After embarrassing themselves on defense the past two seasons, the Minnesota Vikings went all in in that area during free agency.
That’s part of the Mike Zimmer directive. The head coach made his bones in the NFL as a defensive guru with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, and to see the Minnesota defense get overpowered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, and just play poor football throughout the majority of the schedule in 2019 and 2020 was more than he could stomach.
That’s why the Vikings spent big money on defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson (two years, $21 million), cornerback Patrick Peterson (one year, $8 million), safety Xavier Woods (one year, $1.75 million), linebacker Anthony Barr (one year, $8.635 million), linebacker Nick Vigil (one year, $1.75 million), and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (one year, $1.127 million). There is no way that Zimmer is going to abide another defensive season that sees the team get regularly pummeled on the scoreboard and in time of possession.
The offense has been largely ignored to this point in the offseason. The Vikings will almost certainly address their offensive line with their first-round pick, and may fortify that area with other selections. However, the team appears to be fairly set at the skills position with running back Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, as well as tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin.
There’s another skill position that is fairly well set for the Vikings, at least in the minds of Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. The Vikings are going to insert Kirk Cousins as the team’s QB1.
From a statistical perspective, Cousins has been a top quarterback in the NFL for a number of years. That includes the 2020 season when Cousins completed 349-of-516 passes for 4,265 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, numbers don’t tell the whole story with Cousins, as consistency in the biggest games on the schedule have been a major issue for him.
That was true when he started his career with the Washington Football Team (still waiting for a new name) as a fourth-round draft choice in 2012 and it remains true as he prepares for his 10th season in professional football.
Washington and Minnesota fans have seen Cousins struggle badly when the bright lights are on, but he did show some progress in 2020 when he put together a winning effort against the archrival Green Bay Packers in midseason and followed that up two weeks later with a prime-time victory over the Chicago Bears. That Week 9 Monday night game marked the first time Cousins had a led a team to victory while competing in a Monday Night Football matchup.
Cousins completed 25-of-36 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception in that win over the Bears, and he did enough to keep a solid Chicago defense off balance throughout the game.
Cousins was not spectacular against Chicago or the victory over the Packers, but he was effective. That’s what he needs to build off of if the Vikings are going to win their most important games in the upcoming season.
Vikings fans know that Cousins still has more work to do to prove himself.
It seemed quite likely that Zimmer and Spielman would love to bring in some competition for Cousins through the draft. The Vikings are not going to draft one of the elite quarterbacks at the top of the draft with their No. 14 pick.
However, they could use one of their six third- or fourth-round picks on a quarterback like Kellen Mond of Texas A&M, Jamie Newman of Georgia or Sam Ehlinger of Texas.
While none appear to have superstar potential, all have the competitiveness and skill to make a solid training camp showing and fight for the No. 2 quarterback position.
If the Vikings can get enough from a rookie quarterback to make Cousins take notice and realize that the future is not guaranteed, it could further sharpen his performance and help the Vikings get more out of the quarterback position in 2021.