One of the Vikings’ most important offseason moves was finding a way to retain Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was in the final year of the three-year contract he signed in 2018.
In two seasons with the Purple, Cousins has posted the sixth-best passer rating in the NFL at 103.0, trailing the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the Titans’ Ryan Tannehill and the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson. His 56 touchdowns rank fifth and his 69.7 completion percentage ranks second behind Brees.
The man in charge of making that restructure work for both Cousins and the club was salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski, the executive vice president of football operations who has been with the club since 1999.
Now Cousins is signed through 2022 after inking a two-year, $66 million extension that also dropped his cap hit from $31 million in 2020 to $21 million.
That deal gives the Vikings stability at quarterback for the first time in decades and demonstrated that Cousins wants to be here for the long haul.
“He’s our franchise quarterback,” Brzezinski said. “And so you know, first of all, we were really happy to be able to bring Kirk to Minnesota. And then the fact that he wants to be a part of the future here, you know, No. 1, that was great. No. 2, we were able to figure out a deal that made sense for both sides.”
Reshape the cap
The Vikings opened this offseason in one of their toughest salary cap spots in recent memory, with the least cap space in the NFL. Brzezinski led the way as the team made a ton of moves to get some relief.
Now the Vikings have $12.3 million in cap space left for 2020, which ranks 19th in the NFL, and they have $17.9 million available for 2021, which ranks 24th.
Brzezinski said the Vikings should be in a good financial position moving forward, but there are a lot of unknowns about NFL revenue for the upcoming season.
“There’s going to be some uncertainty with respect to the economics here in the future with what we’re dealing with now with COVID potentially and how that might impact some revenue stuff,” he said. “We plan what we do on a three-year basis, so anything that we do today, we’re looking at ’21 and ’22 and so we’re going to have some challenges, but it’s because we have good players. Every year we do our best to figure it out and field the best team that we can.”
Brzezinski described the way the financial team works, with General Manager Rick Spielman and the personnel group and the coaching staff led by Mike Zimmer.
“It’s a three-legged stool,” Brzezinski said. “… Rick involves the coaches significantly in personnel evaluations and decisions, and so you know, we all work together. I do a lot of listening and meetings and just hear them talk about our players and that helps me plan. But we all work together as a group with a lot of open dialogue.”
The Vikings’ ability to draft and develop players on their rookie contract is huge. And it will be important again this season, as young players such as center Garrett Bradbury ($2.9 million), cornerback Mike Hughes ($2.7 million), guard Pat Elflein ($2.4 million), tight end Irv Smith Jr. ($1.3 million), tackle Brian O’Neill ($1.2 million) and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo ($812,500) are playing on rookie deals.
“In this business, if you have your young players on rookie contracts making significant contributions and contributing early, it’s a huge competitive advantage,” Brzezinski said. “We have had a great staff being able to develop our young players and getting them ready to play as soon as possible.”
Will miss veterans
While the club is excited by the potential contribution of incoming rookies, the Vikings also spent the offseason saying goodbye to important players such as defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Brzezinski, like several staff members, had built close relationships with those players.
“These guys have been the heart and soul of our organization for a lot of years,” he said. “And not only were great football players but were great people and great representatives of the Vikings. Even in my role, I loved those guys as brothers and appreciate their contribution to our organization and to the Twin Cities. They are special people and we miss them.”
The club is getting ready for a season with a lot of new faces and a whole different kind of training camp and regular season.
“As far as what we went through with a lot of our offseason — our draft and everything we were doing being virtual — I think you learn some lessons as well,” Brzezinski said. “There are ways you can be more efficient in some of the things that we’re doing. It’s not going to be normal moving forward, just because things are different now. There’s no normal anymore. We’re going to adjust as we go and that’s all we can do.”
• Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said the club has been pleased with the physical strength of the pitchers in camp: “I think that’s something that [Rocco Baldelli has] been really impressed by. I know on the pitching side, [pitching coach] Wes [Anderson] feels like most guys — especially the starters — came in having been built up over multiple innings.”
• Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings receivers as the No. 21 group in the NFL heading into training camp. PFF wrote: “The biggest question mark surrounds rookie first-rounder Justin Jefferson, who will now be charged with replacing Stefon Diggs.”
• With the WCHA bringing in St. Thomas for women’s hockey, you have to wonder if that will give the WCHA an advantage in adding the men’s hockey team as well. … It will be interesting to see how St. Thomas football coach Glenn Caruso recruits the state of Minnesota, now that he’ll be competing for recruits against P.J. Fleck and the Gophers.
• Blake Perbix, a St. Cloud Cathedral standout, has given a verbal commitment to Northern Michigan, coached by former Gophers assistant Grant Potulny. Perbix is the cousin of Gophers forward Jack Perbix.
• The A’s have two former Twins on the roster: outfielder Robbie Grossman and pitcher Liam Hendriks. Last season Grossman hit .240 with 57 runs scored. Hendriks was one of the best relievers in baseball with a 1.80 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 85 innings.
• The latest NBAdraft.net mock draft has the Wolves taking point guard LaMelo Ball of the Australia-based Illawara Hawks at No. 3, Gophers forward Daniel Oturu going No. 14 to Portland, Lakeville North grad and Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji going No. 33 to the Wolves and Apple Valley and Duke product Tre Jones going No. 41 to San Antonio.