The Minnesota Vikings are once again participating in the annual tradition that is pre-season football. And, once again, starting QB Kirk Cousins is nowhere to be found (alongside the similarly M.I.A. star players).
It’s the August rite of passage in which we all begin to realize how much we have missed the game — so much so that we’re willing to tune in at odd times to watch players who serve as stand-ins for the real team running plays that will not resemble the real plays that are being kept under wraps until things really count.
The games are often described by local radio voices simulcasting against a television product supported by terrible locally-produced commercials alongside an endless litany of Arby’s ads. The only significant upside of investing three hours in this pale experience is to confirm that yes, even NFL backups and rookies are noticeably better than any team fielded by the XFL.
There is no option for NFL clubs to skip the whole sham; there’s far too much money changing hands. There is, however, an easily-exercised option for viewers to skip the drudgery, something football fans everywhere ought to do, so long as an alternate pre-season product is available that we can use to whip our football fandom, snack-consuming guts, and limited attention spans into shape for the coming season.
This is where the excellent Netflix series “Quarterback” comes in. If you haven’t already binge-watched the eight-episode series produced jointly by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions and NFL Films, I highly recommend that you reserve some time during the upcoming pre-season schedule — preferably during pre-season game coverage — to take it in.
Kirk Cousins, Star (of) Quarterback
Throughout the eight episodes, the viewer sees just what the challenges are, and we catch more than just a glimpse. Playing quarterback is like studying for the bar exam, week after week. Playing quarterback is like getting in an (albeit minor) car crash, game after game. Playing quarterback is pressure, it is stamina, it is mental fortitude, it is emotional compartmentalization, it is stress, anguish, elation, and joy. Really, it’s sort of like being a Vikings fan. But admittedly it’s even more than that.
The program focuses on three members of the 2022 Quarterback fraternity: All-World Patrick Mahomes, Oft-Struggling Journeyman (and former Heisman winner) Marcus Mariota, and our own polarizing man in the middle, Kirk Cousins.
“Quarterback” does a remarkable job in bringing us to an up-close-and-personal level with each of these three men. We see their joys (babies! Last-minute wins! A Super Bowl title!) and their crushing failures (intercepted passes…. blowout losses…lost jobs). Along the way we also see how brutal the position (and the sport) can be, we learn how challenging it must be to become an expert with the modern NFL playbook. We experience the difficulties of balancing and/or separating the personal and professional in an environment where the quarterback’s every move is dissected to the nth degree, both behind closed doors and in the public press.
Armed with eight episodes worth of advanced knowledge about “the most difficult position in sports” (quotes are there because it’s a direct quote, not because there is any doubt), we should be thinking long and hard about how we feel about Kirk Cousins. And maybe some apologies are in order.
It’s been well-documented, here and everywhere else in the football media, that Kirk Cousins has never, in his five seasons as a Viking, brought a Super Bowl victory to Minnesota. And for winning only a single playoff game during that span.
For those sins (and his relative lack of mobility, his occasional penchant to force a throw, and the ultimate, unpardonable trait in the eyes of Kirk Cousins-Haters everywhere, the fact that he is not and never has been Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, or Mahomes) he has become, in the eyes of some, the central and even sole reason the Vikings haven’t “gotten over the hump” in recent seasons. To the most extreme members of the anti-Kirk camp, he may even be the reason for Gary Anderson’s miss, for the missing flag on Drew Pearson, and for Minnesota losing four Super Bowls in the 70s.
“Quarterback” reminds us of how capable Kirk has been, and particularly how capable he was in 2022. The show reminds us of the many dramatic (and, oh-so-fun to watch) comebacks he engineered last season. It inspires us enough to give a fresh look, going into 2023, at his ’22 quarterback rankings: 4th in the NFL in total passing yards (4,547, more than Allen or Rodgers), 5th in touchdowns thrown (29, more than Rodgers or Brady), 3rd in wins (13, also more than Rodgers or Brady).
This is not to suddenly campaign for Cousins’ inclusion in the hallowed “Top Tier” of quarterbacks per se (after all, other stats such as completion percentage and quarterback rating place him squarely in the middle of the pack) but it does point out that he delivered last season, and delivered in a big way. If that’s not reason enough to declare a moratorium on Kirk-Hating for 2023 and beyond, then consider one other point that “Quarterback” made abundantly clear.
Watching the segments featuring Mariota was excruciating. The man is a former Heisman winner and #2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. His career has been sprinkled with ups and downs, but eight years down the road he is a now a backup quarterback who has never thrown over 3,500 yards, only once has thrown over 20 touchdowns, and has won one playoff game as a starter. Watching his path from potential comeback story and new father to displaced quarterback with a career in limbo served as a reminder — one that, in my mind, is much more emphatic in support of Kirk Cousins than a hard knock against Mariota.
The point, and the reminder, is this: if the Vikings were to part ways with Cousins, somebody else would have to play the position. Nobody is lining up to trade their elite quarterback to the purple. In the draft, Mariota has demonstrated (and so have a bevy of other top picks) that pedigree means nothing when ascending to the top of the list of NFL quarterbacks. Gaining a play-caller who is truly elite is above all else a matter of supreme luck that most teams experience less than once a generation.
And, as we all know, the Vikings are not the luckiest of franchises.
Being Thankful for Kirk Cousins
We can wish for a Mahomes to fall in our lap all day, every day, and more than twice on Sundays, but wishing ain’t going to make it happen. And belligerently demanding that the Vikings acquire someone like him won’t work either. Neither will throwing ourselves on the floor and sobbing like a small child who wants a new toy.
So, my suggestion to all is to grow up and feel comfortable when it comes to quarterback satisfaction. We’re doing more than fine. We’ve got a rock of stability who may not be Patrick Mahomes, but he is most definitely not Marcus Mariota, either. In Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have a solidly above-average quarterback who gets to throw to the best receiver in the NFL. The passing game, ladies and gentlemen, is fine. Let’s just believe that, for our own mental health, and move on.
Now, about that defense….