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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Kirk Cousins: Is he the missing piece for the Vikings' Super Bowl run?

The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for new details on tickets, parking and times.

Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Wednesday: Quarterbacks

On the 90-man roster: 4 quarterbacks

Locks: QB Kirk Cousins, QB Trevor Siemian  

Practice squad candidates: QB Kyle Sloter, QB Peter Pujals

Changes 
(+) Signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract that was fully guaranteed, marking the first such fully guaranteed NFL contract of that magnitude. … Traded for Trevor Siemian from Denver, acquiring also a 2018 seventh-round pick (linebacker Devante Downs) in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

(-) Sam Bradford signed with the Cardinals on a one-year, $20 million deal, including a team option for 2019. … Case Keenum signed with the Broncos on a two-year, $36 million contract. … Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Jets for one year and $6 million, including just $500,000 guaranteed and an additional $9 million in incentives.

Situation
Kirk Cousins reached out to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen before players reported for initial workouts in April. That’s part of the essential chemistry building he’ll need to cram into a spring and summer. Fortunately for Cousins, his top two receivers are detailed and reliable. While his teammates learn the new twists of John DeFilippo’s offense, “everything is different” for Cousins, head coach Mike Zimmer said. The Vikings emphasized areas such as the red zone and screen game this spring. Defenders called the offense more vertical than during Pat Shurmur’s tenure. We’ll get to see its original incarnation starting this preseason.

“It’s a bit like drinking through a fire hose right now,” Cousins said. “I need to use the five or six weeks of the summer to go back. All the stuff I didn’t catch, go back through and see that I had starred this, I had check-marked this as something to go back to when we had time, rather than take time when we were so busy. I’ll make a list, probably get on the phone with coach DeFilippo or give [QBs] coach [Kevin] Stefanski an email and just go through it all to get each question answered over the summer.”

Siemian’s addition gives the Vikings an experienced backup and another Keenum-like safety net. Of course, one of the pulls to Cousins is the fact he has started 49 consecutive games.

Top question
Is Kirk Cousins the final piece to a well-rounded roster? Questions remain about the 2018 Vikings, even to a reigning No. 1 defense that essentially collapsed in five fateful playoff quarters. There’s no question larger than the $84 million man whom the Vikings hope is their quarterback for even another massive contract in the spring of 2021. By then, Cousins will have answered whether he’s the quarterback to return the Vikings to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1977. 

What you should know
Only four quarterbacks had a better play-action passer rating than Case Keenum (111.8) with the Vikings last season. One of them was Kirk Cousins (118.7) in Washington, according to Pro Football Focus. Even with the enormous contract, the Vikings offense is still expected to run through Dalvin Cook. Cook flashed in his 3.5 games that he’s the dynamic runner the Vikings need for modern football. So Cousins, and the deep ball, should be highly-emphasized complements to their zone running game.

Notable number
36.6% — The highest pressure rate Cousins faced in Washington, which was last season. Eight quarterbacks, including Keenum, caught heat at a higher rate behind their protection. It’s notable that three different Vikings quarterbacks (Bridgewater, Bradford, Keenum) saw more pressure in each of Cousins’ three seasons in Washington (2015-2017). So keeping Cousins clean needs to be a top priority for the Vikings, especially considering his history of mediocre play under pressure. He’s completed about 52 percent of his throws for 20 touchdowns and 20 picks while pressured in his career, according to PFF.

Top competition
Practice squad QB — Sloter will see his first game action for the Vikings next month during the preseason. How he fares might determine whether the Vikings can even keep him on the practice squad after he was coveted following last year’s cut from the Broncos. Sloter threw 31 of 43 for 413 yards and three touchdowns during Denver’s preseason. The Vikings stashed him on the practice squad following a bidding war, and now they’re eager to see their third quarterback in game action. Peter Pujals, the former Holy Cross quarterback, will also be at camp.

Will All-Pro talent lead Vikings secondary to an elite season?

The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for new details on tickets, parking and times.

Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Tuesday: Defensive backs

On the 90-man roster: 11 cornerbacks and 5 safeties

Locks: S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander and CB Mike Hughes

Good bets: CB Terence Newman, S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse

On the bubble: CB Marcus Sherels, CB Horace Richardson, CB Holton Hill

Practice squad candidates: CB Jack Tocho, CB Craig James, S Tray Matthews, CB Trevon Mathis

Changes 
(+) Drafted cornerback Mike Hughes with the 30th-overall pick. … Re-signed corner/safety Terence Newman to a one-year, veteran minimum deal. … Signed three UDFAs in cornerback Holton Hill, safety Tray Matthews and cornerback Trevon Mathis.

(-) Cornerback Tramaine Brock signed a one-year deal with the Broncos. … Safety Antone Exum Jr. joined the 49ers on a one-year deal.

Situation
Perhaps no Vikings cupboard is better stocked than the secondary, featuring five top picks (four 1st rounders, one second) from the last seven drafts. That means the development of rookie Mike Hughes can go on Mike Zimmer’s schedule with Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes expected to take more steps forward in 2018. Hughes’ arrival could be a signal for either Waynes or Alexander as both their contracts expire following the 2019 season. For now, the Vikings are more than equipped to continue their reign as one of the league’s best pass defenses. Every member is back from last year’s group that allowed an NFL-low 13 touchdown passes during the regular season. The cornerstone pieces — Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith (2017 first-team All-Pros) — are both signed through 2021.

Top question
How will the secondary bounce back from the NFC Championship loss? Nick Foles was near perfect as the Eagles shattered the Vikings with three touchdown passes (vs. a defense that, again, allowed 13 all season) on 26 of 33 passing for 352 yards. Foles showed the following week in a record-breaking shootout with the Patriots that the Eagles offense was no fluke. In a battle for the NFC, Rhodes, Smith and company will have to face the Eagles again at least once in a return to Philadelphia during Week 5. Zimmer called the loss the “perfect storm,” noting an uneven week of practice following the emotional roller coaster that was the ‘Minneapolis Miracle,’ which was preceded by blowing a 17-0 lead to the Saints.

“I’ve watched it a couple times,” Zimmer said a month after the loss. “Honestly they made a couple good plays. We didn’t make plays. I gave them a lot of credit. I’m talking to [OC John] DeFilippo about some of the things they were trying to do to attack us and we are going to sit down and go through the tape and explain everything that they were trying to do. And then, you know, I probably misinterpreted the win against the Saints.”

What you should know
Terence Newman took some top reps at safety during spring practices while Andrew Sendejo nursed an undisclosed injury. The Vikings added just one undrafted safety to the mix this offseason, so perhaps Newman could become a factor should either Smith or Sendejo be held out of a game. Sendejo missed three games (one due to suspension) last season. Newman, who turns 40 on Sept. 4, is the NFL’s oldest defender and said this will be his last season.

“I am getting to a point you have to figure out something else that you want to do,” Newman said. “Once you get to my age. I think this will be my last year. No matter what happens, this will be it for me.”

Notable number
111.7 — That’s the combined passer rating of both Drew Brees and Nick Foles in the Vikings’ two playoff games. Compare that to other teams’ postseasons and its by far the biggest drop off (+38.7 rating) from regular season to playoff passer rating allowed. The Vikings allowed an average passer rating of 73.0 during the regular season. Was it an anomaly or the sign of a ceiling?

Top competition
Backup cornerback — How many corners will the Vikings keep? The answer was six last season. Now they’ve added two intriguing corners between Hughes, a lock, and undrafted free agent Holton Hill, the Texas product who was given $75,000 guaranteed — the fourth most among all UDFAs this year and the most given to an undrafted player by the Vikings under Zimmer. Then there is returner extraordinaire Marcus Sherels and another promising prospect in Horace Richardson. The loaded position group will be one to watch this summer as they vie for room on a crowded roster.

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