On Monday morning — two years and one day after they first signed Kirk Cousins — the Vikings tied their fortunes to the quarterback through 2022 with a $66 million contract extension.
By Monday night, they had traded away the author of the "Minneapolis Miracle" at a time where his discontentment with the team had reached a breaking point.
The Vikings traded wide receiver Stefon Diggs and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for the 22nd pick in this year's draft, along with a fifth- and sixth-rounder this year and a fourth-rounder in 2021. The move closed a day that began with Cousins' new deal, which again puts him among the NFL's five highest-paid quarterbacks while reducing his salary cap charge by $9.5 million.
Taken as a whole, the moves underscore the team's commitment to its current direction — a run-heavy offense that uses multiple tight ends and puts Cousins under center to throw downfield off play action — while dispatching a prodigious talent largely because of his disenchantment with it.
Diggs was fined more than $200,000 after missing two days of meetings and practices after a Week 4 loss to the Bears; sources told the Star Tribune then that he had angled for a trade since the offseason. The receiver, sources said, was upset with the Vikings' emphasis on a running game that featured Dalvin Cook, while wary of Adam Thielen's favored status in the organization and Cousins' production.
Diggs returned to thrive as a deep threat, posting 1,130 yards and six touchdowns while Thielen missed five games because of a hamstring injury, but a series of cryptic social media actions in the offseason only served to fan the flames he was upset. Hours after Cousins' deal was announced Monday, Diggs mused on Twitter, "It's time for a new beginning," and when a fan pointed out his history of cryptic social media posts, he responded: "Nah this ain't one of them times champ. Something's going to happen."
As part of the deal, the Vikings will absorb the remaining $9 million of Diggs' signing bonus from the deal he signed in 2018, but they will also save $4.9 million in cap space. They had maintained since last summer they had no interest in moving Diggs, and General Manager Rick Spielman said as much at the NFL combine last month. Much as he did with Percy Harvin in 2013, however, Spielman extracted a large return for a player whose desire to leave Minnesota was no mystery.
Diggs' touchdown catch at the end of a playoff game against New Orleans in January 2018 was dubbed the "Minneapolis Miracle." He caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum on the final play of a 29-24 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium, and it is the only playoff game in NFL history that ended on the final play of regulation.
The Vikings now have 12 picks — including five in the first three rounds — in a draft projected to be stocked with wide receivers, and they should have opportunities to find another target who can grow with the quarterback they committed to on Monday.
Cousins' total deal, which includes a $30 million signing bonus, will pay him $96 million over three years, with $61 million of it guaranteed now and the other $35 million set to become guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year.
It does not include a no-trade clause, as Cousins' first deal did, and its structure in 2022 — when the quarterback is scheduled to carry a $45 million cap charge — could lead the Vikings to another inflection point with Cousins before too long. But after Cousins (now 31) posted the best numbers of his career in 2019 before winning his first playoff game, a new deal to keep him at the center of the Vikings' plans seemed all but certain this offseason.
In a statement, Cousins said: "Julie and I are thrilled to be staying in Minnesota for the next several years. People have embraced us and treated our family incredibly well. We also believe we are building something special at the Vikings. We know how much this team means to the fans and the state, and we want to do everything we can to help this team bring a championship home."
Cousins' deal could soon precipitate extensions for Zimmer and Spielman, whose deals are set to expire after the 2020 season and seem unlikely to be forced into lame-duck seasons. At the NFL combine last month, Spielman indicated the Vikings' interest in a new deal for running back Dalvin Cook at a time when many teams are choosing not to give ball-carriers a second contract. They made C.J. Ham the second highest-paid fullback in the league on Monday with a new four-year, $12.25 million contract.
The Vikings, who tied their fortunes to Cousins two years ago, doubled down on their way of doing things Monday morning.
And by Monday night, the receiver who'd created perhaps the greatest moment in franchise history was on his way to a new team.