Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org, and find answers here or during the Access Vikings podcast. Let's get to it.
Q: Feels like it's a big year for Kirk Cousins, but with two years left on his contract. If he has another up and down year in 2021 and Kellen Mond looks serviceable, what are the chances they can move Kirk next offseason? – Joe
AK: Unlike Cousins' first contract in Minnesota, he does not have a no-trade clause in his current Vikings deal. This allows the Vikings to seek a trade partner at any point. Should they try to move Cousins after this season, general manager Rick Spielman would have to find a team willing to take on what would effectively be a one-year, $35 million deal – with $10 million in a prorated signing bonus staying on the Vikings' books – or a team in which Cousins would be open to reworking that contract. He's an expensive one-year rental (at 34 years old at the start of the 2022 season) for someone else if he's not willing to renegotiate a new deal.
Among the factors to consider is Cousins' play; if he plays erratically enough to want to trade him, how many suitors would he really have? And would Mond, a third-round pick, really develop that quickly to leave the Vikings coaching staff feeling comfortable in moving on from their established starter? Conversely, the quarterback landscape is considered barren – really barren – in 2022. Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, and Ben Roethlisberger are the top scheduled free agents. The 2022 rookie class currently looks poor. That could theoretically make Cousins an appealing bridge to a team like, let's say, Denver.
Other routes: Cousins plays out the final two years on his deal, giving the Vikings a couple seasons to evaluate Mond and his readiness to take the reins, while Cousins becomes a free agent in 2023. Or the Vikings rework his deal, likely adding a year or two to smooth out the financial burden, while maintaining the flexibility to trade him. That might not be easy considering Cousins has proven a shrewd businessman in maximizing his money. For all he went through in Washington, and generally how NFL teams break commitments to players left and right, who can blame him?
Q: What are the skill/scheme fits that the Vikings like about Kellen Mond? It seems like they really liked him, so they must think he fits the Kubiak scheme and also check some internal boxes in what they look for in a quarterback. — @JoelStegman
AK: Mond has credited Jimbo Fisher's offense at Texas A&M, which featured more pro-style concepts than former coach Kevin Sumlin's spread-it-out, air raid schemes, for helping prepare him for the NFL transition. Hear it from Mond: "[Fisher] gives the quarterback everything at the line of scrimmage from mike [linebacker] calls, different run plays, and getting in and out of pass or runs. He wants the quarterback to be the leader and pretty much the offensive coordinator on the field." At the Aggies' pro day in March, Mond said he even scripted his own throwing sessions, putting himself under center as opposed to the shotgun, where almost every college quarterback feels more comfortable. That showed a willingness to step outside of his comfort zone and improve.
Spielman said Vikings evaluators liked Mond's arm strength, his quick release, and what they saw as improvement in 2020. They also liked Mond's athleticism, which is a departure from Cousins.
"With all our boot-action and play-action passes," Spielman said, "a quarterback with some mobility that can move and make plays outside the pocket is something we wanted to look at, too."
"He has a little different skillset than Kirk," Spielman added, "but I know just talking with our offensive coaches that we feel that the mobility part of things may add some value to him as a quarterback and to this system."
Q: Who is your favorite candidate to have a Year 2 breakout? — @jeffdiamond612
AK: Defensive end D.J. Wonnum. The fourth-round rookie was producing well out of last year's bye week, but appeared to hit a rookie wall of sorts. The Vikings didn't make any major moves at defensive end. Re-signing Stephen Weatherly returns the trustworthy veteran to where he's really needed, but developing Wonnum's upside is a likely priority going forward. So he should get plenty of opportunities to continue building on what was an impressive rookie season. The same goes for guard Ezra Cleveland.
Q: Who is starting Week 1 in the secondary? — @mndrew_halunen
AK: At safety, Xavier Woods – the former Cowboys starter who signed a one-year deal in free agency – will be the ninth different safety (by my count) to start opposite Harrison Smith since the Vikings stalwart arrived in 2012. The cornerback group now begins with veteran Patrick Peterson, the former three-time All-Pro who will be 31 by the time he steps onto the field for Minnesota. At this point, he's expected to be alongside corners Mackensie Alexander and Cameron Dantzler. Whether or not they're joined by Jeff Gladney this season is unknown. The Vikings are "just letting it all play out," according to coach Mike Zimmer, meaning the legal process in Dallas County Court after Gladney, a 2020 first-round pick, turned himself into police last month. Court records show he's accused of domestic assault by impeding breathing or circulation – a third-degree felony that, if convicted, carries a two to 10-year prison sentence in Texas – for reportedly choking and striking his girlfriend. He has yet to be formally charged by police as of Friday morning.
Q: Since it takes three years to judge a draft class, how has the Vikings' 2018 class panned out? If there was a bust(s), which player who was available at that draft position should the Vikings have taken? – Charles
AK: The 2018 draft for the Vikings is buoyed by the second-round selection of tackle Brian O'Neill, who like Danielle Hunter before him was viewed as a reach before developing into a cornerstone player. Otherwise, the eight-man draft class only has tight end Tyler Conklin, who has also developed into a nice player, to show for it. First-round cornerback Mike Hughes had an injury-riddled three seasons before he was traded to Kansas City this month for peanuts. Fourth-round defensive lineman Jalyn Holmes has had a quiet career so far. Fifth-round kicker Daniel Carlson has done well in Las Vegas, only after he was booted from Minnesota after three misses in his second game, a loss in Green Bay. The other late-round picks were defensive end Ade Aruna, guard Colby Gossett, and linebacker Devante Downs, who started eight games for the Giants last season.
As far as players they passed on… Hughes went 30th overall, and Ravens quarterback and NFL MVP Lamar Jackson was picked 32nd. Of course, the Vikings had just signed Cousins to the mega deal so that wasn't happening. They just acquired a third-round center from the 2018 draft, Mason Cole (Michigan), from Arizona for a sixth-round pick. In the fourth round, the Eagles took defensive end Josh Sweat (Florida St.), who has been a more productive reserve than Holmes, drafted 28 spots earlier by the Vikings. Tackle Orlando Brown also fell to the Ravens in the third round at 83rd overall – 11 spots ahead of Spielman's next pick after O'Neill (62nd overall). He eventually traded out of the third round and took Holmes in the fourth.