Christopherson Column: Making the case for/against Kirk Cousins once and for all

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    In major professional sports, a quarterback in the National Football League is widely considered to be the most pivotal, impactful position in determining a team’s successes or failures.

    So maybe that’s the context Minnesota Vikings fans should use when deciding how they feel about Kirk Cousins quarterbacking their favorite team. Playing the most important position in all of pro sports, do you think Cousins can lead the Vikings to a championship?

    There may be no other quarterback in the NFL more polarizing than Cousins. People either love to hate him or hate to love him, and, yet, game after game and season after season, Cousins remains essentially unchanged: He piles up yards and touchdowns, throws a few picks, makes some brilliant throws…and the teams he quarterbacks consistently come up short of where they want to be.

    Cousins’ name is being tossed around in various fan and NFL pundit discussions of late, mostly because so many prominent quarterbacks are on the move in an active NFL offseason.      

    Then there’s 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He was the heir apparent to Tom Brady back in his Patriots heyday until Brady’s continued strong play nixed that plan. So the Pats traded him to San Francisco, where, despite leading a team with a consistently solid running game and stout defense, the Niners brass appear to be pondering life post-Garoppolo era. His biggest critics contend that the Niners made it to the Super Bowl in 2020 almost in spite of their quarterback, not because of him. Garoppolo, unlike the durable Cousins, can’t stay healthy, and even when he’s been on the field he’s been average, at best.

    The buzz is that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, when he was Cousins’ offensive coordinator in Washington, developed an affinity for his skills, and might think Cousins is the missing piece of the puzzle in the Bay. Rumor has it the 49ers have offered to swap Garoppolo for Cousins and have thrown in a second round draft pick as well. That same rumor mill says the Vikings are holding out for a first round pick in addition to Garoppolo.

    So do you pull the trigger on that deal, even if the Niners stand pat on the second round pick?

    Oh, yuck. Is there a better word that sums up this situation for Vikings fans? Cousins is a nice guy and a solid quarterback, but raise your hand if you truly think he’s the one to lead this team to the promised land. That’s not a lot of hands.

    So do we implement the change-for-change’s-sake strategy and go with Garoppolo instead of Cousins – please, please, please put your Deshaun Watson in Purple dreams to bed – as some sort of stopgap signal-caller while we hold out minuscule hope that Garoppolo, at age 29, blossoms into something special, while also realizing it’s time for the Vikings to spend a high draft pick on a stud college quarterback and in doing so, pull the plug on this endless carousel that season after season has the team’s brass tying the franchise’s fortunes to the latest veteran quarterback they’ve signed and all of his limitations and baggage.

    A truly great quarterback makes the rest of the offense he leads better. That includes his receivers and his offensive line. The Vikings line, solid run-blockers, aren’t going to magically become stellar pocket-protectors overnight, so if Cousins continues to be the guy manning that pocket, he needs to up his game when everything is collapsing around him. Can he?

    This is a scheme thing, too. Offenses seem to perform better when they do what the defense isn’t expecting them to do. You catch them off guard, or you get them going one way while you go the other. There hasn’t been a Super Bowl champ for some time that runs the ball nearly as much as the Vikings do, and the NFL has become a pass-happy league. Cousins throws a beautiful ball, so maybe the strategy going forward should involve less grind-it-out and more air-it-out. If that means reducing the number of handoffs to top-shelf running-back Dalvin Cook and instead tossing a dozen or so passes his way each game, do it.

    You might read this column and conclude it’s a gutless, lukewarm semi-endorsement, semi-rejection of Kirk Cousins. Which is precisely what it is, because, despite the abundance of Kirk-love and Kirk-hate out there, he warrants neither.

    He’s Kirk Cousins. He dazzles, then disappoints. Lather, rinse, repeat.       

    Cousins is remindful of former Vikings running-back Leroy Hoard. Once asked how he’d describe what he brought to the Vikings, Hoard said, “If you need three yards, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.”

    That’s Kirk Cousins. Championship glory is five yards away. He’ll get you three. You OK with that?

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor