INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday, as NFL teams and agents convened in the middle of the country for the start of the league's annual scouting combine, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins posted a video on his social media accounts showing he'd made enough progress in his rehab from Achilles surgery to drop back and throw during workouts.

The video's timing didn't seem like an accident; though players can't formally negotiate with other teams until March 11, the combine functions as the de facto kickoff of free agency. NFL power brokers occupy the same square mile for much of a week, and hushed discussions in hotel bars and steakhouses form the foundation for the business that can become official in two weeks.

Cousins, who is scheduled to be a free agent for the second time in his career on March 13, is now nearly four months removed from his surgery and could be the top QB on the open market if teams believe he is healthy.

The Vikings say they're hoping Cousins doesn't reach the open market.

General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell reiterated on Tuesday their desire to bring back Cousins in 2024, as the team continues negotiations with the quarterback's agent on a new contract. Talks between Cousins and the Vikings ended without a deal last March, as the team added two void years to the quarterback's current deal instead of giving him the long-term deal he sought.

But after Cousins put up some of the best numbers of his career in Minnesota before tearing his Achilles, both O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah said they wanted the 35-year-old to return in 2024.

"I think the thing about free agency is, it's not Kirk's first time in free agency," O'Connell said. "Kirk Cousins knows how I feel about him; I've held no secrets there. He knows how the Minnesota Vikings feel about him. I believe Kirk wants to be a Viking. And we're going to work to try to make that the outcome."

O'Connell said he's talked frequently through the offseason with Cousins, who's made periodic trips to Minnesota for post-surgery checkups on his Achilles. "Every check-in that I get, either from the medical side or Kirk himself, is always pretty shocking, as far as how far along he is already," O'Connell said.

The progress could also complicate things for the Vikings, if Cousins' health helps boost his market and gives him leverage in contract negotiations. He said in January the structure of a deal with the Vikings would be more important than the price, and multiple sources have said last year's negotiations reached an impasse over guaranteed money.

The Vikings, who hold the 11th pick in the draft, could take a first-round quarterback for the first time since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014. Their ideal scenario might be to re-sign Cousins and draft his successor; they'll face a contract decision on Cousins six weeks before the draft begins on April 25.

"[We] had a great conversation with him a few days ago," Adofo-Mensah said. "Same thing, though. It's, we have our interests. He has his. We'll get to the table to see if we can figure out a creative solution and kind of meet in the middle. That's what every contract negotiation is. And that's what it'll be with him.

"What we do know is, we have a really great quarterback, a great leader, somebody that we think we can win the ultimate prize with. And so that's ultimately what I focus on. And that's where we're at right now."

On Tuesday, O'Connell talked at length about how his relationship with Cousins has grown closer since they first worked together with Washington in 2017. They are just over three years apart in age; O'Connell and his wife, Leah, have become close with Cousins and his wife, Julie.

"We love his family," O'Connell said. "My family and his family are close. So then we come here two years ago, and Kirk was a huge reason why I thought so highly, amongst a lot of things, about the Minnesota Vikings opportunity, because of my belief in him."

For the two to work together again, the Vikings will need a successful round of negotiations with Cousins, six years after they emerged from the combine as contenders to sign him. The quarterback's relationships with the team, and his rehab from Achilles surgery, are just two factors in a delicate dance where the Vikings have to manage both their present and their future at the game's most important position.

At least on Tuesday, O'Connell sounded hopeful they can make it all work.

"It is a negotiation," O'Connell said. "You're trying to come to an agreement that really works for both sides as we continue to not only build our football team for 2024, but we're trying to do some things to help us sustain for the future. My communication is always strong with him — weekly dialogue — and I feel like we're heading toward a good place with Kirk. Like we've seen in free agency, the uncertainties from this time of year, you've gotta be ready to have contingency plans and adjust on the fly. But the starting point is, my feelings on him are pretty well known, and I know Kirk knows that."