INDIANAPOLIS — Don’t pencil in Kirk Cousins to the Minnesota Vikings just yet.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday no decisions have been made about what his team will do at the quarterback position this offseason. In recent days, Cousins has been increasingly linked to the Vikings, who are coming off an 13-3 season in which they made the NFC Championship.
Cousins has been floated as the Vikings’ “missing piece,” and the Vikings have $48 million in salary cap room — making this a logical pairing.
Cousins’ next contract will likely make him the highest-paid player in NFL history. He won’t be with the Redskins next season after Washington traded for Alex Smith in January. The trade doesn’t become official until March.
“I know there have been a thousand reports out there on how we’re going to move forward,” Spielman said. “We’re going to continue to evolve this process. I’ll go through the meetings this week with the agents. When we get back, I’ll circle around and finalize a game plan as we move forward.”
The Vikings are in a unique position because all three of their quarterbacks will likely be free agents. Minnesota started off the season with Sam Bradford as starter, but Case Keenum seized the job after a knee injury sidelined Bradford following Week 1.
Bradford and Keenum will officially hit the market, while Minnesota is still waiting to find out about Teddy Bridgewater’s contract status. Bridgewater, the Vikings’ 2014 first-round pick, is awaiting an NFL decision that will decide whether his contract will toll, or carry over, for missing the first six games in the final year of his deal.
Spielman said the Vikings “feel very strongly” about the knowledge have on Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater.
Spielman couldn’t specifically address his thoughts on Cousins because of NFL tampering rules. Cousins is still officially under contract with the Redskins until March 14.
“We’re always going to be looking at options, at all areas, to try and make sure we’re finding the best fit for the Minnesota Vikings, not only on the field from a schematic standpoint, but also with the leadership of coach [Mike] Zimmer,” Spielman said.
The “best fit” could be Cousins.
The Vikings came up short in the NFC Championship, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles. But Minnesota has a deep roster, and plenty to sell Cousins, if the team is interested.
Under Zimmer, the Vikings have a disciplined, talented defense with a core in place. Spielman said the Vikings always plan their contracts “two or three years down the road,” which is why they extended lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes, defensive tackle Linvail Joseph and defensive end Everson Griffen in 2017. The Vikings finished second in defensive DVOA last year.
Besides the defense, Minnesota has perhaps the best pair of wide receivers in the NFL in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Cousins saw up close how productive the two could be, when Diggs and Thielen combined for 244 yards on 12 catches against the Redskins in Week 10.
The Vikings also did a good job in protecting their quarterbacks, with the offensive line giving up only 27 sacks in 16 games. Minnesota will add another weapon when 2017 second-round running back Dalvin Cook recovers from a torn ACL.
Simply put, the Vikings make a strong case for being the top available option to Cousins.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have never fully committed to Keenum, despite the quarterback having a career-year in 2017. As Bridgewater and Bradford recovered from injuries, Zimmer never gave full assurance that Keenum would remain the starter once the two got healthy.
Keenum threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017. He was a career journeyman before this season.
“Case Keenum came in, led our football team [and] did a phenomenal job,” Spielman said. “He has a knack for making plays. … [Zimmer] does a great job of keeping our players on edge to keep having them perform at their highest level.”
Money will also be part of this equation, though Cousins has said his priority for his next team is winning. There are other teams — the New York Jets, for example — reportedly interested in bidding for Cousins.
The Vikings and other teams legally can’t talk to Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, about a deal until March 12, when the negotiating window opens.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of what we feel,” Spielman said. “But we also know that a lot of things will go into play with this decision. Contracts are definitely a factor in it.”