The Vikings were coming off a division championship in 2008 when they jumped at the opportunity to replace former second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback with Brett Favre. They paid the Hall of Famer $12 million for the 2009 season, and boosted his 2010 salary from $13 million to $16 million to lure him back one more time.
The team’s next division championship, with Teddy Bridgewater in 2015, was followed by a haymaker, when the quarterback tore multiple ligaments and dislocated his left knee two days before the Vikings’ final preseason game. Five days after the injury, the Vikings shipped three draft picks, including their 2017 first-rounder, to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford, who would earn $7 million from the team in 2016 and $18 million in 2017 — a year in which he played six regular-season quarters for the Vikings.
Now the Vikings are in the quarterback market with their wallets open again, having agreed to terms with Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. It’s an expensive investment — three years, $84 million, according to a league source — that will require some nimble salary cap management as the Vikings try to keep their core together in future years. Cousins’ fully-guaranteed deal, the first of its kind in the NFL, will carry a $24 million cap figure in 2018, jumping to $29 million in 2019 and $31 million in 2020. But when you’re in the position the Vikings have occupied so many times in the past two decades — on the precipice of championship contention despite a long-term solution at quarterback — this is the cost of doing business.
“The fully-guaranteed part, I know it’s the first time, but it’s also when you have an opportunity to get a potential franchise quarterback, you know where the leverage is going,” General Manager Rick Spielman said Thursday. “We respected that and I respected that. It was too unique of an opportunity to go out and do everything we could to sign him to be a Minnesota Viking.”
For the third time in a decade, the Vikings had to follow up a division championship by sinking valuable resources into a veteran quarterback. That’s both a reflection of their ability to make repeated trips to the playoffs without quarterback stability — the Vikings probably don’t make the moves for Favre, Bradford or Cousins if they don’t believe those players might be the ones to put them over the top — and their inability to solve their most enduring problem.
With Jackson and Christian Ponder, it was ineffectiveness; with Bridgewater, it was an injury that coach Mike Zimmer said ended the careers of half the professional athletes who suffered something of a similar magnitude. For one reason or another, the Vikings have been unable to solve the quarterback question by perhaps the game’s most conventional method: investing a high pick in a young passer and riding his development to success.
As Mitch Trubisky enters Year 2 in Chicago, Matthew Stafford gets ready for a 10th season in Detroit and Aaron Rodgers returns from his collarbone injury in Green Bay, the Vikings will be the only team in the division without a first-round pick as their opening-day starter at quarterback. They have a strong enough core to contend for a championship anyway, and their investment in Cousins reflects a belief they’re ready to make the leap with the right passer.
Whether by shelling out cash for free agents or shipping a first-round pick to the Eagles for Bradford, the Vikings have tried to circumvent their draft misfortunes at quarterback. This time, it took an investment that will give Cousins the highest average annual salary in team history.
Perhaps he’ll be the long-term quarterback the Vikings have been looking for; Cousins said Thursday he hopes to raise his family in Minnesota, adding, “The expectation is from both sides that, if everything goes as planned, I’d be here a long, long time.”
But even if his stay is short, and it results in a championship, the cost of doing business this way will have been worth it.
“Once you make that decision, there’s no turning back,” Spielman said. “We’re going to go all in and we’re going to go as hard as we can with the blessing from the ownership. And let’s try to get it done.”