Quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ run with the Minnesota Vikings could end sooner than expected.
On the Sunday, March 19 edition of SportsCenter, ESPN’s Jeremy Folwer reported that the Vikings are a “wild card” contender to land former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson this offseason as he continues to search the market for a desired offer.
“When you talk about good fits, I asked some executives around the league what teams would make sense. They mention Tennessee, who just cleared some cap space,” Fowler said, per Bleacher Report. “And even a wild card like Minnesota. Kirk Cousins has one year left on his contract if they want to reestablish their identity there.”
Jackson Offers Vikings Viable Pivot Away From Cousins
The Vikings like the 34-year-old Cousins but clearly don’t love him, especially not as a long-term option. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah extended Cousins on a one-year deal last offseason because there were no better options. The same appears true now as the team ponders whether to extend the quarterback again or let him walk after the upcoming season.
The problem with moving on from Cousins is that any path to do so is wrought with uncertainty. The Vikings can either make a play in free agency for a player who isn’t a clear upgrade and could mire Minnesota for years in the “good but not great” category, just as Cousins has done, or select an unknown entity in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Both options are long shots when it comes to Super Bowl contention, and both are good ways for a first-time general manager to lose his job and never get a second one.
Jackson, however, offers the Vikings a potential workaround — albeit an expensive one. He’s not a sure bet himself, due mostly to injury issues that have derailed the Baltimore Ravens’ championship hopes each of the last two seasons. Even still, he’s a 26-year-old former MVP and arguably the most dynamic runner from the quarterback position in NFL history.
Jackson Will Prove Costly Option For Vikings at Quarterback
There is no guarantee that Minnesota can nab Jackson, though if the team is willing to spend that will increase the odds significantly in its favor.
The Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag to Jackson earlier this month, allowing him to negotiate offers from competing organizations. However, Baltimore retains the right to match any offer and keep Jackson in-house. The other option is to let him go, in which case the team that signs the quarterback will owe the Ravens two first-round picks in return.
The only reason Jackson isn’t back in Baltimore already is a dispute over guaranteed dollars. He wants guarantees in the neighborhood of the $230 million that the Cleveland Browns guaranteed quarterback Deshaun Watson last offseason. While the Ravens offered Jackson a deal north of $250 million, the guarantees fell well below that figure and Watson’s figure, which led Jackson to reject the terms.
Minnesota is not in the best place financially, which makes a move for Jackson harder to swing. The Vikings are currently $2.7 million over the 2023 salary cap even after a slew of moves that saw linebacker Eric Kendricks and wide receiver Adam Thielen cut, among others, and safety Harrison Smith agree to what is essentially a 50% pay cut. Beyond that, Justin Jefferson is almost certain to ink the largest wide receiver contract in league history in an extension expected to come this offseason.
Even still, the Vikings can afford Jackson if they really want him. The NFL salary cap is a complex animal but allows for a lot of loopholes to restructure deals and push money off years into the future. Inevitably, the bill always comes due. What is far less inevitable is the chance to land an MVP-caliber quarterback in his prime. For most franchises, that’s never even an option. The Vikings now have it, along with the opportunity to swing for the fences by pairing Jackson and Jefferson together for several seasons to come. At the very least, it is a move that must be seriously considered regardless of cost.
Two first-round picks is also a hefty tip on top of the massive bill Minnesota will need to pay in order to acquire Jackson, but it would hurt the Vikings less than some other suitors. The team selects No. 24 in this year’s draft and will probably pick in a similar range next year if Jackson is brought in. The Vikings will also be in a position to trade Cousins if they acquire Jackson, which will help the team recoup some of the draft value it loses in the Jackson deal.