The Vikings play the Falcons in Atlanta today without Kirk Cousins and with rookie Jaren Hall taking his place at starting quarterback. It was a stunning development seeing the 35-year-old Cousins tear his right Achilles in Green Bay last week.
Cousins played at a high level into the fourth quarter when he was injured. He had done more than enough to position the Vikings for a third consecutive win and even the season record at 4-4.
Coach Kevin O’Connell and the players knew Cousins was running the offense and passing the football like an All-Pro. Offensive guard Dalton Risner described Cousins as “a spectacular human being and an extraordinary quarterback.”
He told Sports Headliners “losing a guy like that is devastating” but he also expressed optimism. “Kirk is gonna be just fine but we gotta move forward. We gotta play for Kirk and play for this organization.”
This was Cousins’ team and his leadership showed. He even led the team in prayer before every game. Players joined him in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
Today’s game will be the first of nine where Cousins won’t be able to take the field while he rehabs from surgery. It’s anyone’s guess as to how he will be physically in 2024. Does he return with restrictions as to what his body can do? How soon could he be back on the practice field and game ready? If all goes well, who will he play for and at what level of compensation?
“Yes, with Kirk’s age and injury you don’t know if/when he will be 100 percent,” a football authority wrote via text to Sports Headliners. “Even worse (the) Vikes lost trade value, though (they)won’t have to pay market value to keep him. I think he likes raising family here and is a Midwest guy at heart, so he will stay if Vikes want to keep him.
“You won’t find many quarterbacks as accurate as Kirk (if protected). Troy Aikman bragged on Kirk all Monday night versus Niners (October 23) as he can see the value of Kirk’s skill set. Vikings fans will certainly gain appreciation over the next few weeks when they see the backup quarterbacks perform.
“Kirk makes many big-time throws look easy and fans have gotten used to those ‘easy’ completions. When you break down some of Kirk’s throws, his level of timing and accuracy are as good as it gets in the NFL. …It will be an interesting finish to the season.”
Cousins will be a free agent next year and he’s already thinking about a return to the field. It’s believed the Vikings are his first choice for 2024 and O’Connell is on record as wanting his guy back. O’Connell believes Cousins was having his best season, and he is left wondering what the Vikings might have achieved with a full season and playoffs with No. 8.
“Yeah, you guys (the media) know how I feel about Kirk,” O’Connell said last week. “Kirk knows how I feel about Kirk. I think he was playing as well as anybody in the National Football League. …”
The Vikings ownership and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah were unable to reach a contract extension last offseason with Cousins. Now the GM says all options are open as they were before the injury.
That, of course, is GM speak. The Vikings and Cousins will both evaluate his health next winter. Even if both parties are optimistic about future performance, the Vikings are all but certain to offer less money and perhaps contract length than before the surgery.
In 2023 Cousins is reportedly making $35 million on a one-year deal. He might ask for the same money in 2024 and want a two-year contract. The Vikings could be thinking of the $25 million range for one year. If Cousins had been able to play the entire season, he might have been looking for $38 million or more for a couple of years.
There’s no assurance Cousins will be back with Minnesota. The 49ers might be more likely than ever to land him. Second year QB Brock Purdy has created doubts this season as the 49ers have lost three consecutive games. His lack of accuracy in big moments and inability to rally the 49ers late in games has been a problem for a team otherwise loaded with talent and experience.
A move to the 49ers would be a reunion with head coach Kyle Shanahan who was offensive coordinator for the Redskins during Cousins’ first two seasons in the NFL, 2012 and 2013. Shanahan is a fan of Cousins and in California the veteran QB could be the last piece needed to win a Super Bowl.
The Vikings will sort through quarterbacks this fall including Hall and Josh Dobbs who they acquired in a trade with the Cardinals last week. Maybe they find something they like in them, or they could pursue a first-round QB in the 2024 NFL Draft. Those avenues might work, but if Cousins returns healthy, nobody they acquire will be better than No. 8 was during the last Sunday of October.
“I think Kirk will be back as good as ever,” Risner said. “Strong man of faith. He’s an extraordinary human being. A very hard worker and I can’t wait to see when he comes back. I hope I’m on the same team as Kirk Cousins.”
With the trade of left guard Ezra Cleveland last week, there is no doubt Risner is the starter at that position. Risner didn’t sign with the Vikings until after the first two games of the season and he reportedly is on a one-year deal.
At first his playing time was limited. “I think that they wanted to give me time to get to know the playbook,” Risner said.
Risner also said that in the strong Vikings’ “culture” he wasn’t just going to be placed immediately in the starting lineup and coaches wanted him to “earn it and respect it.” Risner, a five-year veteran with the Broncos until this year, made his presence known. “So I put my head down when I got my opportunity. I tried to capitalize on it, and I think I did.”
The Vikings know they need to avoid the temptation to try too hard in making up for the absence of Cousins. “We each gotta stay composed and just try not to do too much because that’s when things fall apart,” Danielle Hunter told Sports Headliners.
The 29-year-old outside linebacker leads the NFL in sacks with 10, but he said there is no bonus in his contract to reward him if he is still on top at season’s end. His birthday was October 29 and although he missed major playing time in the past with injuries, he said if players take care of their bodies it’s “limitless” how long they can play.
“I’ve been feeling good,” Hunter said. “The training staff, the head coach, they do a good job of keeping us fresh. Enables us to go out there and play full speed.”
Hunter said his enthusiasm to play football remains high. It was there from the beginning and although there were doubters that just “fueled the fire.”
A sports industry source emailed with the prediction Twins radio play-by-play voice Cory Provus will soon be announced as the replacement for Dick Bremer on TV play-by-play. Provus joined the Twins radio broadcast team in 2012, while Bremer announced last week he was retiring from broadcasting after 40 years doing TV for the club. He is transitioning into a special assistant role in the front office.
Greg Eslinger, the former Gopher center and one of the most honored offensive linemen in Big Ten football history, will learn in January if he has been voted into the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Voting coordinated by the National Football Foundation is completed for candidates like Eslinger who in 2005 received the Outland Trophy (the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman) and the Rimington Trophy (the country’s best center). He was the 2005 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year (only Gopher ever honored) and was awarded with the 2006 Big Ten Medal of Honor (the conference’s oldest and most prestigious award).
Alarming: announced attendance of 2,604 for the Gophers’ men’s basketball home exhibition game last Thursday night against Macalester.
Al Schoch, WCCO Radio news anchor/reporter, is one of the Minnesota Wild’s press box announcers. He also does public address work for Augsburg women’s basketball and Cretin-Derham Hall boys’ and girls’ basketball. The Pennsylvania native started doing public address work as a 15-year-old in Stroudsburg.
Word is the Bloomington-based CORES lunch program featuring prominent speakers, mostly from Minnesota sports, may have found new leadership. CORES didn’t have its regular meeting in September and has been seeking new organizers to continue. CORES is an acronym for coaches, officials, reporters, educators, and sports fans.