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The Minnesota Vikings have done what has been expected of them both over the past few months and over the past few years. In the shorter term, the Vikings should have bowed out of the playoffs early because, while they’ve won a bunch of games this season, they’ve looked less scary doing it. Only two teams have won more than their 13 games under first-year coach Kevin O’Connell, but eight were shorter betting market odds to win the Super Bowl entering the postseason. In the long run, the Vikings are also projected to have roughly 12 teams to finish ahead of them each year, going back several seasons. The clearest reason for the Vikings’ expectations of all time has a name, and that name is Kirk Cousins.

Cousins ​​collects the salary of a top quarterback. On the field, the officials protect him from harm like he is a top quarterback. He’s putting up some statistical totals that resemble those of a top quarterback. He’s not one, and that’s a bit silly to type, because it’s not like there’s a massive army of Kirk Cousins ​​supporters who take to the streets of the Internet every day to try to convince the masses that Cousins ​​is one of the NFL’s best. great transfers. Almost no one thinks so. Vikings can’t think like that. But Cousins ​​perseveres and the team goes through the motions because they have no better option.

Sunday’s wild card playoff loss to the New York Giants was a little cosmic for Cousins’ place in football. He was pretty serviceable and even for most of the game ok. He threw 39 passes and completed 31 of them for a pair of touchdowns while going without an interception. The third down came on a QB sneak after video review overruled what would have been another passing score. The Vikings trailed by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when the Giants’ no-nonsense defensive tackle, Dexter Lawrence, burst into the backfield and brought down Cousins ​​as he threw an incomplete pass. It a typical QB hit called a roughing the passer penalty, the kind that infuriates viewers when it’s created for the benefit of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, much less Cousins. The drag continued for a few more plays. On one third down, Cousins ​​threw just a hair behind the pass receiver, allowing the Giants cornerback to break up the play. On fourth down, Cousins ​​threw a short first down marker to tight end TJ Hockenson for three yards with eight needed. Sometimes the QB’s receivers are covered and he has no choice but to check the ball down. It doesn’t appear that this was one of those times.

The cruel irony of this particular loss is that Cousins ​​had one of his best games. He was often under pressure and handled it well, even if he didn’t make spectacular plays. The biggest mistake on Sunday was the Vikings’ defense, which couldn’t stop the Giants’ running game. Cousins’ offensive line, often underwhelming over the years, didn’t help much. It’s not that Cousins ​​is bad, it’s that he’s not what the Vikings have trapped them into demanding he be: a star.

Leaving the meat on the bone is what Cousins ​​does, and it’s what the Vikings do. They’ll probably do it again for at least another year, and who knows how long after that. The specifics of whether the Vikings go 8-9 and miss the playoffs or go 13-4 and lose again are immaterial. They’re doomed for a continued run in the middle of the NFL, the same spot they’ve settled in since they signed Cousins ​​in 2018. He’s never been the only reason (their defense hasn’t been good this year), but he’s the most. consistent one. Starting Kirk Cousins ​​is one of the two worst things you can be in the NFL. One is to be good because it cuts the road to developing a better QB. The other is to be boring.

A common part of NFL skepticism is that the team “can’t win the Super Bowl.” [insert QB]. This line of commentary comes up a lot with Cousins ​​(just google it), but it’s not true. One could win the Super Bowl with Cousins! QBs younger than him made it. Even without winning the sport’s ultimate prize, there are plenty of QBs at any given time who don’t have Cousins’ talent or long-term statistical output, but who manage to scrape together more than you’d think they could with good coaching and a year. – development of the year. One of them, the Giants’ once-disappointing but now promising Daniel Jones, took the other side of the decision against Cousins ​​on Sunday. That Cousins ​​played well and was still outplayed by Jones is a good illustration of Cousins’ experience.

The cousins ​​are left out because he is wasting resources. The Vikings have never had a complete fleet around them on all sides of the ball, but at various and sometimes overlapping spots, they have had good defenses and some of the best skill position talent in the league. His list of stellar receivers compares favorably to any in the past five years; Stefon Diggs was two. Adam Thielen has been around all along. Justin Jefferson might be the best of the bunch and he’s on the inside track to the Hall of Fame in three years. Cousins ​​also had a top running back in Dalvin Cook.

Cousins ​​finished 14th in that All-Star frameth13:00th18:00th15:00thand recently 23th In ESPN’s QBR, an efficiency metric that bakes in a QB’s passing and running contributions. Pro Football Focus’ game charters rated him a 14th-Best among QBs this year, though the game rules there have favored him a bit more in recent seasons than in the past. Cousins ​​is a slightly above-average pick, in part because he’s a non-factor as a runner. But he can make the odd flashy throw and his traditional counting stats are great. Since he joined Minnesota, he is fifth in the NFL in raw passing yards and fourth in touchdowns. Viewed through the right lens, Cousins ​​is the type of QB who can hack it with the NFL’s elite. He may not, but he exists in a world of QB scarcity. Football is a passing game, and 10 NFL teams each year have QBs who barely need to be on the field. Cousins ​​is much better than them, and he hints at being among the best, so the Vikings paid him and kept him around. Many teams would.

This is the story of how this exceptionally boring paragon of decency made $155 million over five years in the Twin Cities. And good for him.

On some level, Cousins ​​is symptomatic of an environment where franchises will gamble their future on any quarterback who gives off even the faintest whiff of recurring greatness. He’s not the only quarterback to get a big deal (or a series of big deals, in his case) without showing he can consistently deliver on lofty promises. But he again stands out in several ways. One is how long he has been the exact same player. Since taking over as Washington’s starter in 2016, Cousins ​​has averaged between 7.1 and 8.3 yards per pass per season. In all five of his Vikings seasons, his QBR was between 50 and 60 out of 100. The best QBs are in the upper 60s, 70s or sometimes 80s.

Cousins ​​is also special in that he was a driver of enhanced QB compensation, not just a beneficiary of a trend. By 2018, the Vikings had signed him to a 3-year, $84 million deal, marking the first multi-year fully guaranteed deal for a QB ever. NFL Network CEO Ian Rapoport called it a “record-breaking, paradigm-shifting, tradition-shattering contract.” It was masterful agenting by Cousins’ representative, Mike McCartney, who ranked his client among the highest-paid (and certainly safest) NFL QBs, despite said client, to reiterate, being Kirk Cousins. Cousins ​​has been about as good in Minnesota as he was in Washington, which is to say, good.

The exciting news for Vikings fans is that they should be able to ride this smooth, mid-height cart for another year. Cousins ​​signed a contract extension before last season, making it virtually impossible to cut him next year because it would mean dipping more into the salary cap than the $30 million the Vikings will pay Cousins. Since Cousins’ first contract with the Vikings, the quarterback’s contracts have only gotten bigger, to the point where he is now only slated to have– The highest salary threshold reached his position next fall. Official costs change, but Cousins ​​doesn’t. The Vikings will continue to pay him enough to not consider other options, and he will continue to be good enough to rule out either a deep playoff run or cracking the top pass rusher in the 2024 draft. He gets $30 million in 2023. Half must be entered march


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