INDIANAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings have perhaps the most interesting decision to make in what will be a fascinating offseason quarterback carousel.
“It’s important for myself, Rick [Spielman, the Vikings’ GM] and organization to pick the right guy,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably be fired.”
He was joking, but he might not be far off. It’s crucial the Vikings pick the right path, and they have plenty of options available to them. But Zimmer said when he talked with Spielman about the team’s options, he warned that tying up too many resources in one player can take away from the rest of the roster. The Vikings were 13-3 last season mostly thanks to the top defense in the league. When you read Zimmer’s comments, keep in mind that the most popular scenario that has been presented for the Vikings the past week or so has been signing Kirk Cousins, who will likely command a record-setting deal.
“The thing I told Rick, when we sat down in meetings, I said, ‘Look, we’ve won this many games in this many years because of this football team,'” Zimmer said, emphasizing the last word for effect. “Because we played really good on defense for the most part. This year obviously we played so much better on offense that we were able to go further than what a lot of people thought. So it’s important we continue to keep putting the pieces in place on defense.
“What I don’t want to do is say, ‘OK, this is the one thing, we’re going to do this,’ and take away from the things that have gotten us to this point.”
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
In a salary-cap sport, it’s not easy to keep a great defense together, and it’s especially challenging if you’re paying your quarterback a significant portion of the cap. There’s a reason no Super Bowl champion since 1994 has had a quarterback taking up even 13 percent of the cap. Also remember that Zimmer is a defensive-minded head coach, and has a lot of pride in what Minnesota has built on that side of the ball.
Zimmer can’t talk about potential free agents on other teams, because they’re technically still under contract, but it’s easy to see this as him being wary of the Cousins option. Cousins can probably set a record for the largest contract in NFL history if he holds out for the largest offer. Jimmy Garoppolo got $27.5 million per season from the San Francisco 49ers, and Cousins has more leverage than Garoppolo did as a free agent.
Zimmer acknowledged the questions with each of the three quarterbacks that were on Minnesota’s roster last season, who are all slated to become free agents. Sam Bradford started only one game last year due to a knee issue, and he has a long injury history. Teddy Bridgewater has thrown two passes, preseason or regular season, since suffering a devastating knee injury just before the 2016 season. Case Keenum had a fine and unexpected season, but he had never played that well before 2017.
Zimmer said he loved all three quarterbacks and wants to keep all of them, but there’s risk in re-signing each one.
“That’s really the $64,000 question with all three of these guys: Can Sam stay healthy? Is Teddy what he was? Is Case the guy he was last year, or two years ago?” Zimmer said.
There’s a risk to not paying big money to a quarterback, too. Keenum won’t get a mega-deal like Cousins, he could easily surpass the $18 million per year deal Brock Osweiler got a couple years ago. The Vikings are either going to have to pay someone a significant contract or gamble they can find a low-priced gem. It worked with Keenum last season. There are plenty of other tales of potential contenders being sunk by awful quarterback play. As Zimmer alluded to, a good way to get on the hot seat is taking a 13-3 team and screwing it up because you picked the wrong quarterback.
The Vikings are in a good spot, with enough cap room to land Cousins or bring back Keenum. They have an excellent chance to compete for a Super Bowl next season with the right quarterback. That doesn’t mean they’re in an easy spot. As Zimmer said, the wrong move could be devastating.
– – – – – – –