The tetrad of NFL teams which comprise the NFC North Division enter the offseason with more questions than answers. The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings sacked their respective general managers and head coaches, looking to rebuild after years of peaking at mediocrity. Meanwhile, the Lions continue their identical rebuild they began last offseason when they brought Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell onboard.
Even the Packers are loaded with questions, as star quarterback Aaron Rodgers contemplates everything from retirement, playing for another team, and returning for another year in Wisconsin. It doesn’t help that they’re staring down the barrell of salary cap hell the likes of which not even New Orleans can give advice from which to escape.
It’s no stretch to say the West is the toughest division in NFC. With at least 2 playoff teams chasing Super Bowl aspirations for the fourth straight season, the NFC West is a dominant group.
The North, meanwhile, features 3 teams struggling to stay above .500, and the poster-child for postseason collapse, the Green Bay Packers.
As Bears fans, we often see the on-field product of our beloved’s division rivals, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the offseason moves of the Vikings, Lions, and Packers. There’s a complete rebuild running parallel with the Bears’ own cooking up in Minnesota. There’s an emotional rollercoaster of incompetence masquerading as an NFL team on the other side of the lake in Detroit. Then there’s popcorn ready for those who would like front-row seats to the downfall of a dynasty in Green Bay.
The Minnesota Vikings made two large moves this offseason. The obvious choice was moving on from head coach Mike Zimmer, who’s 72-56-1 record doesn’t do enough to illustrate just how much his teams underperformed, especially in the past two seasons. After a 2017 year where they went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game, they’ve danced with .500 each of the past 4 seasons, finding double-digit wins in only one.
The second, and more surprising move, was letting Rick Spielman go as general manager. While their owners remain adamant they aren’t in the middle of a rebuild, it’s worth considering if this team is in for an overhaul soon, tooling around their young talent like Justin Jefferson and Cameron Dantzler.
While the Vikings never had an awful record under Zimmer and Spielman, the roster has been loaded with defensive stars and features one of the best running backs in football in Dalvin Cook. So why aren’t they a contender?
The Vikings field the “Ice Ice, Baby” of quarterbacks in Kirk Cousins, a fun refrain worth remembering, but one that makes you think of a better version which isn’t too old to be played as a hit today. Cousins can make every throw the Vikings need him to, but the “X” factor which has fans glued to the couch during football season is sorely missing in Minneapolis.
Cousins has one year left on his contract, and the Vikings are reloading their staff. Could they be looking to move on?
In a roundtable discussion, we ask the staff to consider what we would do if we were in place of the Vikings new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. We’re also joined by a very special guest, Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman.
If you were the Vikings GM, congrats on the new position. What would you do with Kirk Cousins? What are two other offseason moves you make?
Jack R Salo: There’s no reason for a new GM and a new coach to be saddled with a 30+ year old quarterback who’s only Pro Bowl (alternative selections excluded) was with a different team. The previous regime signed Cousins through this coming season, so a team with a playoff-ready roster and cap room looking for a quick shot at a Super Bowl could probably take a stab at trading for Cousins. Concessions will need to be made for the salary cap relief they’re giving to the Vikings as the latter looks to rebuild.
For my next two moves, I re-sign Xavier Woods to a long-term deal to lock up another safety alongside Harrison Smith. Then I target a quarterback in the draft to compete with Kellen Mond as my starter in 2022 and forward. It probably won’t be a first-round selection, unless my scouts are bashing down my door when Kenny Pickett is available at #12, but when Brock Purdy is available on day 3, I pull the trigger.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter: Where I’m not so deep in the hole unlike my counterpart would be in Green Bay, I still have a QB that I do not ever see getting this team to the next level. Kirk Cousins is a statistician and a guy who’ll make fantasy owners content, that’s it. He’s not the Super Bowl caliber guy his contract dictates him to be. There’s also no out in his contract. Therefore, cutting him is not an option.
I would look to trade him with a team looking for a pedestrian at QB, and can win without a top flight QB. I do think he can bring in a few decent picks to stock my draft with.
Ken Mitchell*: Kirk counts $45M against the cap, and has no dead money left, so that means one of two things. Either Kirk reworks his contract SIGNIFICANTLY, or he’s getting
released traded for whatever they can get for him. Since Cousins most likely wouldn’t rework his deal, then he’s probably gone.
Cuts likely Anthony Barr, Sheldon Richardson, etc, so I would cut the older players that could save me cap who are either not performing up to standard or who, like Barr, have long-term problems staying on the field every week.
*Ken’s Note: I have no idea what I was thinking when I originally wrote my answer, but after seeing it in print and realizing I answered completely wrong and that my information on the cap was misleading, I changed it after this was published. I’ve crossed out what I originally said and removed the wrong cap info and added this mia cupla.
Lester Wilftong Jr: Cousins’ rep is that he’s unable to win the big one... but that’s the rep of most quarterbacks until they finally break through. I’m keeping him for his final year, because having a good QB is still a lot better than a franchise in QB purgatory.
They’ll have 2022 to develop and see if there’s any hope with Kellen Mond, I have my doubts but you never know. The other option is to trade Cousins if a taker pops up (like the Steelers), and start the rebuild as soon as possible.
Josh Sunderbruch: I hang on to Kirk Cousins because there’s not really a choice. He’s costing the team $45mil in 2022 whether he plays or doesn’t. That makes things easy because I certainly don’t extend him. He’s a bridge and nothing more.
I designate Hunter as a post-June 1 cut and make other moves to get some cap space back. Then I draft the best offensive player at #12. If it’s a quarterback, great—see ya, Kellen. If it’s a guard, fantastic. So on.
Fundamentally, though, the Vikings have started to lay the foundation but now they need to turn the corner and really start framing the building.
Christopher Gates (of Daily Norseman): The Cousins contract would certainly have to be the first order of business. Outright cutting him is pretty much out of the question because of the dead money hit that you’d incur as a result, so that would leave the team with the options of either trading him away or extending him one more time to provide some salary cap relief.
I definitely think that there would be a trade market out there for Cousins, as there might be teams that think they’re a quarterback away from being a serious contender. I could see a team like Pittsburgh (now that Ben Roethlisberger’s contract is coming off the books) or Denver (with former Vikings’ assistant GM George Paton running the show) potentially being interested in bringing Cousins aboard. There would have to be some sort of arrangement on who would absorb however much salary, but something could be worked out. You obviously want to get a sufficient return on him, too. . .you might not get a Matthew Stafford package or anything, but you’re not going to go the full Brock Osweiler, either.
Regardless of what they do, the Vikings need to seriously consider spending a high pick on a quarterback. Cousins is 34 years old and has more years behind him than ahead of him. A plan of succession needs to be put in place sooner rather than later, and it will be interesting to see what the team does on that front. They drafted Kellen Mond in the third round last year and Mike Zimmer didn’t even feel confident making him active on Sundays, though I don’t know how much of that is on Mond’s development and how much of that was just Zimmer being Zimmer. I wouldn’t be against the Vikings using a high pick in this year’s draft to be the clear successor to Cousins in a year or two if they do keep him around, and I definitely would be in favor of it if they traded him away.