INDIANAPOLIS – A “big factor” in the Vikings’ aggressive pursuit of Gary Kubiak was the belief in an offensive system familiar to Kirk Cousins so the quarterback can improve in his second season in Minnesota, according to General Manager Rick Spielman.
Spielman added Kubiak, a former NFL head coach, and three of his assistants to Mike Zimmer’s staff this offseason. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will call the shots, but Kubiak’s influence shouldn’t be understated.
“To put [Cousins] into that system that he’s played in his entire career is why we paid him the money we did,” Spielman said Wednesday. “I don’t think anyone in the building has any doubt that he’s going to have an outstanding season next year.”
Despite throwing for 30 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards, Cousins’ play was criticized in critical games last season as the Vikings missed the playoffs. Spielman said returning Cousins to a system similar to one he was drafted into by Mike Shanahan in Washington in 2012 could improve his play. Kubiak coached under Shanahan for a decade in Denver.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, Mike’s son, is a coach who came up under Kubiak in Houston and coached Cousins in Washington. He says he sees a “good match.”
“The best thing for Kirk is just a full system for him that’s tied together — just using the running game, which I know Gary puts a lot into,” Shanahan said. “If you’re going to drop back all the time, it’s very tough to do, and not many guys have been able to do it over long periods of time. I think that will help [Cousins] to a degree. But I know Kirk is a great quarterback, and I’ve got the utmost respect for ‘Koob.’ So I think it’ll be a good match.”
Easton to be cleared
Seven months after undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disk in his neck, guard Nick Easton “will be cleared” to continue his football career, according to Spielman. Easton recently visited his doctor and the Vikings’ expectation is he’ll be medically cleared to return.
Easton, who turns 27 in June, is a pending unrestricted free agent. His clearance gives the Vikings another O-line option to consider before free agency opens March 13. Easton has started 17 games at left guard and center since he was acquired via trade three years ago from San Francisco.
Spielman quiet about Barr and Richardson
Two names highlight the Vikings’ 13 unrestricted free agents — linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson — but Spielman was mum when asked about both Wednesday, declining to discuss negotiations or whether they’ll use the franchise tag. Vikings brass will meet with representatives of all their free agents this week in Indianapolis.
“When we get into that negotiating window [March 11 to March 13], that’s when you really start getting into meaningful negotiations,” Spielman said.
• Two pending Broncos free agents — center Matt Paradis and guard/tackle Billy Turner — are familiar to Kubiak, Denver’s former head coach, and could soon intrigue the Vikings. But Broncos GM John Elway said Wednesday he’s trying to re-sign both players before they hit the open market in two weeks.
• Former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon is still expected to be San Francisco’s lead man when he returns this summer from a torn ACL. “That’s why we brought him here,” Kyle Shanahan said.
• Clancy Barone, the Vikings’ former O-line and tight ends coach, is in Indianapolis this week looking for work. Barone, 55, was let go by the Vikings last month.