Had Kirk Cousins taken what was likely the biggest offer he received during free agency in March, he would be preparing to face the Vikings at MetLife Stadium.
Instead, he’ll head to New York as something of a foil, squaring off Sunday with Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and playing in front of a fan base that figures to have a few words for Cousins about his decision.
During a documentary on his free-agent process that aired on NFL Network in August, Cousins was shown telling his wife, Julie, about the Jets’ offer — $90 million guaranteed over three years — that the quarterback thought could entice the Vikings to increase their original bid of $75 million over three years. They did, coming up to $84 million and including annual incentives of $2 million that Cousins can realize by winning Super Bowl MVP honors while leading the Vikings to a championship with a top-eight offense.
After the Vikings signed Cousins on March 15, several reports suggested the Jets felt used in the quarterback’s free-agency process. Two days after the Vikings signed Cousins, the Jets changed directions, sending the sixth overall pick, two second-rounders and a 2019 second-rounder to the Colts for the No. 3 pick, which they used on Darnold.
A New York Post column this week criticized Cousins for publicizing details of negotiations with the Jets, also saying Cousins “chose the Mall of America over Manhattan, Olive Garden over Il Mulino.”
While some in the Twin Cities’ food scene might have taken issue with the characterization, Cousins didn’t on Wednesday.
“Criticism’s going to be a part of it, especially when you’re going into an opposing team’s media environment,” Cousins said.
“That show was meant to show the journey, and to show how impressed I’ve been with the Minnesota Vikings. It was not meant to be a slight to anybody else.
“This is the NFL — every team is run well, has great coaches. I have tremendous respect for coach [Todd] Bowles. I’ve played against him, and he’s had my lunch a couple times. Jeremy Bates, their offensive coordinator, is a phenomenal coach and play-caller — he’s doing a great job this year. It was meant to show the Vikings as the greatest fit for us and nothing more.”
Cousins’ decision, and the Jets’ trade to move up for Darnold, appears at this point to have worked out for both parties.
The 21-year-old Darnold is 3-3 as a starter, having completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards and nine touchdowns against seven interceptions. He’s been helped by the league’s seventh-ranked run game and a defense stocked with high draft picks that ranks third in the NFL in takeaways. But Darnold has held his own early in his tenure with the Jets.
“A lot’s been made about how young he is, and I think you factor that in, too,” Cousins said.
“You feel like it’s a really impressive start for him in this league, and I’m sure he’s got a lot of great days ahead of him. Hopefully our defense can contain him well this weekend.”
Cousins was in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week when he found out the Redskins were trading for Alex Smith, effectively guaranteeing he’d be looking for a new home. From that time, he said, he spent much of the next six weeks doing research on teams that would need a new quarterback, learning about their players, schemes, coaching staffs and organizations.
It was clear early in his search — from when he rented a car and toured the Twin Cities with a high school friend during Super Bowl week — that the Vikings would be at the top of his list of potential suitors.
To whatever degree he extracted leverage from the Jets’ offer seems now to be mostly part of the business.
“I really don’t worry about the guys I don’t get,” Bowles said this week. “Minnesota got him, and they’re happy. We got Sam, and we’re happy.”