The Vikings determined this winter that Kirk Cousins was the man to solve their long-term questions at the game’s most important position. A team that went 13-3 a year ago thought enough of Cousins to make him the league’s highest-paid player, giving him the first fully guaranteed multiyear contract of the free agency era in the process.
So there’s no doubt Cousins will be the alpha dog of a team that harbors Super Bowl expectations as it heads into 2018. The Vikings’ new quarterback just isn’t planning to force himself into that role.
“If it’s forced, it’s not genuine,” Cousins said Tuesday, after the team’s workout at its new practice facility in Eagan. “It’s just a process. You understand that the very first day, you’re more like a rookie, and that’s OK. If you keep coming in here with the right attitude, the right mind-set, take it home and spend time getting better, over time, the leader comes out, the personality comes out and you’ll be ready to go.”
Cousins said he spent time with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen in Atlanta before the start of the Vikings’ offseason workout program, “and I thought that was productive, just to get to know one another a little bit and build somewhat of a foundation.”
The next step began April 16, when Vikings players reported to Eagan for the start of offseason workouts. Though NFL teams can’t have coaches on the field with players until the second phase of the offseason program, Cousins could throw with receivers, and spend time in meetings to learn new coordinator John DeFilippo’s offense.
“The beauty of him having been in the league a while and been around a lot of offenses is, he can kind of mix and match and pick his favorite things to do,” Cousins said. “There’s carry-over to what I’ve done in the past; there’s also some new ways of doing things. A lot of it just takes time. It takes reps, it takes going out on the field and having it become natural to where I don’t have to think.”
Cousins told a story about walking back to his car in a strip mall parking lot in Eden Prairie on Monday, when “a young man finishing his workday kind of did the big eyes, put two and two together,” Cousins said. “He walked over and asked if I was who he thought I was. I said, ‘I try to be.’ ”
Time will tell if Cousins can shoulder the outsized expectations that come with his contract and his position on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. He didn’t sound unnerved by them Tuesday.
“It is what it is. I don’t want to be on a team with low expectations, do I?” he said. “I think that it’s a part of playing in this league; there’s pressure on everybody, and it would be immature for us to focus on the expectations. … If we do our job each and every day and have the best [organized team activities] we can have, then the results that everyone is looking to see and care about in the fall will take care of themselves.”
Assuming Cousins is healthy at the start of the regular season, he will be the Vikings’ sixth different Week 1 starting quarterback in as many years. He’ll play for their fourth different offensive coordinator in that time.
He inherits an offense accustomed to following a rotating cast of central figures. But while Cousins’ voice figures to be among the most important in the Vikings locker room by this fall, he’s content to take his time establishing himself.
“He’s been in this league for six years; he knows himself and he knows what he brings to the table,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “He’s been himself to this point. When you’re a great football player, and you bring energy and excitement to work every single day, you’re going to become a leader. Guys are naturally going to want to follow you.”