We Need to Love Kirk Cousins More

Photo: Lachlan Cunningham – Getty Images

A new Minnesota Vikings season is just a couple of weeks away and the headlines and narratives surrounding Kirk Cousins are even more mean-spirited than what we’ve become accustomed to. Most of that hatred was sparked by his comments and decisions off the field over the last year or two, but we’ll get into later.

Those who respect Kirk Cousins, the football player, usually see him as an average NFL QB who can be competent on a good team. But he needs a line to keep the pocket clean and skill position players who can take the defensive focus off of him. I’ve sent plenty of hate, in blogs and via twitter, toward Kirk since he landed in Minnesota three seasons ago.

Most rankings across the world wide web currently slot him in as the 14th-best QB in the NFL. Others aren’t as kind, but you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better.

What they say about his football

I feel like The Athletic’s opening paragraph for Cousins, in their QB tiers and rankings article, fits his on-the-field narrative perfectly. Other outlets summarized the same type of takes.

Cousins finished the 2020 season ranked fourth in EPA per attempt, second in yards per attempt, sixth in passing touchdowns, eighth in passer rating and, once again, first in nobody’s heart. He slipped deeper into Tier 3 this year.‘ – The Athletic

  • PFF: #14“Cousins operates very well when the conditions around him are good.”
  • Bleacher Report: #14“Typically, Kirk Cousins is efficient rather than explosive throwing the football.”
  • Sharp: #14“Kirk Cousins ranked in the top half of the league on every ballot, but no higher than 12th. That seems like a fair representation of his career: always decent, never great. 
  • Sporting News: #14“His deep passing has been on point, but the decision-making and accuracy still let him down at key points.”
  • The Athletic: #18 (Tier 3) — “I feel like his good games come when they are getting the shit kicked out of them,” a head coach said.

If you take a look at some of the statistical categories that are used to judge quarterbacks, these rankings are disrespectful. And the many Vikings fans who continually dump on Kirk must’ve forgotten the long struggling history we’ve had at the position. We’ll get to the numbers and the franchise QB history momentarily.

First, we need to talk Madden.

What Madden says about his football

The negative narrative that surrounds Kirk continues, no matter what the numbers say, thanks to his lack of consistent winning in the regular season and limited amount of playoff success throughout his career. And for whatever reason, he’s proven somewhat unlikeable, even before he dove head first into the 2020-21 COVID controversies.

But in other corners of the sports entertainment world, the disrespect surrounding #8’s talent as an NFL QB gets out of control and borderline unbearable. Take the new Madden video game, for example, which released earlier this month. Kirk’s overall rating in the ’22 version of EA’s most popular sports video game is a 79/100.

That ranks #16 leaguewide, just ahead of Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. At 33 years old, good luck building a team around a declining Kirk Cousins when he starts at a 79 overall rating. Colin Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in the NFL for four years, has a rating of 81, two points higher than Cousins.

Think about it.

What the numbers say

In 2020, Cousins finished top-10 in PASS YDS (8th), TD’s (6th), QB RATING (8th), YDS/ATT (2nd), YDS/CMP (2nd), CMP % (9th), TD % (5th) and in TOTAL OFFENSE (10th). But because the Vikings were bad, it’s a bad season for Cousins. That’s fair. But his numbers are consistently top-10 every year: | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 |. If you want to talk “garbage time” stats then you can tweet @DustBaker about it because I’m not going to have my football reputation dragged through that mud this afternoon.

Minnesota Vikings fans, who can’t help but constantly obsess over their hate for Kirk Cousins, must struggle with the reality of our QB history. There are three guys who sit on the “Mount Rushmore” of Vikings quarterbacks. Fran Tarkenton sits comfortably above them all, followed by Tommy Kramer and Daunte Culpepper (see list below).

There hasn’t been another QB to top 12,200 yards or 100 touchdowns in their Vikings career. Until Kirk Cousins (if healthy) does it in 2021. Kirk’s 12,166 yards and 91 touchdowns both rank #4 in franchise history. If the former Michigan State QB plays out his contract in Minnesota, he’d likely eclipse the 20,000 yard and 150 touchdown milestones.

Vikings Career Passing Leaders (Pro Football Reference):
  1. Fran Tarkenton: 33,098 YDS | 239 TD | 177 GMS
  2. Tommy Kramer: 24,775 YDS | 159 TD | 128 GMS
  3. Daunte Culpepper: 20,162 YDS | 135 TD | 81 GMS
  4. Kirk Cousins: 12,166 YDS | 91 TD | 47 GMS
  5. Wade Wilson: 12,135 YDS | 66 TD | 76 GMS
  6. Brad Johnson: 11,098 YDS | 65 YDS | 68 GMS
  7. Warren Moon: 10,102 YDS | 58 TD | 39 GMS
  8. Brett Favre: 6,711 YDS | 44 TD | 29 GMS
  9. Christian Ponder: 6,658 | 38 TD | 38 GMS

Still, I’d argue that Cousins deserves the same respect as the best quarterbacks to put on a purple and gold uniform. If Cousins reaches those marks, he’ll do it way faster than Tarkenton or Kramer did. Those guys played 177 and 128 games for Minnesota, respectively. Kirk Cousins has played just 47 so far. Two more full seasons (32 games) would make 79 total.

Kirk + COVID Controversy

Most recently, the hatred toward Kirk Cousins has been compounded exponentially because of his comments and actions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. His “if I die, I die” quote, from back in 2020, left pandemic basement dwellers hiding and crying in their safe spaces for days. But it’s Kirk’s refusal to get vaccinated that has made him public enemy #1 for local and national media during the 2021 preseason.

But why? On his own team, most veteran leaders aren’t vaccinated either. Those names include Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Dalvin Cook and Dalvin Tomlinson. Losing Dalvin Cook or Harrison Smith could damn the Minnesota Vikings’ 2021 season too, right?

Nationally, there are many starting quarterbacks who remain unvaccinated. The list of QB’s includes Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, among other league stars like DeAndre Hopkins, Christian McCaffery, Cole Beasley. Beasley has taken a strong anti-vaccination stance via social media, but beyond him, Cousins has taken the brunt of media and fan backlash.

All of this, while Houston Texans starting quarterback, Deshaun Watson, is facing sexual misconduct allegations from 24 different women, some of them criminal. But Watson has taken every QB1 training camp and preseason snap and faced a limited amount of questions about his off-the-field issues in the process.

Leave Kirk Cousins alone!

We need to take the “I hate Kirk Cousins” sunglasses off. It’s time we take a more realistic look at our QB1 before it’s too late. His future with the Vikings is unknown, beyond this season. Do we really want to go back to Christian Ponder.. or worse?

Like it or not, Cousins is the best chance the Minnesota Vikings have at immediate and future success. At 33 years old, Kirk is still relatively young in today’s QB world and it’s quite possible we haven’t seen his best football yet. Kirk doesn’t need to throw for 2000 more yards or 20 more touchdowns this season to “take the next step” as an NFL quarterback. For Cousins to move into everyone’s next tier of QB’s, he needs to win more regular season and playoff games while showing more confidence and swagger as a leader.

He looks like a different guy at the podium, especially after taking such fire from reporters during camp. And no matter how you feel about his vaccination choices, how do you doubt his self-confidence after standing in that heat and not crumbling?

Can Kirk Cousins still go Super-Saiyan?

I don’t want to go out on a limb and say this is the turning point of Kirk Cousins’ career. But with all eyes on him and the haters praying for his failure, there’s no better time than the present.

We talked about this for a lot of this week’s S.S. Minnesota podcast. You can listen and subscribe on any of your favorite streaming apps (Apple, Spotify, iHeart) or watch on YouTube. Here’s a clip of our Cousins Conversation.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan