected, a genuinely nice guy who took over for Brad Childress halfway through 2010 after being Minnesota’s defensive coordinator since 2007. His defenses while head coach were never good, however, leading to Mike Zimmer taking over as another defensive-minded coach.

The Zimmer tenure has generally been pretty successful. His teams have never had a record worse than 7-9, always at least fighting for playoff contention. The pre-Zimmer era had some hideous teams, so a constantly competitive team was a breath of fresh air for Minnesota fans. Unfortunately, Mike Zimmer appears to have reached the end of his leash in Minnesota.

The first issue many will point to when it comes to Zimmer’s shortcomings is his general lack of accepting that the NFL is a passing league now. The only thing worse than thinking a running game is the key to success in the modern-day NFL is having that belief while possessing one of the highest-paid QBs in the league. Zimmer is an old-school football head in the biggest way. He would prefer to win every game 16-10 by playing hard-nosed defense and running the ball down his opponent’s throats.

John DeFilippo was ran out of town as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2018 because he did not run the ball as much as Zimmer wanted. Every coordinator the team has had since has been Zimmer’s puppet, doing as he says and making sure that Dalvin Cook is run into the ground whenever possible. The one coordinator who managed to be extremely successful in the face of these guidelines, Kevin Stefanski, was the NFL Coach of the Year last year in Cleveland. Before the Vikings’ seemingly improbable playoff victory in New Orleans after the 2019 season, there was a lot of talk coming out of TCO Performance Center in Eagan about the team wanting to promote Stefanski to head coach and potentially even trade Mike Zimmer to Dallas. Instead, Minnesota shocked the world, won on the road in the playoffs, and earned Zimmer, Rick Spielman, and Kirk Cousins extensions, even though the team laid an egg in San Francisco the very next week.

Speaking of laying eggs when the season is on the line, that has been a common theme recently under Zimmer. Needing one victory over a backup QB to get to the Super Bowl in 2017, Zimmer’s team looked like they had not practiced all week and embarrassed Minnesota fans everywhere. Then in 2018, the Vikings needed a Week 17 victory at home over Chicago to make the playoffs and proceeded to once again not show up, culminating in a shouting match between Cousins and Adam Thielen on the sideline. Then the 2019 season ended in lackluster fashion in San Francisco. 2020 was a disappointing season no matter how you look at it, and yet a home victory over Mitch Trubisky and the Bears could have put Minnesota in good shape to make the playoffs. Instead, they gave Trubisky his second-to-last career win as a starter and shrunk into the shadows.

The excuse of a football game that Zimmer’s team put forth against Dallas in Week 8 was the final straw of fiascos under Zimmer. As Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic noted, Zimmer is responsible for how the team played even if he was not the one telling Klint Kubiak what to call. Cousins blamed his head coach when it came to why the team did not call a timeout on their final first-half possession. Even if it is comical that a team’s QB does not have authority to call timeout if it really is up to Zimmer, then why did he let his team run out the entire clock?

Not only was that a malicious form of clock mismanagement, even worse was the delay of game penalty he received from calling back-to-back timeouts on Dallas’s game-winning drive. That gave the Cowboys 5 extra yards that led to them winning the game as opposed to kicking a field goal and going into overtime. Almost weekly, Mike Zimmer botches a two-minute drill in some capacity. Whether it is putting his below-average CBs on an island against elite WRs, or not even trying to score when given 30+ seconds and multiple timeouts.

Mike Zimmer is incredulously afraid of letting Kirk Cousins loose. Whether right or wrong, his team is paying Cousins enough money where he should be expected to be a difference-maker on the team. Instead, he coaches games against backup QBs where HIS QB looks like the one who is a backup and cannot be trusted. Let’s face it, Stefon Diggs was right. He was always right. Zimmer would make a great defensive coordinator, but at this point in time, he is unfit to lead an NFL locker room. He is too stubborn to accept the hand he has been dealt, instead wishing every night before he goes to sleep that Teddy Bridgewater was still his QB. Besides, did Zimmer even want Kirk Cousins in the first place…?

Rick Spielman

General Manager Rick Spielman is the hardest one to assign a level of blame to when it comes to Minnesota’s woes. Mike Zimmer clearly has a lot of power over the Vikings, and no one outside the building will ever know who was really more in charge. However, Spielman has made his fair share of mistakes in his time in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

His biggest mistake will have to be the signing of Kirk Cousins. The Vikings were at a very important crossroads in March of 2018, fresh off an NFC Championship Game with a backup QB. The decision of who should be the QB in 2018 was a difficult one. The team made the right decision in letting Case Keenum go, as incredible as his 2017 was. However, bringing in Kirk Cousins obviously divided many inside the team’s front office. In Everson Griffen’s string of tweets last year, he called Cousins “booty” for lack of a better term and said, “ask ZIMMER if he ever wanted Kirk?” This infers that Zimmer was never a Cousins fan, meaning Spielman must have been the one lobbying hard for him.

Now, Kirk Cousins was the best available QB in free agency, so based on talent alone he was the right choice. That signing aside, Spielman has lost his magic touch as of late. After a solid stretch of drafting starting in 2012 and ending with the all-time draft class that was 2015, the Vikings’ drafts since 2016 are a sore sight. I will save my readers the pain of listing off their choices, but if Justin Jefferson had not been selected in 2020, Spielman might already be gone.

The NFL Draft is largely a crapshoot, though, and no team has shown that they are better at drafting than their peers over an extended period. This recent stretch might just be Spielman and Minnesota’s luck evening out. Spielman has not made up for that in other areas, though. While showing loyalty to your players is not a bad thing, sometimes a GM needs to know when to take a stand. Minnesota seemingly always pays their players, often too much. The latest being an unnecessary extension of Harrison Smith for three additional years. When guaranteeing your QB as much money as Minnesota is, you need to be smart with how you manage the cap surrounding him.

There is also the issue with Spielman’s panic trades he has made these last few years. First, there was the trade of a second-round pick for Yannick Ngakoue, only to turn around and trade him away after six games. Sure, Minnesota had a hole to fill with Danielle Hunter’s absence in 2020, but Spielman and Zimmer should have been wise enough to notice they were not one player away from being competitive. This year brought the trade for Chris Herndon and a sixth-round pick for a fourth-round pick in the wake of Irv Smith Jr’s injury. At least Ngakoue was a good player. Herndon has been a net negative for the team thus far.

Spielman’s toxic trait of panicking in the wake of an injury of a player and overpaying via trade will only harm the Vikings in the long run. Does Spielman largely manage draft-day trades well? Yes, but those will only take the team so far. In fact, the team’s two biggest weaknesses, the offensive line and the secondary, are two of the most heavily invested in positions in the draft lately.

No one is absolved of blame when it comes to how Minnesota got to this point. All three of these men are somewhat responsible and likely need to be employed elsewhere in 2022 if the Vikings are going to get the state of their franchise turned around.

Bonus: The Wilf’s

The Wilf family, led by Zygi and his brother Mark and cousin Leonard, have been in ownership of the team since 2005. They inherited the team at a tough time after Minnesota had made nothing out of Randy Moss’s tenure. It has mostly been an upward trajectory since, but the team has gotten complacent in their ownership. Brad Childress was fired mid-season but only once he had a power surge and thought he could dismiss players from the team on his own. Besides that, the only coaches that have been let go came after the season ended.

The Minnesota Vikings are the only NFL team in the top-15 in all-time win percentage that does not own a Super Bowl trophy. While that dates back well before the Wilf’s tenure, it is a perfect summary of their time as owners. They are happy that the team is competitive each season and are content even though the team is rarely true Super Bowl contenders. They lack the true desire to bring a championship to Minnesota. Here is to hoping the latest Minnesota Meltdown changes their mindset on that.

The Minnesota Vikings’ Achilles Heel

The Vikings Achilles heel is…

By: Grant Schwieger

When Minnesota Vikings’ fans hear the term “Achilles heel” regarding the team, regrettably there are a plethora of options that come to mind. The offensive line, Kirk Cousins’ contract, cornerbacks, even just bad luck are all viable Achilles heels for this team. That bad luck might stem from being “cursed,” which many fans have claimed the team has been over the years. That might have some juice to it now that the Zodiac Killer has supposedly been identified and that he was a Vikings fan.

If that all is true, and the FBI claims the Zodiac Killer case is still open and unsolved, then at least Vikings’ fans know the reason that they are cursed. When it comes to the play on the field, though, Minnesota has its own weakness that was not listed above. That would be the team’s ineptitude, on both offense and defense, in two-minute drill situations. This is not a new issue to the Vikings, and it is time for it to be addressed.

Offense

The Vikings’ offense has been better than the defense this year, but they are not without their problems. When it comes to 2-minute drill situations, both in the second and fourth quarters, they begin to get exposed. Let’s just face it. This offense is not designed to be a drop-back passing team for an entire drive. Klint Kubiak and Mike Zimmer want to be an outside zone, run-first team. While so far in 2021 the Vikings rank 13th in first-down passing percentage according to teamrankings.com, that has mostly to do with the team spending a lot of time in their four games trailing. They were in the bottom ten in the league in that metric last year, despite regularly having success in the passing game.

This Minnesota offense is designed to thrive when opposing defenses are unsure of whether a run or a pass is coming. That was a big part of the Vikings’ success against Seattle in Week 3. That element of surprise goes out the window when it comes to 2-minute drills, as teams would love for them to run in those situations and are expecting the pass. Minnesota’s regular offense does not include a high amount of drop-back passing, either, as a lot of their passes come from screens, play-action (not as much this year as last, 20.4% to 28.7%), or quick game, which has been a bigger part of the offense this year. These elements just are not as effective in these hurry-up situations.

A big reason for this is because Zimmer and Kubiak want to protect a vulnerable offensive line. Life is much more difficult for offensive linemen when the defense and the pass-rush know a pass is coming and can pin their ears back and get after the QB. The result of those situations for Minnesota often look like this:

The lack of trust in the offensive line also has a direct impact on Kirk Cousins. He is a much better QB when free from pressure, as most are, but the difference for him has always been substantial. Two-minute drills result in more opportunities for Cousins to be under pressure, which means more chances for him to panic and bail on a play even if he has wide-open receivers downfield.

Zimmer has been afraid of Cousins making silly interceptions and getting strip-sacked ever since his first year in 2018, which is how we got to this offensive scheme in Minnesota. This inability to put full trust in his offense leaves Zimmer coaching scared when it comes to end-of-half cases. Look no further for an example of this than last week’s game against Cleveland. Minnesota got the ball back with 3:45 left, down by 7 on their own 12-yard line. The Vikings’ first three plays were all runs, totaling 17 yards while taking a minute and a half off the clock. All of a sudden there was only 2:15 left, and Minnesota still had to go 71 yards to score. In no scenario should a team needing to drive 88 yards for a touchdown be running the football, and simultaneously the clock. After a 31 yard pass to Justin Jefferson on third down, the Vikings followed it up with yet another run for an incredible 2 yards, bringing it to the 2-minute warning.

Sadly, the Cleveland game was not the first example of this, either. Looking back to the end of the first half of the Arizona game, Minnesota did this not once, but twice. Getting the ball with 3:15 to go in the second quarter, the Vikings ran the ball on 2nd and 13 and 3rd and 1, went 3 and out, and Dalvin Cook got hurt to top it all off. After a quick 77-yard TD to Rondale Moore, Minnesota got the ball back with 1:33 to go at their own 25 and still managed to sneak 2 runs in for 10 total yards on their way to stalling out for a 52-yard Greg Joseph field goal.

There may be another reason Minnesota tends to be inefficient at times when operating their offense during end-of-half opportunities. Not only is Zimmer scared of putting full trust in his drop-back passing offense, but he is also uneasy about giving the ball back to the opposing offense with too much time on the clock. That was obvious against Arizona, as their explosive offense had just scored in one play and Zimmer wanted nothing to do with giving Kyler Murray another opportunity to score before the half. The problem with that being, even with the Vikings mixing in a couple of runs on their drive, Arizona still got the ball back with 21 seconds left and got two plays off before a 62-yard FG to end the half.

The problem with that mindset is that if you are too worried about how much time the other offense will have, you are not operating your offense fully focused on scoring and being at your best. If you end a drive with a touchdown, however much time is left is much less important. The perfect world scenario for Mike Zimmer at the end of a half happened in the first half of the Seattle game. Minnesota got the ball on their 34 with 3:14 to go in the second quarter, and ran a 12 play, 66-yard drive, scoring a TD with only 20 seconds to go in the half. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it is incredibly rare for the team to successfully manufacture drives like that. It has been much more common to see the team go 3 and out and give the opposing team the ball back with time to score, which it did in both the Bengals and the Browns games. This issue goes both ways, and the defense shares a fair amount of blame with these concerns as well.

Defense

While the offense has managed to only score 10 points inside of two minutes in the second quarter through four games, the defense has given up 35 points during that same timeframe. Getting outscored by 25 points in 8 total minutes in 4 games is unforgivable.

While 14 of those points allowed came from when the opposing team was on the goal line when the two-minute warning hit (Cincinnati and Cleveland), that still leaves a sizeable negative point differential. With how the defense has performed when under the pressure of hurry-up situations, it is not hard to understand why Zimmer is so worried about giving the ball back to opposing offenses.

This has been a mess since Week 1 when the Bengals went 75 yards for a TD in only 36 seconds after the Vikings went 3 and out before that. It peaked when the Browns were backed up with a 3rd and 20 with 35 seconds left in the second quarter on their own 26 and broke off a 33-yard run. That run, when Cleveland had all but given up on scoring to end the half, allowed the Browns to sneak in a last-second field goal to go up 11-7.

These types of embarrassments from the Minnesota defense just suck the life out of the team. In situations where opposing defenses know Minnesota will be throwing it on offense, the Vikings struggle to move the ball. When the roles are reversed and Minnesota is on defense and knows their opponent is passing, they cannot seem to get out of their own way. In just four games, Bashaud Breeland got burnt for a 50-yard TD against Ja’Marr Chase, Rondale Moore was left wide open with no one within 10 yards of him and scored 77 yards later, and the aforementioned 3rd and 20 conversion. Heck, even in the Seattle game, which is the only game the Vikings have outscored their opponent inside of two minutes to go in the first half, Seattle managed to get in Hail Mary territory in only 16 seconds.

The Vikings’ defense has allowed 92 total points this year. That means that in those final two minutes before halftime, Minnesota has allowed 38% of their total points on the season. 38% in only 3% of their total minutes played. Who would want to put their defense on the field when they are getting torn apart time and time again?

The biggest reason for concern and why these struggles are Minnesota’s Achilles heel is because there is not a clear solution. Don’t want your defense to give up a lot of points so you try and run the clock out? Then your offense will struggle to score. If you try and be aggressive on offense and score, you run the risk of stalling out and giving the ball right back. The Vikings’ best way to avoid this conundrum is for the offense to be much more efficient so that there is not as much pressure on the defense to prevent any scores. If it were that easy, though, they would have done that already. Minnesota has an Achilles heel that has crippled them through four games and shows no signs of fixing itself soon.

Fantasy Football: Week 5 Start/Sit

Here are the Week 5 starts and sits

By: Matt Gruber

Week five is upon us and it is time for the weekly starts and sits. This is now the fifth installment of the 17-piece series aimed to help you make the roster decisions to give you an edge over your opponent. Let’s jump into it and win some championships!

Quarterbacks

Start: Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings

After a down week last week, I expect Kirk Cousins to bounce back when he takes on the Detroit Lions. In his last four games against the Lions, Cousins has averaged 301 yards and just under three touchdowns. I am starting Cousins confidently this week as he should be in line for a quarterback one performance.

Honorable Mentions: Mac Jones @ HOU, Zach Wilson @ ATL, Daniel Jones @ DAL

Sit: Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers

Last week, Ben Roethlisberger saw his worst fantasy performance, scoring just over nine points. Still yet to break 14 fantasy points this season, he will remain on the bench for me. This week he goes up against a solid Broncos defense that has only given up three passing touchdowns all season. Until Big Ben can show us he can turn things around, I will not be starting him.

Honorable Mentions: Baker Mayfield @ LAC, Carson Wentz @ BAL, Jared Goff @ MIN

Running Backs

Start: Chase Edmonds – Arizona Cardinals

Coming off his best fantasy performance of the season in week four, I expect Chase Edmonds to continue producing. He has recorded at least four catches in every game so far and it is that passing work that provides a safe floor. Yet to find the endzone, Edmonds is due to score against a San Francisco team that has allowed a rushing touchdown in back-to-back games. Fire him up with confidence this week.

Honorable Mentions: Damien Williams @ LV, Nick Chubb @ LAC, Leonard Fournette vs. MIA

Sit: Melvin Gordon – Denver Broncos

Aside from his long touchdown in week one, Melvin Gordon has not been too impressive this season. Splitting carries with rookie running back Javonte Williams, his ceiling is severely capped. He faces the Pittsburgh Steelers that have not allowed a single rushing touchdown to running backs all season. With this in mind and the lack of volume, I am looking elsewhere at the running back position for week five.

Honorable Mentions: Latavius Murray vs. IND, Myles Gaskin @ TB, Miles Sanders @ CAR

Wide Receivers

Start: Marvin Jones – Jacksonville Jaguars

Back-to-back disappointing weeks have fantasy managers concerned for Marvin Jones. I am not one of them. Still an integral part of the offense, I expect his usage and targets to increase even more with fellow wide receiver DJ Chark out with an ankle injury. This week he has a nice matchup against the Titans that have given up eight touchdowns to wide receivers this season. I am starting him without hesitation.

Honorable Mentions: Emmanuel Sanders @ KC, Corey Davis @ ATL, Jaylen Waddle @ TB

Sit: DeVonta Smith – Philadelphia Eagles

Coming off his best performance of the season, DeVonta Smith finds himself on the sit list for me. This is solely matchup-based. This week, he faces the Carolina Panthers. While they have given up three touchdowns to wide receivers in the last two weeks, they have not allowed more than 135 receiving yards in either game. For Smith to be a solid play, I think he will have to find the endzone. If I have better options at receiver, I am playing them over Smith.

Honorable Mentions: Chase Claypool vs. DEN, Robby Anderson vs. PHI, Odell Beckham Jr. @ LAC

Tight Ends

Start: Dalton Schultz – Dallas Cowboys

Recording six catches in back-to-back games and scoring three touchdowns, Dalton Schultz has earned himself a spot on the start list. Putting up 15 fantasy points during this run, Schultz has become a dependable tight end to plug into lineups. This week he gets the New York Giants that have allowed a touchdown to tight ends in every single game. Start Schultz with confidence this week.

Honorable Mentions: Dawson Knox @ KC, Jonnu Smith @ HOU, Dallas Goedert @ CAR

Sit: Tyler Conklin – Minnesota Vikings

Tyler Conklin saw his best game by far in week three. Every other week he was not someone you would want in your lineup. This week, he will remain on my bench. He has not produced enough for me to be willing to plug him in. This week he plays the Detroit Lions and they have been good against tight ends. Only allowing one touchdown, I am looking for another option at tight end this week.

Honorable Mentions: Evan Engram @ DAL, Jared Cook vs. CLE, Maxx Williams vs. SF

If you enjoyed this piece, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I am always available to talk fantasy football and answer any questions.

Fantasy: 3 sleeper QBs to trade for

Here are the top sleeper QBs to trade for

By Chris Moore (Twitter: @fantasy_moore)

We are now three weeks into the NFL season, and we are starting to see what players are performing and what players aren’t. In terms of fantasy, it is crucial to view and make adjustments to early-season success. It’s crucial to take in what we have seen over the first three weeks of the NFL season and make the proper adjustments to increase your chances of success in fantasy football. With that being said, I’m going to go over my favorite sleeper quarterbacks to trade for.

Kirk Cousins

I expect Kirk Cousins ownership percentage to shoot up after his performance this week, but if he’s still available in your league, get him. Cousins has been on fire to start the year, passing for 918 yards and eight touchdowns through three weeks. Cousins is currently the QB7 on the year, and with the Vikings’ defense struggling, I expect the Vikings to be in high-scoring games this year. We don’t know the status of Dalvin Cook’s ankle injury, but if he’s forced to miss even more time, I expect Cousins passing attempts to remain up. Cousins has a trio of great pass catchers, and this offense should remain competitive all season.

Derek Carr

Derek Carr is another quarterback on this list who is not owned enough in leagues. I expect Carr’s ownership percentage to increase after his performance this week, but if he is out on your waiver wire, get him. Carr has started the season out red hot. The Raiders are 3-0, and Derek Carr is playing some of the best football in his career. Carr has thrown for 1,203 yards and six touchdowns through his first three games. Like the others on this list, Carr has a great supporting cast around him. Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards have both taken strides this year. It also helps that Carr has one of the best tight ends in the NFL on his team. Carr currently ranks as the QB9 on the season, and if the Raiders continue playing like they are, Carr should easily outperform his pre-season draft ADP. 

Sam Darnold

Through the first three weeks of the NFL season, the Panthers look like the real deal. While they have had some easy matchups, this offense looks like the real deal. Darnold has established a great connection with D.J. Moore and is currently the QB6 on the season. I don’t think anyone expected Darnold to be this good, but he’s been great so far to start the year. While the Panthers may be without star running back Christian McCaffrey for a few weeks, the Panthers will have to lean on Darnold with CMC out. We saw the success Mike Davis had in this offense when CMC missed time last year. So I’m not overly concerned about Darnold’s fantasy outlook with CMC out. Darnold has thrown for 888 yards and three passing touchdowns through the first three weeks. I expect the Panthers to lean on Darnold even more during CMC’s absence.

Fantasy: Five early waiver wire targets for Week 4

Early Waiver Wire targets for Week 4

By Calvin K (Twitter: @Calvin_SGF)

The early and afternoon slate of Sunday NFL games has come to a close, and as usual, there are a ton of storylines to think about. Below are five early Week 4 waiver targets who could help your fantasy team.

NOTE: These players are rostered in 40% or less of ESPN leagues.

Chuba Hubbard (RB, Carolina Panthers)

Hubbard is the obvious home-run waiver add of the week, as his fantasy value could skyrocket with Panthers starting RB Christian McCaffrey out multiple weeks. When McCaffrey left in the second quarter of Carolina’s matchup with Houston, Hubbard stepped up, ending up with 11 carries for 52 yards along with three catches for 27 yards in the receiving game. This was a very encouraging stat line for Hubbard, a fourth-round rookie seeing his first meaningful NFL action, and it was clear that the coaching staff favors him over veteran backfield mate Royce Freeman.

Hubbard’s schedule over the next few weeks is also very favorable, with matchups against Dallas, Philadelphia, the Vikings, and the Giants on tap. Hubbard is a player worthy of a good portion of your season-long FAAB budget, and RB-needy teams should consider going all-in on the rookie out of Oklahoma State.

Kirk Cousins (QB, Minnesota Vikings)

Don’t look now — Cousins, who was the fantasy QB11 through the first two weeks of the season, is currently sitting as the QB6 on the week with two games left to play. The Vikings were able to secure their first victory of the season against Seattle, and with it came another good performance for Cousins, who passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns with a stellar 78.9% completion percentage. With three straight games of 22+ fantasy points, Cousins has officially left the streaming category, and he now becomes a player who should be rostered in most leagues, as well as someone who can be played with confidence in a favorable matchup.

Sammy Watkins (WR, Baltimore Ravens)

Watkins produced solid numbers in Weeks 1 and 2 of this year, and today was no different, as he caught four passes for 68 yards on seven targets against the Lions. Watkins has received at least seven targets in every game so far this year, and he’s had 26.8 half-PPR fantasy points so far despite not yet scoring a touchdown.

Fellow WR Rashod Bateman, who has missed the start of the year with a groin injury, has an unclear status for Week 4, but even if he does play, he may not be heavily involved, due to it being his first career NFL game. Bateman, who was a first-round pick, will eventually get acclimated into this offense, making Watkins best as a short-term pickup, but for now, Watkins’ target share means that he is certainly worth a stash on your bench.

Tim Patrick (WR, Denver Broncos)

Patrick has been quietly productive for a long stretch dating to the middle of last year, and his future outlook looks much more favorable with the news of fellow WR K.J. Hamler’s knee injury. Hamler left Sunday’s game against the Jets early with the injury, and his status is unknown, making Patrick well worth a waiver pickup.

Patrick has 12 catches and two touchdowns so far this year, and he’s scored double-digit fantasy points in all three weeks so far, piling up 98 yards on five catches in Week 3. With Jerry Jeudy also out for the foreseeable future, Patrick will have an opportunity to take a consistent starting WR role with this team, which could end up paying major dividends for his fantasy value.

Zach Pascal (WR, Indianapolis Colts)

It was another week with a solid target share for Pascal, but unfortunately, he couldn’t capitalize, reeling in just two of his seven targets from QB Carson Wentz. Despite his poor showing in Week 3, Pascal still totals 34.7 half-PPR points on the year, and he’s been helped by red zone targets, with three touchdowns already in 2021. That’s not bad for the former undrafted free agent. Pascal has 18 targets through the first two weeks of the season, and he should continue to be involved in the future, making him worth an add for those who need WR help.

3 good and 3 bad things for the Vikings team in 2021

Is the Vikings team competitive in 2021?

By: Grant Schwieger

The 2021 Minnesota Vikings were a team many said needed to get off to a hot start as their schedule got more difficult as the season went on. Naturally, the team responded by starting the season 0-2. Of course, many Vikings fans will point out that the team is a Dalvin Cook fumble and Greg Joseph 37-yard field goal away from being 2-0.

Minnesota writer Will Ragatz found this statistic that given Minnesota’s win probability before those two events, there was just a 1.3% chance the Vikings started the season 0-2. There is nothing that defines the Vikings more than their love to lose in the worst way possible, so not many fans are astonished by those outcomes. Now Minnesota gets the ironic title of “Best 0-2 Team in the NFL,” a crown too many Vikings fans are proud to don. With a winless two weeks, there are plenty of negatives to go around TCO Performance Center. However, given that the team was so close to victory in both contests, there are still positives as well. Let’s take a look at some of the good and some of the bad for Minnesota through two weeks.

Good: KJ Osborn!

A WR3! The Vikings did it! KJ Osborn’s emergence is easily the best story so far this season. Osborn has caught all 12 of his targets so far, for 167 yards and his first career TD.

He is the only WR in the NFL with 10+ targets to catch every pass thrown his way. The leap Osborn has taken is simply incredible, given he was on the roster all of last year and did not register a single offensive snap. In fact, before training camp, Osborn was left off of many Minnesota roster projections. That begs the question, why was he not on the field over Chad Beebe last season? The Vikings’ staff does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, as Justin Jefferson was not unleashed until Week 3 last season. However, Sam Ekstrom of Purple Insider detailed Osborn’s offseason training, and KJ spent a lot of time training with Jefferson, Jarvis Landry, and Stefon Diggs. That is some solid company, and he appears to have learned quite a bit from those wideouts.

Justin Jefferson said this week he has noticed more safeties on his side of the field this year and defenses are scared to press him. This leaves more opportunities for Osborn, and Adam Thielen who is off to a hot start, to take advantage of. Here’s to Osborn keeping up this pace for 15 more games and solving the ever-revolving door that has been Minnesota’s WR3 for years.

Bad: The Cornerbacks

2020 saw the Vikings put forth one of the weakest secondaries in Mike Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota, held together by duct tape and Elmer’s glue by Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. Minnesota swapped out almost the entire cornerback room this offseason, yet through two games, Smith and now Xavier Woods are the ones keeping this secondary from embarrassment. Patrick Peterson was the crown jewel of the secondary additions, and while he has not been awful, he has not been worth the $8 million guaranteed Minnesota gave him to wear purple and gold again. One thing that almost an entirely new secondary leads to is miscommunications.

Breakdowns like this should never happen, and Zimmer was probably blowing steam out of his ears afterward.

Then there is the mess that has been Bashaud Breeland so far. He is not only the lowest-graded Viking per PFF but also the lowest-graded CB in the entire National Football League. The good news is that coverage is volatile. The best CBs will have bad games, and the bad ones will find ways to bounce back here and there. All is not lost with Breeland, and he should not be written off yet.

However, there are plays like this against AJ Green that should not be happening. Green was a liability when on the field last season and Breeland should be expected to handle WRs like him. He has been the definition of volatile when it comes to PFF grades in his career, so do not be surprised if he comes back with a lockdown game sometime this season.

Mackensie Alexander was brought back to be the Vikings’ slot CB this season and has allowed 9 catches on 10 targets for 119 yards so far. Those 9 catches allowed are tied with Breeland for the most on the team. Kris Boyd has been on the field for 4 coverage snaps and allowed 2 catches for 19 yards on 3 targets, with the third target being a play where he got absolutely toasted but luckily the pass fell incomplete. Cameron Dantzler was inactive Week 1 and played well in 16 snaps Week 2, so at least there is that. But as a collective group, the Minnesota CBs share a large responsibility in the team being 0-2.

Good: Danielle Hunter is BACK!

The Vikings’ star pass-rusher has returned to the field and looks oh so good. Hunter just brings an element to the defense no one else on this team can come close to touching. He started a little slow in Cincinnati but was making his presence known all day against Arizona.

He is currently tied with Michael Pierce as Minnesota’s second highest-graded defender, tied for 11th in the NFL in pressures with 9, and third in the NFL with 4 sacks (all among edge defenders). Last season this Minnesota squad lacked someone who could single-handedly wreck an opposing play from the defensive line. Hunter has already done that on multiple occasions in his 113 snaps thus far, including this one narrated beautifully by the GOAT Gus Johnson.

As Hunter gets back into his groove, he will likely get better and better and make even more of an impact on a play-by-play basis. There should be plenty of excitement surrounding Hunter as the season goes on.

Bad: Tackling

The Minnesota Vikings have had a top-4 PFF tackling grade in 5 of 7 years under Mike Zimmer, in 2014 (1st), 2015 (4th), 2017 (3rd), 2018 (1st), and 2019 (1st). Having consistency in a metric like that is an incredibly impressive feat. However, they were 26th in 2020 and are 30th so far in 2021. They have missed 24 tackles in 2 games, tied for the most in the NFL.

As a disclaimer, the weapons the Cardinals have on offense are missed tackle machines, starting with Kyler Murray and now sweet-footed rookie Rondale Moore. However, the Vikings missed more tackles against the Bengals (14) than the Cardinals (10). Eric Kendricks and Bashaud Breeland both have 6 missed tackles apiece. Breeland has missed 33% of his tackle opportunities, a big contributor to his previously discussed atrocious PFF grade. Kendricks is much more of a surprise, currently owning the worst missed tackle percentage of his career through two games (17.6%). No one else on the Vikings’ defense has more than 3 missed tackles.

Missed tackles can change in a hurry, so this does not mean this trend will continue throughout the season. The quad injury Kendricks has been dealing with could be a factor, but his play has still been impressive outside of that. The more concerning statistic here is Zimmer’s defenses have largely been one of the best in the league in terms of tackling, and this downward trend does not reflect positively for him. Plays like allowing Rondale Moore to keep running along the sideline to get Arizona into field goal range at the end of the first half in Week 2 are unacceptable and need to be fixed for Minnesota’s season to turn around.

Good: Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins’ first two weeks in 2021 have marked the first time since he has been in Minnesota that he has been consistently good in both games. His 2018 Week 2 performance in Green Bay, the infamous Daniel Carlson Tie Game, takes the cake in terms of the best game in the first two weeks, however. He is currently a top-4 graded QB in the NFL and the Vikings’ highest-graded player.

He has always been a good QB when his offensive line can keep him clean, and 2021 has been no different, as he owns the highest PFF grade in the NFL when kept clean. The main qualm most have with Cousins has always been the intangibles, however. A lot of criticism he faces involves a lack of leadership, lack of mobility, and lack of a clutch gene, the inability to come through when his team needs him most. Cousins has delivered on the latter so far in 2021. The “wins are a QB stat” crowd will quickly point to the Vikings’ 0-2 record to disprove that, but frankly, Kirk has not been to blame for most of Minnesota’s issues.

Plays such as the one above are ones that Vikings fans have clamored for over and over again during Cousins’ time in Minnesota. He also had a 29-yard scramble that was another example of plays he rarely makes.

Not only does he own the longest streak in the NFL of attempts without an INT, but he has also just one Turnover Worthy Play through 2 games. Given Cousins’ knack for starting seasons off on the slower side, this start has been encouraging. He still owns a cap hit of $45 million for 2022, so Minnesota needs to see a full season before deciding on that front. The best-case scenario might just be Kirk performs well enough to entice a team to trade for him next offseason. If that is the case, he is off to the perfect start.

Bad: Luck

Sometimes things happen when there is no one to blame, you just have to shrug your shoulders and say to yourself “what do ya do?” That is exactly how Minnesota fans felt after former Gophers TE Maxx Williams caught a pass deflected THREE times by Minnesota defenders, in stride, for 34 yards against Arizona.

Somehow, someway, plays like that happen to the Vikings seemingly every week. Plays like that can be huge swings in a game, and there is nothing anyone could have done about it!

Dalvin Cook’s fumble in overtime against Cincinnati is another form of this. Minnesota gets unlucky that there are no camera angles available that clearly show Cook is down before the ball comes out, so the refs are forced to go with the original call on the field. Had the officials called Cook down originally, they surely would have decided to keep that call as well. The same goes for what looked to be a Justin Jefferson TD against the Bengals. This play had no impact on the game because Cook ran it in after they marked Jefferson down at the one anyways, but Jefferson (and his fantasy owners) wants that one to count for his stats.

Even Greg Joseph’s missed 37-yard kick at the end of the Arizona game is just plain unlucky. It’s not like he shanked it, he just ever so slightly pushed it wide-right. Vikings fans have been conditioned to expect it at this point.

Since 2017, kickers facing the Vikings have the best EPA/play in the NFL and the Vikings own the 4th worst EPA/play when kicking themselves. That results in Minnesota proudly representing the worst net EPA/play in the kicking game over that period. Kicking year-to-year is so unstable that it is truly incredible how consistently poor Minnesota has been in that department. Will the luck ever turn around? Maybe. Will we be alive to see it? Probably not. Will Matt Prater still be nailing 60+ yard kicks against the Vikings in 2050 at age 66? Most definitely.

Do the Minnesota Vikings have a playoff contending roster

Is the Vikings roster elite?

By Christopher Thomas

The NFC playoffs are almost impossible to predict because there are so many teams in the middle of the pack that can easily sneak into the playoffs if they get hot towards the end of the year. Last year’s team who snuck into the NFC playoffs was the Chicago Bears who were led to the playoffs by their starting running back David Montgomery. This year that team could very also be from the NFC North.

The Minnesota Vikings are at an interesting crossroads with the way their current roster is projected. They have some elite talent spread throughout their roster. But they also have a combination of veterans past their prime and inexperienced young players filling out the rest of their roster. Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the best and most respected at his position around the league. However, this current Vikings roster could have the Vikings finishing anywhere between picking in the top-10 and potentially winning the NFC North. Here is a deep dive of the Minnesota Vikings roster. 

Quarterbacks

Much like a majority of teams in the NFL the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes are reliant on the play of their quarterback. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a 3 year $84 million deal. Since signing Cousins the Vikings have made the playoffs once over the last three seasons and have a 25-21 -1 record when he is the starter. This offseason Minnesota gave him a two-year $66 million extension that will keep him in Minnesota until 2022. He has played at a borderline Pro Bowl level every season but has not played up to the expectations that the Vikings had when they signed him. Minnesota believed Cousins was going to be the piece to get Minnesota over the hump and into Super Bowl contending territory. Instead, the team has been stuck in between playoff contention and a restart. In the two seasons Cousins has thrown double-digit interceptions. The only season in Minnesota where Cousins did not throw double-digit interceptions he did not reach 30 passing touchdowns or 4,000 yards passing. This wouldn’t be a major issue except Cousins is being paid like one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. 

If Cousins can limit his turnovers while maintaining the production he put up during his first and third seasons with the team Minnesota could have a shot at the playoffs. However if Cousins begins to falter, the Vikings took Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond early in the third round to potentially take his place and become the team’s starting quarterback of the future. If Mond becomes the Vikings starting quarterback early in the season it is unlikely that he has a Dak Prescott-like impact on Minnesota despite being the fourth highest-ranked quarterback on Chris Simms 2021 draft rankings. Minnesota needs Cousins to play at a Pro Bowl level to make the playoffs. 

Running Backs

There is an extremely valid case for running back Dalvin Cook to be considered the best player on the Minnesota Vikings. It also isn’t too farfetched to say Cook is the best pure running back in the league overall. Over the last two seasons, Cooks has put up career-high numbers in every major running back category. He has finished top-10 in rushing over the last two seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl every year as well. 

The Vikings’ offense could very well feature Cook as the focal point, but the major question about him is his health. Cook has dealt with multiple injuries that have not allowed him to play a full sixteen-game schedule over his first four seasons in the league. Cook has played in 43 of a potential 64 games since being drafted in 2017. Things did not look great for Cook early on after he missed 17 of his first 32 games he could have played during his first two seasons. However, Cook has been able to play in 28 of the last 32 games the Vikings have played.

If Cook is unable to play the Vikings have turned to 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison to lead their backfield. Despite being valuable in fantasy football as a replacement for Cook, Mattison is not as great of a runner as him and likely cannot be the focal point of the team’s offense. For Minnesota to make the playoffs next season Cook needs to play a majority of the team’s regular-season games. 

Pass Catchers (Wide Receivers and Tight Ends)

Even though Minnesota’s offense is based on the run, the Vikings have an extremely talented group of pass-catchers at their disposal. The Vikings have two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen along with a young talented tight end in Irv Smith Jr. 

A season ago Jefferson broke the rookie record for most receiving yards in a single season with 1,400. He did that off of 88 receptions and had seven touchdowns. Thielen fell 75 yards short of becoming the Vikings’ second 1,000+ yard receiver finishing the year with 925 yards in 15 games. However, Thielen was a scoring machine scoring 14 receiving touchdowns last season which was tied for fourth in the league. Smith Jr. finished the season with less than 400 receiving yards, but the former second-round pick looked more than capable of replacing Kyle Rudolph as the team’s primary receiving tight end at the end of last season. Over his last six games, Smith Jr. caught 19 of his 26 targets for 216 yards and all of his five touchdowns. Now that Rudolph is now a member of the New York Giants Smith Jr. can build on what he did a season ago, be the team’s starting tight end for an entire season, and become the team’s third receiving option on offense.

To make the playoffs Minnesota is going to need Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to play the same level or better than they did last season. While it would be a major help if Irv Smith Jr. had a breakout season posting career highs in his first year as the team’s primary tight end. 

Offensive Line

For the last half-decade, it seems like the Minnesota Vikings have invested heavily into their offensive line. So far their investments have paid dividends. Some may say that the players they’ve drafted have not met the expectations Minnesota had when they drafted them. Minnesota has taken six offensive linemen in the first three rounds in the last five seasons. None of which have made a Pro Bowl in that time and outside of Brian O’Neill have been regarded as better than average. The Vikings took two offensive linemen inside the first three rounds this past draft that they expect to contribute right away. 

One of the biggest question marks on the Vikings offensive line is at left tackle. After trading down from 14th overall and passing on arguably the best interior offensive lineman in the draft Alijah Vera-Tucker, Minnesota took Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw 23rd overall. Darrisaw should be the Vikings starting left tackle from Day one. If he could anchor the offensive line and do a great job protecting the blindside of Kirk Cousins (or Kellen Mond, the Vikings’ offensive line could get the boost they need to remove themselves from the average or below-average territory it has been in for the last couple of seasons. Opposite Darrisaw on the right side is the most solid and best player along the Vikings offensive line Brian O’Neill. Since being drafted in 2018, O’Neill has entered the territory as one of the best young right tackles in the league. 

The interior of the Vikings offensive line starts with a player Minnesota took in the second round last year to potentially become their left tackle. After taking Darrisaw in the first round this past year it seems that Ezra Cleveland will likely stay on the interior for Minnesota. Cleveland was solid in his rookie season, if he progresses and develops into a better player this year that would go a long way to increasing the production of the Vikings line. Their center Garrett Bradbury has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round in 2019. Bradbury was taken in the first round and has not played anything like the player many thought he would be coming out of NC State. Minnesota traded a sixth-round pick for former Arizona Cardinals center Mason Cole to push Bradbury for the team’s starting job. Cole was drafted in the third round by Arizona in 2018 and has started 32 of the 46 career games he has played in Minnesota. The biggest question mark along the Vikings offensive is at right guard. Minnesota is expected to have a competition for the right guard position between veteran Dakota Dozier and third-round pick Wyatt Davis. 

If Minnesota puts their best five offensive linemen out there to protect their quarterback and open holes for the running game efficiently that could very well be what the Vikings need to get back into the playoffs next season. 

Defensive Line

Last season the Vikings’ defensive line was atrocious. The lack of production from this unit impacted the rest of the roster. However, this unit has been almost completely revamped and could easily be the strength of their defense. Their sack leader from a season ago was Yannick Ngakoue who had five sacks in six games in Minnesota before getting shipped to Baltimore near the trade deadline. From there on out it is fair to say Minnesota had one of the worst defensive lines in the league last season.

A healthy Danielle Hunter is about as good as it gets at defensive end. If all goes well Hunter should have double-digit sacks for Minnesota, a Pro Bowl nob, and possibly recognition as an All-Pro. Opposite Hunter is expected to a rotation of a few players off the edge. Veteran defensive end Stephen Weatherly started all nine games he played in Carolina last season. He returns to the Vikings as the favorite to land a starting defensive end job. A rookie third-round pick out of Pittsburgh Patrick Jones could compete with Weatherly for the starting job and will likely rotate with him throughout the season. Janarius Robinson out of Florida State could get on the field this year as well. The fourth-round pick has all the traits to be an NFL defensive end but needs to be coached up. Robinson landed in an ideal situation getting coached by one of the better defensive coaches in the league Mike Zimmer. 

A dark horse candidate to take some snaps and potentially start at defensive end is former Pro Bowler and 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year interior defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson. The Vikings reunited with Richardson a few weeks after being released from the Cleveland Browns. Since Minnesota has an elite duo on the interior of their defensive line they may experiment with lining up Richardson as a base defensive end. Richardson has always been a better pass rusher than run defender during his career. The opportunity to rush off the edge on an elite defensive line may be what Richardson needs to rejuvenate his career. 

Minnesota will get to see both their major free agent signings from the past two seasons playing for them for the first time this upcoming season. Last year Minnesota replaced Linval Joseph with former Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce. Minnesota signed Pierce for three years $27 million. The former Raven was an elite-run defender due to his size and ability to plug up holes created by opposing offensive lines. The Vikings did not get to see Pierce play last season due to him opting out of the 2020 NFL season due to Covid-19 concerns. This offseason the Vikings spent big again on the interior of their defensive line bringing in former New York Giants Dalvin Tomlinson on a two-year $22 million deal. Tomlinson was a part of a dominant defensive line in New York that almost singlehandedly carried the Giants defense and team overall to the playoffs last season. He has been an elite-run defender as well during his time in New York and also has been able to rack up 3.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons. 

There is a lot of talent on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line. If Mike Zimmer can coach each of these players to their potential it would put overwhelming pressure on opposing offenses. A defensive line this talented could be what carries the Vikings into the playoffs next season. 

Linebackers

Since 2015 the Minnesota Vikings have had one of the better linebacker duos in the league between Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Over the last couple of seasons, both have been to multiple Pro Bowls and have been major parts of the Vikings’ defense. Both missed time due to injury last season. Both need to remain healthy for the Vikings to contend next season. 

Kendricks has been a tackling machine over the last couple of seasons averaging 106.5 combined tackles a season since being drafted. He is also no stranger to creating turnovers when factoring in his four career forced fumbles and seven career interceptions. Three of Kendricks’ career interceptions came last season. Over a couple of year stretch Barr was considered one of if not the best 4-3 outside linebacker in football. However, there has been a slight decline for the former 2014 first-round pick. Prime Anthony Barr does a little bit of everything. He not only can rush the passer like a defensive end, but he could also tackle and play in coverage as well as a linebacker on the inside. If Barr can play similar to how he did during his stretch of four straight Pro Bowls Minnesota’s defense could look similar to how it did in the late 2010s when it was considered one of the best in the league. 

The play of Minnesota’s linebacker duo is so important to their success. Not only do they need to stay healthy, but Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr need to play at a high level for this defense to have done their part to get this team in a position to contend for the playoffs. 

Secondary

The biggest question mark about the Vikings’ defense coming into this season is their secondary. Mike Zimmer is known for spending high draft picks on cornerbacks and developing defensive backs extremely well. In the last couple of seasons, it has become clear that Zimmer prefers to build his defense from the back forward. 

The Vikings gutted their cornerback room and drafted two cornerbacks with their first four picks in 2020. They took Jeff Gladney Jr. in the first round and Cameron Dantzler in the second round. Gladney was the team’s starting slot cornerback last season and Dantzler covered the team’s number one cornerback on the outside last season. It is fair to say that they struggled to defend pass catchers last season. This is not necessarily a knock on Gladney and Dantzler as players, a lot of cornerbacks struggle early in their careers in the NFL regardless of how high they were drafted. But in year two in the same defense, both are expected to take a leap forwards and play at a solid level if not better. The Vikings also made two major moves to their cornerback room. First, they signed former Pro Bowler and Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson to a one-year $10 million deal. Then Minnesota traded 2018 first-round pick, Mike Hughes, to the Kansas City Chiefs for a sixth-round pick in 2022. 

The dynamic duo of safeties that Minnesota has had over the last two seasons will not return this season. Free safety Anthony Harris left Minnesota in free agency and shockingly signed a cheap one-year $5 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings replaced Harris with former Dallas Cowboy Xavier Woods and fourth-round pick Camryn Bynum. However, Harrison Smith will be returning to Minnesota for his tenth season. Smith has been one of the best and most important players to this franchise over the last decade. His production has been extremely reliable for the Vikings including last season when the team’s defense played awful as a whole. Smith finished last season with five interceptions and 89 combined tackles. 

Minnesota’s secondary can very well tie this defense together and return it to the juggernaut it was only a few seasons ago. If the young defensive backs that are expected to have feature roles in this secondary can play up to their potential and the veterans continue to play at a high level, Minnesota could have one of the best secondaries in the league. However, if Gladney and Dantzler do not improve from last season and Peterson plays like how he did last year, that could be enough for the Vikings defense to underperform and hold the team out of the playoffs. 

Final Verdict 

After evaluating this roster it is fair to say that a major component of this roster is health. A lot of vital pieces across this roster got hurt last season and Minnesota paid the price for it falling out of playoff contention early in the year before trying to play catchup towards the end. There is so much talent spread across this roster the veterans need to continue to play at a high level and possibly develop into better players, while the young guys need to make a major impact for Minnesota early in their careers.

It is fair to say the biggest component that will decide the fate of the Minnesota Vikings this season is the status for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. If Rodgers decides to hold out or is traded the Vikings have the roster to surpass Green Bay as the favorite to win the NFC North. At that point, all four teams in the NFC North would be rebuilding or retooling their roster likely making the winner a team with a close to .500 record and the race to determine the winner very ugly much like the 2020-21 NFC East. If last season’s MVP does not play in Green Bay and his replacement Jordan Love doesn’t have a breakout season Minnesota has what it takes to make the playoffs next season as long as their team can stay healthy and none of the vital or young players on this roster majorly disappoint. 

Is Kirk Cousins the future QB of the Vikings?

Will Kirk Cousins remain with the Vikings beyond his current contract?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Kirk Cousins is currently the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and it will be his job heading into the 2021 NFL season. He has had mixed results in this role and will have to prove his worth if he wants to keep it moving forward. He is still only 32 years old so time is on his side as he is still in the middle of his prime. He is not racing the clock but he is playing for his future with the team. Let’s take a look at whether or not he is the long-term answer at quarterback for the Vikings.

The Contract

Cousins is under contract with the Vikings for the next two seasons, through 2022, and is set to make a ton of guaranteed money. He is owed 76 million dollars guaranteed including salary cap hits of 31 million n 2021 and 45 million in 2022. This massive contract and the way that it is structured means he will almost definitely remain with the team until it concludes at the end of the 2022 season. That does not necessarily guarantee his starting job but it does keep him on the payroll.

The Production

After being the starting quarterback for 3 years in Washington, Cousins has now been the starter for the Vikings for 3 consecutive seasons and has only missed one game since arriving in Minnesota. In his 3 seasons with the Vikings he has accumulated over 12000 passing yards and 91 passing touchdowns against 29 interceptions. His completion percentage has decreased each year with 70.1 in 2018, 69.1 in 2019, and 67.6 in 2020. On the other hand, his total QBR has impressively improved each season with 59.5 in 2018, 60.4 in 2019, and 63.2 in 2020.

His numbers as a whole have not been bad but not exactly spectacular either. He has been fairly consistent and definitely does his best work out of the play-action passing game, which makes Dalvin Cook extremely valuable to the success of their offensive scheme. When Cook is rolling, it allows Cousins to get into his rhythm and operate at his best. Cousins has shown consistent chemistry with veteran Adam Thielen and great promise with the young stud Justin Jefferson.

Besides just the individual statistics, it’s also very important to look at the results of the team since Cousins took over as the starting quarterback. Since his arrival, the Vikings record is 25-22-1 in the regular season. They have only made the playoffs one time out of the three years as a wild card and have never won the NFC North division. While this is not a terrible record over three seasons it still leaves much to be desired. If the Vikings do not at the very least make the playoffs this upcoming season then Cousins could be in big trouble in terms of his job security. This may be his last chance to receive a contract extension beyond the 2022 season.

The Replacement

Through the first three years that Cousins was with the Vikings, there wasn’t any real threat on the roster to challenge him for the job including both the present and the future. It was really always his job alone but now things may be different after the organization used a third-round draft pick this year on quarterback Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M. Mond is definitely not going to start right away and is considered a little bit of a developmental project for now but he does have real talent and true potential. After spending some time with the Vikings coaching staff while also serving as the backup quarterback to Cousins, he could blossom into a solid starter eventually.

As a starter in all four years at college, Mond was a legitimate dual-threat quarterback with dangerous rushing abilities to go with arm talent that continuously improved from one year to the next. His accuracy, which was a weakness initially, started to become a strength as he matured and became more comfortable with how the quarterback position is played. He excelled greatly in a zone-read style of offense because of his elite athleticism and effective scrambling. In his college career, he accumulated an impressive 9661 passing yards, 71 passing touchdowns, 1609 rushing yards, and 22 rushing touchdowns.

What makes Mond a good fit with the Vikings is the similarity in styles between what they do as a team and what his strengths appear to be. With Cousins as their quarterback, the Vikings offensive scheme features a ton of play-action passing as well as RPOs. That is exactly the style of attack where Mond found his most success at the college game. Compared to Cousins, Mond is definitely more athletic and dangerous with his legs but not as efficient and accurate of a passer, especially the deep ball.

The Coach

Mike Zimmer has been the head coach of the Vikings since the 2014 season so that of course also includes the entire three years that Cousins has been the quarterback. He has a career record of 66-50-1 as the head coach of the team and it seems as though his job is on the line this year also. If the Vikings do not have a successful campaign this season and at a minimum make a playoff appearance then it is very likely that Zimmer will be fired. Often times when a team brings in a new head coach, it also means that it is time to make a change at quarterback as well, preferably to a younger option to develop chemistry between coach and player while growing together. This situation is another serious threat to the future of Cousins, especially with Mond lurking behind him.

The Verdict

All things considered, the plan for the future of the Vikings at the quarterback position seems pretty clear based on multiple factors. Financially, it would make the most sense to move on from him after the 2022 season when his contract officially expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The potential successor is already on the roster in Kellen Mond, who is an exciting young prospect with a style of play that very well fits the modern NFL game. Unless Cousins does something spectacular this season and not only makes a deep postseason run but is also the main reason for that success, it seems his days as the starting quarterback are numbered in Minnesota.

Though nothing is impossible, it is highly unlikely that Cousins can take such a leap at this point in his career. He can still improve his game but who he is as a quarterback has mostly been defined already. By the 2023 season, if not sooner, expect to see a new combination of a head coach and quarterback for the Vikings. The Cousins era in Minnesota was not a failure and still has a little time to be written, but it was not good enough to this point to justify another very expensive contract extension. As long as he continues to show promise, Kellen Mond is up next for the Vikings and even has a chance to take over the job this year if Cousins struggles at all.

3 reasons Why the Vikings still hold the top WR duo in the NFL

Are Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen the NFL’s top WR duo?

By: Reese Nasser

The Minnesota Vikings have assembled arguably the top wide receiver duo in the NFL. First-year receiver Justin Jefferson was voted to a pro bowl in his rookie season and nine-year veteran Adam Theilen had maybe the best season of his career. The duo combined for 21 touchdowns on 162 receptions and also finished with 2,325 receiving yards. They were a lone bright spot for a Vikings team that went 7-9 and finished third in their division. Let’s take a look at this duo and how they compare to some of the other top duos in the NFL.

Looking at other top duos 

The duo out in Seattle is the next closest thing to what the Vikings have put together. The Seattle Seahawks have star wideout DK Metcalf and veteran Tyler Lockett. The difference in the two groups is strictly reliability. Metcalf was held to less than 60 yards in six games last season and didn’t break 30 yards in three games. Locket failed to reach 60 yards on eight occasions. The pair did compare with Theilen and Jefferson in terms of touchdowns though. Metcalf and Lockett combined for 20 touchdowns, only one less than the Vikings duo.  

The Los Angeles Rams duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp has also proven to be valid. Both receivers had 90-catch seasons and had over 900 yards receiving. The difference in this duo is that they don’t reach the endzone like other top duos do. The pair only reached the end zone nine times. 

What Sets these Two Apart

These two have proven to be consistent in their one season together. The two players are at different points in their career and utilize different skill sets but are still able to work together on the field. Both players are able to seamlessly transition from the slot to the outside and can make plays from anywhere on the field. 

Theilens route running is top tier and sets him apart from other receivers. He is regarded as one of the best route runners in the NFL. 

His ability to consistently get open has helped the Vikings elevate their offensive game. After an injury-riddled 2019 season, many thought that he wouldn’t be able to bounce back to how he once was. The addition of Jefferson certainly helped Thielen ease back into his game. 

Jefferson was electric during his rookie season, having one of the greatest seasons of any first-year player ever. Nearly every week, he proved that he was deserving of the hype that he was getting. He surpassed 100 receiving yards in seven games and while never once reaching double digits in receptions. 

Combination of Youth and Age

When looking at these two players, you also have to take into account their age. Jefferson hasn’t even turned 22 years old yet while Theilen is 30 years old. Theilen is able to still provide veteran leadership to Jefferson and help him to continue to elevate his game. 

The Vikings can solidify this duo as the top in the NFL if they can continue to build on what they have already done. Much of this will come down to veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins. If Cousins can play at the level that he has, thisa duo should maintain what they have going right now. The trajectory is pointing up and they should continue to be the top duo in the NFL. 

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