The Vikings spent the first day of free agency remaking their quarterback depth chart, working on a trade for a new backup in the afternoon and growing ever closer to a blockbuster deal for their new starter at night.
As he left dinner at the Capital Grille with free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, General Manager Rick Spielman exuded confidence the team would finalize a contract with Cousins on Thursday, saying, “I think it’s pretty hard not to get [it] done right now,” and adding the Vikings will hopefully have a news conference Thursday afternoon once Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, had flown to the Twin Cities to finish negotiations on a deal.
And according to two league sources, the Vikings are finalizing a deal for former Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, who would come to Minnesota as Cousins’ backup. The Vikings would reportedly send a fifth-round pick to the Broncos in 2019 for a seventh-rounder this year and Siemian, who went 13-11 as a starter the past two seasons in Denver.
He became expendable when Case Keenum finalized a two-year deal with the Broncos on Wednesday, leaving the Vikings during a flurry of moves that are expected to culminate with Cousins’ deal.
Vikings officials greeted Cousins, his wife Julie and the couple’s son, Cooper, at St. Paul’s Holman Field on Wednesday evening, before Cousins dined with Spielman, co-owner Mark Wilf, coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, wide receiver Adam Thielen, tight end Kyle Rudolph and both players’ wives. The conversation, Spielman said, drifted only occasionally toward football.
“Had a great visit; looking forward to [Thursday],” Cousins said after signing several autographs for fans congregated outside the restaurant. “We’re going to be able to see more of the city and the facility. It’s a great organization, and my wife and I are thrilled to be here.”
As Cousins flew to town, Keenum signed with the Broncos and Teddy Bridgewater finished a one-year deal with the Jets. Sam Bradford is expected to sign with the Cardinals to be the team’s new starting quarterback.
When all is said and done, the Vikings are expected to finalize a deal that makes Cousins the highest-paid quarterback in the league, with Siemian backing him up in the final year of a rookie deal that will pay him $1.907 million in 2018.
The Northwestern product got the first crack at replacing Peyton Manning as the Broncos’ starter in 2016, a year after winning a Super Bowl ring as Manning and Brock Osweiler’s understudy. Siemian threw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2016, before throwing 12 TDs against 14 interceptions in 10 games last season.
Siemian lost his job to Paxton Lynch in 2017, battled a pair of shoulder injuries and ended the season on injured reserve. In Minnesota, he’ll likely be Cousins’ primary backup while the Vikings continue to develop Kyle Sloter, Siemian’s former teammate in Denver.
The Vikings’ pursuit of Cousins — and the lucrative contract it is expected to command — occupied their first day of free agency, and the team could wait to address other positions on its roster until the salary cap effects of the Cousins deal become clearer. The team has reportedly offered Cousins a fully-guaranteed deal worth $84 million over the next three seasons, though the Vikings would likely try to structure the contract in a way that leaves them room to sign players such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr after next season.
The Vikings have interest in bringing back players such as kicker Kai Forbath and guard Joe Berger, though deals for those players and other in-house free agents could come over the next several days. Berger, who’s had interest from teams such as the Lions and Panthers, could also retire if the 35-year-old doesn’t find an offer to his liking.
Minnesota also has a forthcoming decision on running back Latavius Murray, whose $5.15 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed Friday. The Vikings could look to restructure Murray’s deal, given the likelihood Dalvin Cook will return to a prominent role in their offense after recovering from knee surgery.
The Vikings lost one running back to free agency, when Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year deal with the 49ers. McKinnon will make $30 million over the next four years, though the last season of his deal is a team option and only $6.2 million of the money was fully guaranteed as of Wednesday.
Barr’s fifth-year option of $12.3 million became fully guaranteed at the start of the league year. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who spent the 2017 season on the non-football injury list, also became a free agent, though the 2013 first-round pick is still awaiting the settlement of a grievance the NFL Players Association filed in September.
Floyd, who sustained nerve damage during a Sept. 2016 operation on his right knee, was paid only $2 million last season; the NFLPA’s grievance seeks to recoup the remaining $4.76 million Floyd would have been paid if the Vikings had placed him on the physically-unable-to-perform list, or eventually on injured reserve, last year.