Speaking at his introductory news conference Thursday, four days after helping lead the Los Angeles Rams to a win in Super Bowl LVI, new Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said he anticipates Cousins will continue to be the quarterback in Minnesota despite questions surrounding his future.
"Well, I know he's under contract and I'm excited to coach him," O'Connell said. "We've already started thinking about how we're going to build those systems for him and our other quarterbacks and really the tremendous skill group that we have, our guys up front. It takes all 11 to move the football on offense, to run it, to throw it, to score points in the red zone. But I'm anticipating Kirk being a part of what we do."
Sitting beside O'Connell during the news conference at team headquarters, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah reiterated O'Connell's stance.
"I'm excited that he's excited to coach him and lead him, and we're focused on building the team around him to set us up to succeed the best we can," Adofo-Mensah said.
Cousins is entering the final year of the $66 million extension he signed in 2020, which comes with a $45 million cap hit, the third-highest of any player in the NFL. Speculation has been building that the Vikings could opt to move on from the quarterback this offseason via a trade because of the financial restraints his contract puts on Minnesota's salary cap after the team failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back years.
The 33-year-old quarterback's $35 million base salary for 2022 became guaranteed last March, three years after he signed a historic three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract in Minnesota as a free agent.
If the Vikings decide to keep Cousins in the fold, they could look to extend him for a second time to lower his cap number for 2022 or let him play out the final year of his contract as is.
While he wouldn't address specifics of Cousins' contract, Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf reiterated his belief that Minnesota will be competitive next season with Cousins at quarterback.
"Kwesi and Kevin have spoken very extensively on it," Wilf said. "I certainly do believe and even more so now that we've got our leadership here in place that we are built to be successful right away. We feel very confident about that and like you heard before, we're going to work with Kirk as our quarterback and we'll move forward from there. But for 2022, for sure, we're going to be supercompetitive. Sustained success is the goal and I think we have it with this leadership."
O'Connell, who spent the past two seasons as the Rams' offensive coordinator, was Cousins' quarterbacks coach in Washington during 2017. Cousins threw for 4,093 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during his final season in Washington, when the team finished with a 7-9 record.
During O'Connell's interview with the Vikings, co-owner Zygi Wilf said he was impressed by the coach's background as a quarterback and believes "he'll bring the best out of [Cousins] and he'll boost the offense to another level." O'Connell played in the NFL from 2008 to '12.
Part of O'Connell's vision for the offense is rooted in amplifying Cousins' skill set. When asked to compare the Vikings quarterback to the Rams' Matthew Stafford, O'Connell said both are "elite throwers." The coach said Minnesota can "build an offense to maximize what [Cousins] does best," adding that many of the concepts "people have seen our offense do in L.A. [they] will absolutely see our offense do here in Minnesota."
"Kirk has played at a very high level and he's done a lot of really good things throughout his career," O'Connell said. "I know who he is as a player and I know what he's capable of, and part of our job as coaches is maximizing a player's ability to go out every single Sunday and have success.
"I feel that's going to be an advantage for us as we build our system offensively, make sure we really focus on the things Kirk does well, which I do think are a lot of aspects of playing the position, and help him on a daily basis connect with his team, lead us, be a completely quiet-minded quarterback that can go play because he's talented enough to go do that, putting him in the best possible situations to have success."
O'Connell said he will call offensive plays in Minnesota. He last assumed playcalling duties in Washington after Jay Gruden was fired during the 2019 season.
The Vikings are a projected $15.5 million over the salary cap for 2022. The new league year and free agency begins March 16 at 4 p.m. ET.