What ‘Quarterback’ Tells Us About Kirk Cousins’ Future With Vikings – ESPN – Minnesota Vikings Blog

EAGAN, Minn. — Early in episode 3 of the Netflix series “Quarterback,” Kirk Cousins ​​looked into the camera and explained what it really feels like to play that position in the NFL.

“There are games,” he said, “where you think, ‘This has got to be the worst job alive.’ You’re just standing in there and you can’t even prepare for those hits.”

Among other takeaways, “Quarterback” added visceral context to the Minnesota Vikings’ decision not to sign Cousins, who is in the final year of his contract, to an extension this spring. Watching Cousins ​​get beat up in the pocket (especially by hits in Weeks 9 and 10 that caused rib pain and bruising) was a reminder of the excessive punishment he’s already taken in his pro career.

Cousins ​​absorbed an NFL-high 136 hits on passing plays last season due to a combination of inconsistent pass protection and his instinct to stay in the pocket rather than run. It was hardly an anomaly. Since becoming the full-time starter for Washington in 2015, Cousins ​​has had 781 hits on such plays, more than any quarterback over that span other than Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Cousins ​​has been remarkably durable during that stretch, thanks in part to a bodywork routine he detailed during “Quarterback,” but he’s neither bionic nor invincible.

The Vikings’ decision not to extend Cousins ​​was based on several elements, including salary cap considerations and the status of the roster when training camp opens next week. But as Cousins ​​approaches his 35th birthday next month, any sober analysis will take into account how the cumulative effects of those hits could affect his performance and availability over the next few years.

“The key for me is not just being able to survive a game or hits from a game,” Cousins ​​said in Episode 3. “The challenge is [whether] you can come back six days from now and do it again, and you can do it over and over and over for a whole season.”

Cousins ​​has missed just two starts since his 2015 debut as a full-time starter, one when the Vikings rested him for the 2019 playoffs and another after a COVID-19 diagnosis in 2021. By all accounts, he’s incredibly tough and well-versed in strategies for staying in a game while enduring pain.

But another revelation from “Quarterback” is that Cousins’ performance and decision-making sometimes suffer — quite understandably — in these situations.

In the big picture, Cousins ​​led the Vikings to come-from-behind road wins in the two Section 3 games, at the Washington Commanders (Week 9) and the Buffalo Bills (Week 10). However, those sensational results overshadowed a handful of individual plays that would have been bigger had the Vikings lost.

Cousins ​​acknowledged that the pain made him “agitated” and that he tends to “block out everything else” on these occasions so he can focus on his duties.

Against the Bills, that instinct first manifested itself in an interception in which Cousins ​​thought Bills cornerback Dane Jackson was Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, he later acknowledged. Then, on a crucial fourth-down play at the goal line, Cousins ​​decided to call his own number on a failed quarterback sneak.

During a postgame discussion, coach Kevin O’Connell told Cousins ​​he had tried to call a timeout. Cousin said he didn’t hear him. An exasperated O’Connell told Cousins ​​that “I could have given you a better formation” if he had known Cousins ​​was going to sneak.

None of this is unusual in NFL quarterback games, and “Quarterback” focused on similar encounters for co-stars Patrick Mahomes and Marcus Mariota. But their hit total on passing plays was still significantly lower than the 136 Cousins ​​took last season: Mahomes took 90 in 17 starts, while Mariota absorbed 67 over 13 games.

The focus seems relevant in the conversation about a potential multi-year contract extension. A willing and skilled combatant, Cousins ​​mused in episode 3 that “part of me is maybe just sick and just likes” being hit. So far in his career he has been able to recover and/or play through the effects of the violence he encounters.

But the same could be said of “Quarterback” executive producer Peyton Manning when he was 35. By then, Manning had made every start during a 13-year tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. But in 2011, a neck injury he traced to a hit in 2006 became unmanageable and required multiple surgeries. He missed the entire season, prompting the Colts to release him, before eventually joining the Denver Broncos to finish his career.

None of this is to say that Cousins ​​is headed for a similar experience. It is simply a reminder that there are limits to the level of durability that can be achieved through hard work and extreme diligence.

There’s a reason 85% of the NFL’s projected starting quarterbacks are younger than 35. The contributing factors can pile up and intensify over time, affecting performance if not availability, and those factors almost certainly played a role in the Vikings’ decision to let Cousins ​​enter training camp in the final year of his contract.

Leave a Comment