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It's been a decade since the Vikings last traveled to the NFL scouting combine knowing they could draft their next starting quarterback in the first round. Since 2018, they've used the combine almost annually to conduct business with Kirk Cousins' agent about a new contract for the quarterback.

This year, the Vikings could do both of those things.

Their discussions at the combine, with Cousins' agent Mike McCartney and the rookies in a deep quarterback class, arguably could shape the most important decision of General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's and coach Kevin O'Connell's tenure in Minnesota. The Vikings, who have never selected a quarterback higher than 11th overall, have the No. 11 pick in this year's draft; they could select a QB there who would tie Daunte Culpepper as the highest-drafted passer in franchise history, or trade up to draft a quarterback in the top 10 for the first time.

The quarterback decision is a multifaceted question for the Vikings, and it sits atop a list of pivotal decisions facing Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell as they begin their third offseason together, with neither the sense of novelty that accompanies a new regime nor the credit that accrues to a team coming off a surprise division title. The GM and coach begin the 2024 offseason with greater financial freedom than they've had the past two years, but also with high stakes, as both Cousins and Pro Bowl edge rusher Danielle Hunter approach the open market and defensive coordinator Brian Flores surveys a unit with needs at every level.

The Vikings have only two picks in the first three rounds, with Detroit claiming Minnesota's third-round pick as the final piece of the T.J. Hockenson trade. A decision to take a quarterback in the first round could keep the Vikings from addressing other holes at the top of the draft, particularly if they have to move up to select the QB they want. It's difficult to imagine them letting a third draft go by without a first- or second-round quarterback, though, particularly if they find options they like in a strong group of passers.

Here is a closer look at what the Vikings might hope to get done at the combine this week in Indianapolis:

Free agency: Cousins, Hunter headline the class

The Vikings have 22 unrestricted free agents this year, including key contributors such as linebacker Jordan Hicks and edge rusher D.J. Wonnum. But their most important decisions in free agency center around two players.

Cousins has spoken openly about his desire to return to Minnesota in 2024; teammates such as receivers Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison and right tackle Brian O'Neill have backed him publicly, and both O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah have said they want Cousins back. The 35-year-old might be the best QB in the free agent class, though, and he's made enough progress in his recovery from a torn right Achilles tendon that McCartney might be able to make the case to interested teams that Cousins' injury shouldn't diminish his value.

He can't officially negotiate with other teams until March 11, though, which gives the Vikings time to continue talks with McCartney on a deal. Cousins sought guarantees into 2025 last year; the Vikings were only willing to offer guarantees into 2024. An offer with guaranteed money into 2025 this time around could be enough to bring Cousins back, even if it's not at a top-of-the-market price.

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Negotiations with Hunter could have a different tenor. The pass rusher posted a career-high 16½ sacks in 2023, and could be after a lucrative deal in his first trip to free agency, after his camp has chafed for several years at the five-year, $72 million deal they signed when Hunter was 23. The fact Hunter has excelled as both an outside linebacker and 4-3 defensive end could give him plenty of suitors; the Lions, who have money to spend and a spot for Hunter opposite Aidan Hutchinson, could be a team to watch.

QB class: Choices to make with deep group

After exploring a move up to the top of the draft for a quarterback last year, the Vikings wasted little time scouting a 2024 QB class headlined by USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye. LSU's Jayden Daniels, who won the Heisman Trophy, has put himself near the top of many QB rankings, possibly ahead of Washington's Michael Penix Jr., Oregon's Bo Nix and Michigan's J.J. McCarthy.

With the 11th pick, the Vikings are sitting behind a number of QB-needy teams, such as the Commanders, Patriots and possibly the Bears (who have pick Nos. 1 and 9). That could mean they have to move up to the top of the draft to get one of the first QBs on the board, or determine if they like one of the players who might be there at No. 11. They could also explore a trade back, to acquire another pick for their other needs before selecting a QB later in the first round. Or, they could take a defensive player at No. 11 before coming back for a quarterback, either with the 42nd overall pick or a trade back into the first round (a la Teddy Bridgewater in 2014).

The Vikings have seemed interested in bringing Cousins back while drafting a QB that could learn behind him for a year or two, and they'll likely use much of the spring to determine which quarterbacks could be a fit, through visits to pro days and virtual interviews with some of the rookies. The combine won't be their only chance to evaluate QBs, especially since some of them might not work out in Indianapolis. At the start of a busy spring, though, the Vikings figure to use their combine visit to get to know some of the rookie QBs.

Defensive needs: Flores could oversee changes

Flores got his NFL start in the Patriots' scouting department. O'Connell has praised his eye for player evaluation, and Flores' candor about what he likes — and doesn't like — is no secret in the Vikings headquarters. After winning praise for the turnaround he directed in 2023, Flores figures to have plenty of input in how the defense will look in 2024.

The Vikings need a talent infusion across the defense, from defensive tackle to edge rusher to cornerback, and if they don't use their first-rounder on a quarterback, it wouldn't be surprising to see them spend it on a playmaker for Flores' defense.

Players such as Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, Clemson corner Nate Wiggins, Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton, Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner and Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse could be options for the Vikings in the first round. Expect them to meet with a number of defenders at the combine, and build a list of players who could provide the kind of surprising value later in the draft that undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. did in 2023. The Vikings' short supply of high draft picks means they'll need to find some late-round successes; the combine could help them identify players with the versatility and football acumen to contribute early in Flores' defense.