Monday night’s performance by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins could echo into the offseason.
Cousins and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan have been linked since 2012, when Washington made Cousins a fourth-round draft pick after former owner Daniel Snyder took it on himself to trade up to No. 2 for quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Griffin failed, Cousins thrived.
Fast forward to 2017. Shanahan, in his first draft with the 49ers, did not scout Patrick Mahomes despite holding the second pick in the draft. Shanahan was waiting for Cousins to become a free agent in 2018.
Along the way, someone persuaded Shanahan to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, the first domino in a comedy of quarterback errors that has contributed to Shanahan’s failure to parlay a great team into a Super Bowl win.
Fast forward to Monday night. Brock Purdy, the look-what-we-found last pick in the 2022 draft who has potentially become Shanahan’s new-age Cousins, threw a couple of interceptions with the game on the line. Cousins, in contrast, played one of his best games ever.
As one league source remarked in the aftermath of the 22-17 win by the Vikings, Cousins “gave Shanahan something to think about for free agency next year.”
Indeed he did. Cousins, as we explained months ago, will become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. He can’t be tagged. He has a straight and clear path to the open market. And, if Shanahan decides to make the move based on how this season ends (and how Purdy performs down the stretch), nothing will stop him from doing so.
With one exception. The Vikings could decide after Monday night’s game that it’s finally working with Cousins. It was his best performance since joining the team in 2018, especially in light of the prominence of the stage and the quality of the opponent.
Until the legal tampering window opens, the Vikings have exclusive dibs on negotiating with Cousins. If Monday’s game is not an aberration but the start of a new trend, maybe they should extend him now, abandoning the potential plan to find a young franchise quarterback and embracing the remaining seasons of the 35-year-old who might have turned a late-career corner.
Absent that, Shanahan will have the ability to decide after the season to pursue Cousins. We’ve already seen the 49ers not hesitate to throw quarterbacks overboard in search of someone better. Shanahan did it with Garoppolo and Trey Lance. If Shanahan believes Cousins gives them a better chance to win a Super Bowl than Purdy does, maybe Shanahan will do it again.
And maybe the Vikings will mobilize sooner than later to keep that from happening.
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