The Vikings were briefly in the "Tank for Trevor" conversation earlier this season when they were 1-5 — a time when Kirk Cousins was struggling with turnovers and inconsistency and the whole team was struggling in general.
It never really seemed likely that they would be in a position to nab QB Trevor Lawrence, the presumed No. 1 overall pick from Clemson, and the rest of the season proved that point. Cousins rallied to put up big numbers and another top-10 Pro Football Focus rating, while the Vikings went 6-4 over their last 10 games to finish 7-9, good for the No. 14 pick (about 13 spots too low to get Lawrence).
But if you read the latest mock draft from ESPN's Todd McShay, you might be tempted to go through this whole exercise yet again with a different enticing QB: Ohio State's Justin Fields.
McShay has Lawrence of course going No. 1 overall to Jacksonville. Then he has BYU's Zach Wilson as the second QB off the board, No. 4 overall to Atlanta. Then somehow, some way, a bunch of quarterback-needy teams ignore Fields and he isn't chosen until No. 15 overall by the Patriots — one spot after the Vikings pick Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw.
McShay does concede: "Fields fell to No. 15 here because we aren't doing trades in this mock. There's little chance he makes it this far down the board, especially after his six-touchdown performance in the Sugar Bowl quieted some big-game concerns. Someone will move up to get him."
Still, it's probably hard for Vikings fans who double as Cousins detractors — a significant subset who have watched uneven play add up to strong numbers — not to look at that and get visions of a QB change in their eyes.
But on the Access Vikings podcast recorded Thursday, we broke down roster decisions ahead of 2021 — and concluded, once again, that Cousins is almost certainly going to be back next season and beyond for a number of reasons.
The biggest reasons, which we've covered before:
*The Vikings seem very much inclined to "run it back" with hopes that with better luck regarding defensive injuries in 2021 they will return to the playoffs. That's not a terrible idea, but it is also perhaps influenced by Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman needing a better year next season to ensure job security. Offloading Cousins and handing the team to Fields — or even drafting Fields and grooming him while Cousins plays out the final two years of his contract — doesn't seem like the path to immediate improvement.
*Cousins' contract makes it such that trading him would still cost $20 million against the salary cap in 2021, and his $45 million number becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year (March 19). Another extension/restructure seems more likely than any other sort of move, Ben Goessling noted on the podcast.
*The Vikings have a lot of roster holes. After that No. 14 pick, they don't have another swing in the draft until the third round, No. 79 overall, because of the ill-fated Yannick Ngakoue trade. Using the pick on Fields, even if they believed in him, would keep them from a badly needed upgrade on the offensive or defensive line.
*Like him or not, Cousins is an above-average NFL starter.
All that said: Logic will fly out the window if you are watching the first round of the draft on April 29 if the Vikings are on the clock at No. 14 and Fields is still there. That's understandable. Just don't say you weren't warned.