Charley Walters: Kirk Cousins will be Vikings QB next season. But will he in 2024?
It’s clear that Kirk Cousins will be the Minnesota Vikings quarterback next season. What’s unclear is who will be the quarterback in 2024.
The Vikings have restructured Cousins’ contract for salary-cap room this year, but his deal for a $30-million payout remains the same. The contract also expires at the end of next season, after which he could become a free agent.
Cousins turns 35 in August and his future in Minnesota now depends on how well he plays this year. Meanwhile, the Vikings, either this year but probably in 2024, will have to draft a quarterback early.
— The Vikings currently do not have enough picks to move up high enough in next month’s draft to get a young QB to succeed Cousins. Basically, the Vikings would have to trade next month’s first-round pick (No. 24) and next year’s first-round pick, and maybe more, to move up to get a QB of the future.
The problem for the Vikings now is that they have quite a few holes, and probably need to use their first-round pick on a defensive player or receiver to replace the released Adam Thielen.
— Whether Cousins stays in Minnesota beyond this year could depend on what the free agent QB market is and what the Vikings would be willing to pay him compared to other teams.
— The Vikings were not willing to meet Cousins’ terms to extend his contract. A decent guess is that Cousins wanted two more guaranteed years (totaling nearly $90 million) after this year. That would be through 2025. It’s another decent bet that the Vikings were only willing to guarantee a deal through 2024.
It’s clear the Vikings, at least at this juncture, don’t want the risk of getting stuck in a long-term deal with Cousins. Also, the Vikings not only need to sign receiver Justin Jefferson, 23, to a long-term contract — probably in the $150 million range over five years — but tight end T.J. Hockenson, 25, to a four-year deal that could approach $15 million a season.
If the Vikings draft a young QB and he’s good, the rookie contract would save the team a lot of money the first few years compared to Cousins’ expensive deal. The question is when the Vikings make that pivot: this year or next year.
— There’s little doubt that Thielen would love to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes and win a Super Bowl ring.
Thielen, 32, left with no deal last week after visiting the Panthers, which may have been on his part for leverage. The Bills would seem another possibility for Thielen. The Jets with Aaron Rodgers? Thielen would have to play a secondary role in New York.
— Tommy Thompson, the former Wild assistant GM, was raised in Winnipeg, where Bud Grant coached the Canadian Football League Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup championships.
“Without a doubt, Bud was the biggest sports figure in the city,” Thompson said. “His players always conducted themselves well. They stood at attention for ‘O Canada (Canadian national anthem)’ the same way he had his players do it in Minnesota for the American anthem.”
A 7-foot-6 bronze statue of Grant, who died at age 95 last weekend, stands at the entrance of the Blue Bombers Investors Group Field in Winnipeg. There is no statue of Grant at the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
— There were not many things that bothered Grant more than people smoking. He considered smoking “despicable” and wasn’t reluctant to sternly confront smokers.
— Grant once told me his father would have been incredulous had he known how much money Bud turned down when asked to remain as coach rather than finally retire after succeeding Les Steckel for a season.
— The late Hall of Fame coach was not an original Minnesotan, but since becoming a Gopher, he has to be considered among the state’s best all-around, all-time athletes with Dave Winfield, Noel Jenke, Joe Mauer and Barry Wohler.
— Grant told me he believed great athletes were born, not developed.
— Grant, by the way, died eight days ago on Saturday at 11 a.m., the same day he was hired with an 11 a.m. press conference on a Saturday exactly 56 years ago.
— Murray Warmath, the only coach to take the Gophers to Rose Bowls (1961-62), died 12 years ago last week at age 98.
— It’s been 41 years since a Gophers men’s basketball team won a Big Ten championship. Jim Dutcher, who turns 90 next month, was the coach.
Still an astute observer and former Gophers TV analyst, Dutcher figures the current Minnesota program under second-year coach Ben Johnson is “making progress.”
“They’re not a threat to win the Big Ten championship, but they do have some pieces that they can build around,” Dutcher said.
Minnesota finished last (2-17) in the Big Ten this season and tied for last (4-16) the year before.
Dutcher’s Big Ten champions finished 14-4.
“They’re a long way from that,” Dutcher understated. “Their guard play is what keeps them from being very good. It’s hard to win unless you’ve got steady guard play. Their guard play (this season) was pretty shaky.”
Dutcher said the Gophers aren’t going to win “with just Minnesota kids.”
“I think they built the thing that Ben would get all the good kids in the state of Minnesota. But you’re never going to get all the kids out of your own state — that’s dreaming.
“Right now, even if you’re a good player in the state of Minnesota, you look at the crowds, and the lack of crowds, and maybe you say I want to go some place where I’ve got a chance to win the Big Ten. And Minnesota right now probably is not that place.
“You’ve got to get some kids from out of state as well as the good kids from Minnesota. That’s the challenge.”
— Dutcher’s son, University of Minnesota and Bloomington Jefferson grad Brian Dutcher, has coached San Diego State to four NCAA Tournament berths, including this season, in six years. His 2020 team (30-2) would have been Dutcher’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance had it not been canceled due to COVID. This season’s team advanced to the second round this weekend.
— Richard Pitino’s New Mexico team, despite its 21-11 record, did not make the NCAA Tournament, having to settle for the NIT. Vanderbilt, with 7-foot ex-Gopher Liam Robbins and a SEC-winning 20-14 record, also had to settle for the NIT.
Texas, with ex-Gopher Marcus Carr, and Iowa State, with Gabe Kalscheur, were selected for the NCAA Tournament.
Long Beach State, coached the last 16 seasons by ex-Gophers coach Dan Monson, finished 17-16 with no postseason invites.
— Cost of a beer per ounce at the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium last season was 50 cents, with an average ticket price of $108.79, per an olbg.com analysis of NFL stadiums. At the Packers’ Lambeau Field, beer was 59 cents per ounce with an average ticket price of $128.93.
— Jake Esch, 31, the former Cretin-Derham Hall and Georgia Tech baseball star, pitched for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic. Esch, 31, whose mother Leah was born in England, is a civil engineer residing in Newnan, Ga.
— Infielder Michael Busch, 25, the former Simley and North Carolina baseball star, last week was optioned to the minors after hitting .261 with one home run in 23 spring training at-bats. He remains a top Dodgers prospect.
— Louisiana State, the top-ranked baseball team (16-1) in the country with a decent chance to make it to the College World Series, has Mounds Park Academy grad Ben Nippolt playing second base.
— Former Smiley girls state golf champion and U.S. Women’s U.S. Open player Isabella McCauley of the Gophers shot 72-73 to tie for 14th in the recent Valspar Augusta (Ga.) Invitational.
— Steve Walsh for football, Tom Johnson and Art Kaess for baseball, Jim Pohl for hockey, Pete Holm for boxing, John Nance for basketball and Mark Courtney, special award, will be inducted into the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame on May 15 at an expected sellout at the Char House.
— Legislators and some local team executives will discuss Minnesota’s efforts to legalize sports betting on March 30 at a Dunkers breakfast at Interlachen Country Club.
— Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6-7 grad Eli Cave is averaging 20.7 points for the Vasco de Gala pro basketball team in Portugal.
— Kendall Brown, the 6-8 former East Ridge and Sunrise Christian star who is a rookie with the Indiana Pacers, is out for the season after tibia surgery.
— Jeff Sorenson, the teaching pro at Minikahda Country Club, won his 157th golf tournament the other day, the Calloway Pebble Beach ProAm.
— Frannie Hottinger, who is Cretin-Derham Hall’s all-time girls basketball scorer and is now at Lehigh, has been named Patriot League women’s basketball player of the year.
— A 50th reunion of Notre Dame’s 1973 national championship season, which included former St. Thomas Academy running back Chuck Kelly, will be Oct. 13-14.
— Among referees for the recent MIAC women’s basketball championship game at Gustavus was Amy Sanchez while her husband, Grant Sanchez, was officiating the MIAC men’s championship game. Amy will work the NCAA Division III national championship game in Dallas on April 1.
— When Henning boys basketball coach Randy Misegades’s team won the Minnesota Class A state title four years ago, he coached three sets of brothers. This season, he’s coaching sons Tyson and Kale, both starters. Nephew Dawson Misegades comes off the bench.
— The 1983 Woodbury Royals state boys basketball championship team (24-0), led by iconic Del Schiffler, who remains the only coach in Minnesota basketball history to win state titles in Class 2A and Class A, has its 40th anniversary on March 26.
Don’t print that
— Pssst: A group of Gophers men’s and women’s basketball boosters are seeking $25,000 per member through Dec. 31 this year, with a goal of at least $250,000, to assist in a name, image and likeness (NIL) collective to promote the programs.
Another $25,000 per member will be sought toward a goal of $500,000 from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2024, and yet another $25,000 per member to raise at least $1 million between Jan. 1, 2025, through Dec. 31, 2027.
— People who know say Dennis Evans, the 7-foot Riverside, Calif., prep star who backed out of his basketball commitment to Minnesota for Louisville, will enjoy nice NIL deals with Cardinals boosters.
— Even though they’re still on the roster, it’s clear the Vikings still want to trade Dalvin Cook and Za’Darius Smith, but haven’t received worthwhile offers. It makes no sense to bring Cook back after having signed Alexander Mattison to a two-year deal worth $7 million.
It only makes sense to keep Smith if the Vikings intend to trade Danielle Hunter, who could help the team move up to draft a QB.
— Registered attendees at a recent Kirk Cousins talk at Grace Church in Eden Prairie were to receive a $25 stipend upon leaving.
— When she bolted for the Gophers women’s basketball coaching job, Dawn Plitzuweit was one season into a $3 million, five-year contract with a starting salary of $550,000 plus incentives at West Virginia, with a $612,500 buyout, per wvnews.com. Predecessor Lindsay Whalen was paid $547,000 this season.
— Winners love challenges, so it will be fun to watch Dan O’Brien, Jeff Ferguson and Dave Nelson as they team up to try to resurrect a Holy Family football program with a varsity that hasn’t won a game in 2 1/2 years, one game in three years and two games in four years. The team finished last season with just 20 players.
O’Brien, Ferguson and Nelson built iconic programs coaching at St. Thomas Academy, Totino-Grace and Anoka-Minnetonka, respectively. Nelson and Ferguson pledged to come out of retirement if O’Brien took the Holy Family job.
“They’ve been my mentors since I got back to the high school stuff,” said O’Brien, who worked for the Gophers for nine years. “They’ve got 10 state championships between them. They guaranteed me a couple of years (at Holy Family) for sure.”
O’Brien said he wasn’t looking for a job when he accepted the Holy Family post.
“I was happy at St. Thomas Academy,” he said.
How will O’Brien and pals rebuild Holy Family, the small Catholic High School in Victoria?
“Unfortunately, there is no real secret sauce,” O’Brien said. “It’s a heavy lift, but you know what, if it’s going to get done, it’s those two guys who will make sure it will, and I’m going to enjoy the ride with them.”
The Holy Family community is building a $6.2 million football stadium that will be ready this fall.
“They’re making a commitment,” O’Brien said.
— O’Brien is adding two assistants, former Gophers Jeff Moritko and son Casey, who will coach quarterbacks.
The resilient Casey, 23, who is a financial planner in Minneapolis, two weeks ago underwent a 26th surgery related to osteosarcoma (bone) cancer.
— After his harrowing experience getting out of homeland Russia in time for this season with the Wild, it’s unlikely Kirill Kaprizov will be making the trip back after the season.
— It’s been a rough PGA Tour start this season for former Spring Lake Park golfer Troy Merritt, 37, who has career winnings of $13.5 million but has missed seven tournament cuts this year.
— Bud Grant, who died at 95, asked advice on how to deal with tender knees: “Don’t get old.”