EAGAN, Minn. – As Kirk Cousins went through free agency for the first time in his career, he invited cameras to follow him and show his decision-making process.
Cousins and his agent Mike McCartney researched teams looking for a quarterback, including the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, who became the final two teams in Cousins’ mind.
New York was there, the first to offer a $30 million a year contract as Cousins told his wife in the video. With one offer set, Cousins’ agent had a figure to approach other teams. Cousins, meanwhile, had to decide what meant the most to him: the money or the environment surrounding the team. When Minnesota came to $28 million a season – and $84 million fully guaranteed – Cousins knew his destination.
“That show was meant to show the journey and meant to show how impressed I’ve been with the Minnesota Vikings,” Cousins said this week as the his Vikings set to face the Jets on Sunday. “It was not meant to be a slight to anybody else. This the NFL. Every team is run well, has great coaches. I have tremendous respect for Coach Bowles. I’ve played against him and he’s had my lunch a couple times and Jeremy Bates, their offensive coordinator is a phenomenal coach and play-caller and is doing a great job this year.
“It was really meant to show the Vikings as a great fit for us and nothing more.”
It’s been a great fit for Cousins in Minnesota. He’s thrown for the second-most yards in team history through the first six games of a season and become a leader in the locker room.
New York altered its approach and turned its attention to the draft where the Jets selected Sam Darnold as the No. 3 overall pick. Darnold has shown flashes while becoming the starter from the first game of his rookie season.
“We’re happy with Sam,” New York coach Todd Bowles said on a conference call Wednesday with Minnesota reporters. “I’m sure they’re happy with Kirk. Some things just work out the right way anyway.”
Cousins has thrown for 1,921 yards – fifth in the NFL – 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. His 71.2 completion percentage is third in the league and he’s 10th in quarterback rating at 102.7. With Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, the Vikings have featured a pass-first offense with plenty of big plays.
“When we came here on the visit, we were just very impressed with the way coach (Mike) Zimmer operates, with this facility, with ownership, with coach ‘Flip’ as the OC, the system, the roster, the teammates,” Cousins said. “I think there was just a lot of positives.”
Darnold said this week that he watched Cousins’ approach in free agency closely, knowing the teams that missed out on the former Washington Redskins’ starter could look to the draft where Darnold became the second quarterback drafted after Baker Mayfield went No. 1 overall.
“So, I was just really paying attention – especially during that time— definitely paying attention to Kirk free-agent wise and trying to understand what team maybe I could go to (and) who might pick me up,” Darnold told the New York Daily News this week. “So, yeah, I was definitely thinking about all that stuff during the draft process. But at the same time, I knew I didn’t have any control over it. But yeah, I was definitely paying attention and was aware of all of it.”
Darnold added: “Everything worked out for the best, I think.”
For Minnesota, which has been trying to find a long-term solution at quarterback dating back to when Daunte Culpepper suffered a debilitating knee injury in 2005, getting Cousins was the answer.
“With Kirk, it was really a body of work kind of thing,” Zimmer said earlier this season. “For us, it was just about his body of work that he had done in Washington and the talent level that he had and what we thought he could bring to our organization.”
Cousins has met every expectation along the way. Even when called upon by defensive tackle Linval Joseph to offer a pregame pep talk, Cousins delivered again. His speech to the huddle before the Week 5 win in Philadelphia gained notoriety on social media. Because of the win, Joseph said he was up again last week and Cousins followed through to motivate the team before the win against Arizona.
“I think it's very evident in his play,” linebacker Anthony Barr said of Cousins’ leadership credentials. “Obviously you hear him talk, but I think it's more so with his play. Anybody can out and talk and rah-rah, but you kind of want to see it so you can believe it, and he's done a good job of providing that leadership with example.”
Darnold, meanwhile, has shown he might have the arm and moxie to grow into the role. He’s helped the Jets to a 3-3 record and thrown more touchdowns (nine) than interceptions (seven). Darnold has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards and an 83.7 quarterback rating.
“Very strong arm, very accurate, moves well in the pocket, scrambles well and gets out of there fairly quick,” Zimmer said of Darnold. “Seems to be going to the right place with the ball. He’s thrown some great deep balls.”
One decision by Cousins has led to two happy teams.
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings