Cousins, Vikings get to show Jets the one that got away
When Kirk Cousins was fielding offers as one of the most coveted free agents on the market in the offseason, his final list was down to two teams.
Cousins narrowed the field to the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets, who both presented the former Washington Redskins quarterback with pricey offers that were hard to refuse.
In the end, Cousins opted to sign with the Vikings, agreeing to a three-year, $84 million contract that was fully guaranteed. He chose that over New York's three-year deal that was worth $90 million.
Cousins says he knew he made the right choice, but a national television audience will get to do some comparison shopping of its own when the Vikings visit the Jets on Sunday afternoon.
During the decision-making process, Cousins invited cameras to follow him as he whittled down his list. He told his wife in the video that he had to decide which was his bigger priority -- money or the environment surrounding the team.
Given that Minnesota reached the NFC Championship Game and came through with a fully guaranteed contract, Cousins knew his destination, but he said the video was not intended to be a slap in the face toward the Jets.
"That show was meant to show the journey and meant to show how impressed I've been with the Minnesota Vikings," Cousins told reporters this week. "It was not meant to be a slight to anybody else. This is the NFL. Every team is run well, has great coaches. I have tremendous respect for (Jets) Coach (Todd) Bowles. I've played against him and he's had my lunch a couple times. And Jeremy Bates, their offensive coordinator, is a phenomenal coach and play-caller and is doing a great job this year."
Statistically, the move to the NFC North and the Vikings has turned out to be a great fit for Cousins. He's thrown for the second-most yards in team history (1,921) through the first six games of a season and is a leader in the locker room.
However, New York did not bemoan the loss of Cousins and instead shifted gears, trading up three spots in the draft to select quarterback Sam Darnold out of USC with the No. 3 overall selection.
While Darnold lacks both the numbers -- and the weekly paycheck -- of Cousins, he has guided the Jets to back-to-back wins and a 3-3 record. Cousins and the Vikings are 3-2-1 and a half-game behind first-place Chicago in the NFC North.
"We're happy with Sam," Bowles said on a conference call Wednesday with Minnesota reporters. "I'm sure they're happy with Kirk. Some things just work out the right way anyway."
Said Darnold: "Everything worked out for the best, I think."
Not only is Cousins fifth in the league in passing, but he has 12 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season. His 71.2 completion percentage is third in the league and he's 10th in passer rating at 102.7.
Darnold is going through the predictable rookie struggles, especially with a supporting cast that is not as strong as what Cousins enjoys. He has nine touchdowns versus seven interceptions and his 83.7 passer rating ranks only 27th in the league, but that's better than the three other rookies taken in the top 10 of this year's draft.
"Very strong arm, very accurate, moves well in the pocket, scrambles well and gets out of there fairly quick," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said of Darnold. "Seems to be going to the right place with the ball. He's thrown some great deep balls."
Cousins is thriving in a pass-happy offense featuring wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen has set a blistering pace with 58 receptions, the most by any player in NFL history through the first six games of the season.
Thielen has had at least 11 catches in three games this season and became the second player in league history to amass at least 100 yards receiving in the first six games of a season.
"He's one of the best in the league right now," Bowles said of Thielen.
New York will try to slow Minnesota's high-powered passing game by playing keep-away with the two-pronged attack of running backs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell, who are helping the Jets churn out an average of 130.5 yards rushing.
Crowell has rushed for five touchdowns and 430 yards, including a 219-yard effort in a 34-16 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 5. Powell actually has five more carries and has piled up 323 yards on the ground.
Updated October 18, 2018