To clear the way for Tom Brady, the New England Patriots had to shove aside Drew Bledsoe, a former No. 1 overall pick who had taken them to a Super Bowl.
To clear the way for Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles traded starting quarterback Sam Bradford, another former No. 1 overall pick, to the Vikings right before the start of the 2016 season.
Once they knew they had found their quarterback, both teams moved boldly, taking what at the time appeared to be the kind of risks that get people fired.
How bold will the Vikings be this winter?
How bold should they be?
This week at the Mall of America, Vikings bosses discussed their unsettled offense. They need to hire an offensive coordinator, then decide what to do with three quarterbacks who are pending free agents.
Not many teams win 14 games and face such uncertainty, but these are the Vikings, whose decades of turmoil at the position began when they traded Fran Tarkenton, then decided five years later they wanted him back.
So Case Keenum made appearances around town, Teddy Bridgewater hit radio row, Bradford was present as the ghost of Eagles quarterbacks past … and a guy who just became available lined up at the MOA Shake Shack.
Welcome, Kirk Cousins, to Minnesota, and into the conversation.
Keenum played well enough to get the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game, but was terrible in his last six playoff quarters. If a Saints safety hadn’t decided not to tackle Stefon Diggs, the story of the Vikings’ postseason would have been Keenum’s brutal interception in that game. Instead, Keenum survived to lead the Vikings to a 38-7 loss the next week.
The Vikings are expressing optimism about Bridgewater’s health and readiness, but he looked more than rusty in his only appearance this season.
Bradford has a bad knee that can’t be improved surgically. If he can play, he will probably have to prove it as a backup somewhere else next season.
The simplest maneuver the Vikings could make would be assigning the franchise tag to Keenum, persuading Bridgewater to stick around, and deferring big decisions for at least a year.
And until Cousins became available, I thought that might be the right move.
Now Washington has traded for Alex Smith, essentially setting Cousins free, and the Vikings can compare their intriguing threesome to someone who has passed for more than 4,000 yards each of the past three seasons while playing for a notoriously bad organization. Washington hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005 or made it to a title game since Joe Gibbs won the Super Bowl at the Metrodome in January 1992.
This season, the Eagles beat Cousins and Washington twice, but they didn’t make him look the way Keenum looked two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The last time Cousins faced the Eagles’ stout defense, he completed 30 of 40 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a 34-24 loss.
The question for the Vikings is simple: Would Cousins be a better choice than Keenum or Bridgewater for the 2018 season? If so, can they afford him?
I asked a few Eagles, who face Washington twice a year, what they thought of Cousins.
‘‘He’s a great quarterback,’’ cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. ‘‘I don’t have any knocks against his game. The stats speak for themselves. He’s productive. He’s been in situations with the game on the line, and he’s gotten the best of us a few times.
‘‘He’s like one of the few quarterbacks that has thrown for 400 yards against us. I think he’s a quality quarterback in this league.’’
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, brother of the Vikings’ Eric Kendricks, said: ‘‘I think he’s a good quarterback. We all do. You’ve seen it. He can get the job done. He’s a good guy and he’s a good quarterback.’’
Receiver Torrey Smith said: ‘‘I think he’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but at the same time I know how negotiations go, and sometimes you reach a point where you realize, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ ’’
Defensive end Brandon Graham said: ‘‘When he had DeSean Jackson and a lot of those guys, he was getting them the ball.’’
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said, ‘‘I think Kirk’s a great quarterback.’’
Signing Cousins would require boldness, the same kind of boldness Vikings GM Rick Spielman displayed when he traded for Bradford. Cousins playing with Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and a top defense might look even better than Keenum did.