The morning of March 16, Kirk Cousins agreed to a new contract that would keep him in Minnesota through 2022. Hours later, wide receiver Stefon Diggs tweeted, “It’s time for a new beginning,” and by the end of the day, Diggs was on his way to Buffalo in a trade, ending a relationship with the Vikings that had gone sour.
As the quarterback put it Tuesday, both moves ultimately were for the best.
In his first public comments since the end of the 2019 season, Cousins called both his contract extension and the Diggs move a “win-win,” reiterating his desire to be the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl in Minnesota while praising the Vikings for the trade after he said it had become evident the receiver wanted to be elsewhere.
“It’s a unique dynamic,” Cousins said. “It became apparent that he wanted to play elsewhere, and I think it was smart of the Vikings to grant him that opportunity. I think it wasn’t a mystery, and that’s OK. I wish him really well. I just so enjoyed playing with him.
“He’s a special player, and we now have to find a way to move forward and replace that, if you will, with a variety of players. But I think that that’ll be our challenge going forward is creating that talented option outside of Adam on the outside, and I think there’ll be a variety of ways to do that, and I’m excited to get started on that challenge.”
Diggs said in a Players’ Tribune piece last week that Cousins was one of the first people to reach out to him after the trade; on Tuesday, Cousins said he had told Diggs he was “as good as any receiver I’ve ever played with.
“That includes some names like Adam Thielen, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon … [Diggs is] elite,” Cousins said. “I just wanted to affirm him, and thank him. It sounds cliché, but I’m as good as a quarterback as the guys around me. Specifically, as the people I have to throw to.
“There were a lot of games where his talent makes an enormous difference. I just wanted to let him know that, and I’m sure the Bills will be thrilled to have that. Again, we’re always looking for win-wins, whether that was with my contract or in Stefon’s situation. It didn’t seem to be able to work going forward as it was, so we tried to find the best win-win that we could, and I think it was impressive of the Vikings to find a situation that could work for both sides.”
Cousins’ contract, which paid him $66 million in new money in exchange for a $9.5 million reduction in his 2020 salary cap charge, does not contain the no-trade clause the Vikings initially gave him in 2018. But its structure effectively guarantees Cousins will be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future, giving him a chance to build on his first career playoff victory last season. It also gives him the continuity he has craved, with a chance to stay in an offense that’s familiar to him and a city he enjoys. The goal, Cousins said Tuesday, is to cement his legacy in Minnesota with a championship.
“It’s great to be able to create some cap space for this year and to be able to solidify that I and my family can be back in Minnesota for another couple of seasons and hopefully beyond that,” Cousins said. “I want to play well enough to where I get to be here beyond that, too. We’re grateful for that and just feel so good about being a part of the Minnesota community even more going forward.
“We know how much this team means to the fan base, to the people of Minnesota and we’re going to do all we can to deliver a championship.
“I do know that whoever the quarterback is that delivers a world championship to the Minnesota Vikings is going to be welcome in the state of Minnesota for the rest of their lives. I certainly want to be that quarterback and we’re working really hard to do that.”
His deal runs out before his 35th birthday, and its structure — a $35 million base salary in 2022 that’s guaranteed before the 2021 season — effectively means the Vikings will have to address the quarterback’s status again before the end of his career. The uncertainty about the league’s landscape with a new collective bargaining agreement, Cousins said, kept him from working toward a longer contract this time.
The Vikings will begin a “virtual offseason” program next week after the league and NFL Players Association agreed Monday on how to structure the offseason with team facilities closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Cousins is staying with his parents in Orlando during the pandemic, so Cousins and his wife, Julie, can get help with their two young sons. The quarterback has found time to play catch with his brother Kyle and a neighbor, and said, “I honestly feel like I’m in the same shape I’d be in if we’d had a normal life for the last month-and-a-half.”
Cousins said he is still optimistic there will be a full NFL season in 2020, though he added, “You could never encourage getting back to work at the expense of people’s lives.” If that meant playing games in empty stadiums, he said he would be fine with that.
“Honestly, to go out and just play the game would kind of be refreshing, a breath of fresh air, to just let us know that we don’t have to have all the smoke and the fire — we can just play football,” he said.
“So as long as we’re playing the game, I won’t have a lot of complaints, and hopefully if it’s still not returned to normal, we can find a way to make it work.”