Fran Tarkenton, the greatest quarterback in Vikings history, said this week that when he considered all the quarterback options, there was no doubt that bringing back Kirk Cousins was going to be the right decision for the Vikings.
“I am a great fan of the quarterback that’s up there, Kirk Cousins,” Tarkenton said. “He’s a great young man, and I think he made tremendous strides last year. He really played great football for us last year. He is just such a great, great young man, and I am very fond of him. I think our quarterback position is in good shape.”
The Vikings’ decision to extend Cousins for two more years — which will keep the quarterback in Minnesota through the 2022 season while paying him $21 million in 2020, $31 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022 — was the best option when you looked at the Vikings cap situation.
There was no doubt they wanted to free up more space for this season while also finding a way to keep Cousins, who has played some of the best football of his career for the Vikings.
And maybe the biggest impact of the deal was that it helped give the team cap space to put a franchise tag on safety Anthony Harris — who many publications graded out as one of the top five potential free agents in all of football.
General Manager Rick Spielman has never liked using the franchise tag, and it’s only the third time the team has put it into use. Harris will make a little over $11 million this season if the team can’t work out a long-term deal.
The fact is that Cousins has lived up to his contract. When you look at the landscape of the quarterback position around the NFL for the next three years, he is by far the best option to keep the team competing for the NFC North title, playoff victories and a shot at the Super Bowl.
Diggs for picks
The second-biggest move of the week was the team’s decision to trade Stefon Diggs and a seventh-round pick from this year’s draft to the Bills for a first-, fifth- and sixth-round pick this season and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
This has been a big part of Spielman’s career as Vikings general manager, doing everything he can to stockpile picks.
How the Vikings will replace Diggs, who averaged 925 yards and 73 receptions in his five years here, remains to be seen.
But for a team that needed to create cap space, the signing of Cousins and Harris, the trade of Diggs and the release of Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph meant the team had enough room to sign former Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce to a three-year, $27 million deal Wednesday.
Just as importantly, they have six picks in the first four rounds of the draft.
Spielman said recently that the team still believes they can find a lot of value for this season in the draft. And he’ll continue to target ways to add mid- to late-round draft picks.
“We accumulate a lot of draft picks, especially through that fifth, sixth and seventh round. Our analytics do come into play,” Spielman said. “For example, if, say, one year there are 12 to 14 [draftable] receivers through the sixth and seventh round, and you know those guys are going to potentially be in [rookie] free agency, so you don’t draft that position but you go ahead and sign those guys as a college free agent right after the draft and get aggressive in that area.
“If you take another position like cornerback, where there is only two or three left on the board and there’s not going to be a lot in college free agency, then you may lean in that sixth, seventh round and take them in that position where you have them on the board and like them. Then you wait for the receiver position when college free agency begins because there’s more quantity out there, but also quality too, otherwise they wouldn’t be on our board.”
Can develop stars
One reason Spielman has liked this approach is because it gives the coaching staff a chance to develop hand-picked players. Look no further than Harris and Diggs.
Harris went from undrafted rookie free agent to $11 million franchise player in only five seasons.
Diggs was acquired in the 2015 draft after the Vikings traded the No. 137 pick to Atlanta for No. 146 and No. 185. Diggs was selected with the No. 146 pick.
“I always had the philosophy that if you have a swing at 10 guys in the sixth, seventh round, one, you don’t have to compete with them when you get into free agency, you can draft them and have them. Then two, I do believe our coaches do such a great job when we identify guys that fit the physical traits that we’re looking for and they like to play football, that you have the ability to maybe hit on some of those guys.
“I give a lot of credit to our scouts and the coaches, because they really do a lot of digging in this pre-draft process here. I try to get as many as I can but I’m not going to be able to see all those guys in the later rounds. Our area guys and our regional guys and [director of college scouting] Jamaal Stephenson and what he does leading that group, they have done a very good job finding and unearthing some talent in those later rounds.”
• There are still sports being played around the globe. Former Timberwolves No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams is playing for Fenerbahce in Turkey. He scored four points in a 84-75 win over Tofas in the Turkish Basketball Super League on Sunday. He is averaging 10.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists over 14 games in league play this season. ... Also on the team is James Nunnally, who played 13 games with the Wolves during the 2018-2019 season and averaged 4.5 points per game.
• How good is Gophers pitcher Max Meyer? This week, MLB draft analyst Keith Law picked him as the No. 6 overall prospect in the draft. That would place him near the draft positions of former Gophers Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield. Molitor went No. 3 overall to the Brewers in 1977 while Winfield went No. 4 overall to the Padres in 1973.
• One of the bright spots from MLB spring training was that former Burnsville standout Sam Carlson, who was drafted in the second round by the Mariners in 2017, threw live batting practice for the first time in 32 months after an extremely difficult recovery from Tommy John surgery. “I’ve been at points in the game where I’ve literally hated it, and I’ve thought, ‘Am I ever going to throw again?’ ” Carlson told MLB.com. “I’ve had days where I’ve cried myself to sleep. It’s been a lot. It really tested my character.” Carlson rates as the No. 12 prospect in the Mariners farm system.