An $84M game manager? Vikings still trying to figure out Kirk Cousins

Updated: September 21, 2019

2:36 PM ET

EAGAN, Minn. — An otherwise nondescript Week 3 meeting with an out-of-conference opponent has become a hugely important test for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Cousins might have more to prove on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders than he has in any other game of his career. Not just for the sake of bouncing back from an interception in the end zone that sealed a Week 2 loss at Green Bay, but for showing his team he can be trusted to avoid fatal errors that become the reason the Vikings lose.

Even Cousins knows what’s bound to happen if he doesn’t make better decisions.

“Believe me, I’m not going to be playing quarterback here if I go out and play the way I did this past Sunday for much longer,” Cousins said.

The Vikings reached a crossroads far sooner than they would have hoped with Cousins. They’re one of two teams in the NFL, along with the Indianapolis Colts, that average more rushing yards per game (185) than they do passing yards (160). Part of that is the byproduct of what has worked well for Minnesota on offense, sparked by Dalvin Cook‘s early-season explosion as the top rusher in the NFL.

But this also might be a reality the Vikings have to come to terms with: Minnesota expected Cousins to be its franchise quarterback, but he might be an $84 million game manager.

Minnesota claimed to have analyzed every throw Cousins made in six seasons with the Washington Redskins before he was signed to a three-year, $84 million, fully guaranteed contract in March 2018. Despite the noticeable flaws and areas where changing his habits appear unrealistic, the Vikings went ahead and bet on Cousins.

Seven of eight plays on the drive that brought them to the Packers’ 8-yard line with just over five minutes left were rushes. Minnesota turned to Cousins at the most critical moment, effectively telling him to go win the game. And Cousins couldn’t come through, throwing an interception in the end zone, all but ensuring their first loss of the season.

Whether you agree with the playcall or not, coaches expected Cousins to make a better decision than a tight-window throw to Diggs in double coverage. They’re entitled to believe a quarterback with his price tag and experience would make the right call. But they got burned for the trust they placed in Cousins in that moment.

“Ultimately the result wasn’t what we wanted, so certainly when we look back, you say, ‘Man, I wish I would have run it there,'” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “But at the same time, I’m trying to be critical of every playcall, from the first to the last, and try to learn some lessons from that game and apply them moving forward. To say we’re always going to do one thing in any situation I don’t think is fair, but again, really tried to learn some lessons from each one of those plays from Sunday.”

The Vikings’ challenge: What do they do next time in the same situation because Cousins has not shown he can come through?