GREEN BAY, Wis. — Were it not for their traditional postgame boom box churning out celebratory tunes, the Minnesota Vikings‘ postgame locker room at Lambeau Field would have been silent Sunday afternoon. Despite a 24-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers, players spoke to one another in hushed tones. Reporters gathered close to hear their emotional comments.
Ultimately, coach Kevin O’Connell said, “they know” the likely outcome of quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ right Achilles injury. Even as O’Connell spoke from a podium, ESPN’s Adam Schefter was reporting that Cousins had suffered a torn Achilles tendon — an injury that when confirmed by the team will end his season. Vikings players and coaches were left to sift through the moment’s multiple layers of impact.
“Every single player in our locker room is thinking about our leader and our guy,” O’Connell said.
But there is more than Cousins’ immediate condition to sift through, most notably its impact on the Vikings’ competitiveness for the rest of the season after evening their record at 4-4. Will they stick with fifth-rounder Jaren Hall, who finished Sunday’s game, try to acquire a quarterback before Tuesday’s trade deadline — or perhaps sign an available veteran such as Matt Ryan? Has Cousins played his final game with the Vikings?
Let’s dive into the issues, one by one, on a day that will be among the most impactful in recent Vikings history.
What’s the timetable for recovery for Cousins’ injury?
Presuming a full tear, Cousins would miss the remainder of this season. Every injury is different, and Cousins will turn 36 next summer. But based on a standard Achilles tear timetable, Cousins has a chance to be ready for the start of the 2024 season. — Kevin Seifert
Is Minnesota committed to Hall as the starter going forward?
No. They might not have a choice about starting Hall in their Week 9 game at the Atlanta Falcons. But O’Connell stopped short of fully committing to him in the moments after Sunday’s game.
“I think in my mind we’ve got to take a look at potentially all the options,” O’Connell said, “including building the best possible group around Jaren.”
O’Connell noted that veteran backup Nick Mullens is eligible to be activated as early as Week 10 from injured reserve, where he has been since Oct. 11 because of a back injury. Veteran Sean Mannion, who started both of the games Cousins has missed in his tenure with the Vikings, is on the practice squad.
“[Mullens] is progressing along,” O’Connell said. “That’s why I don’t want to commit one way or the other.” — Seifert
What are Hall’s best traits and what should we expect from him?
Hall shows a lot of patience in the pocket when reading out progressions, always seeming really comfortable and in control when scanning defensive coverages. He was impressive in the lead-up to the 2023 draft with his deep touch down the field. Hall has a slightly above-average arm and complements that well with solid ball placement to third level of the defense.
If Hall takes over, he’s capable of managing the offense. The Vikings have explosive pass-catchers in WR Justin Jefferson (injured), TE T.J. Hockenson and WR Jordan Addison. So simply keeping the offense on schedule and avoiding turnovers will be keys, especially since he doesn’t stand out as a runner. — Jordan Reid
If it’s Hall, who is going to back him up?
All we can say at this point is that Hall finished Sunday’s game. O’Connell did not commit to anything beyond that, including whether Hall was certain to be the starter in Week 9.
One way or the other, the Vikings will have to add a third quarterback to ensure they can have normal practices. But the real question is whether the Vikings would sign someone — or acquire before Tuesday’s trade deadline — who would be a upgrade.
The Vikings, after all, are in the thick of the NFC wild-card playoff race and would be only one game out of the NFC North lead if the Detroit Lions lose Monday night to the Las Vegas Raiders. — Seifert
Which QBs might the Vikings consider picking up?
If the Vikings want to add a veteran to either start or back up Hall, they will have several free agent or trade options to evaluate — yet no clear-cut answers. Let’s start with free agents.
Carson Wentz has been working out in hopes of an opportunity, but his free-agency profile hasn’t heightened. Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl winner who played reasonably well in his last NFL stint, but he also hasn’t been a steady starter since 2019. Matt Ryan looks comfortable with television. If we’re talking fits, Colt McCoy makes sense. He spent three years with O’Connell in Washington and had a good rapport. Could be worth a call.
As far as the trade market, the Vikings’ approach will be fascinating because they aren’t exactly looking to acquire while immersed in a competitive rebuild. But they aren’t a clear candidate to trade players away, either. Sitting at 4-4, Minnesota can absolutely push for the playoffs and win the division. The Vikings have multiple fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2024, so perhaps they would be willing to part with one for a bridge quarterback.
The Commanders have received calls on Jacoby Brissett but have not, to this point, been inclined to trade him. Case Keenum is the third-stringer in Houston and has experience in O’Connell’s offense. He’d be the cheaper option of the two. Ryan Tannehill‘s ankle injury complicates matters with Tennessee, which might need him in the second half. It seems unlikely Minnesota spends big either way. — Jeremy Fowler
What does this mean for the Vikings at the trade deadline?
Separate from whether they acquire a quarterback, the Vikings have at least one highly marketable player who has generated trade-deadline interest. Pass-rusher Danielle Hunter recorded his 10th sack of the season Sunday, giving him two consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks. His contract will expire in March and the Vikings agreed as part of a summer restructuring not to use the franchise tag on him.
But if the Vikings are planning to give up on their season considering the Cousins injury, they were giving no indications on Sunday. Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have never allowed the team to go into an in-season rebuild mode during their 18-season tenure, and it’s hard to imagine them greenlighting one now given the Vikings’ favorable position in the NFC. — Seifert
Does losing Cousins affect Jefferson?
Jefferson must sit out a minimum of one more week before he is eligible to return from injured reserve, which he has been since Oct. 11 because of a hamstring injury. O’Connell said last week that “everything is progressing kind of along the schedule we had hoped,” but he has not specified if he thinks Jefferson will be ready to return as soon as he is eligible.
Jefferson and Cousins have started all but four games together since the start of the 2020 season, accounting for 354 of Jefferson’s 360 career catches. But at the moment, it’s unlikely the competitive repercussions of Cousins’ likely absence would prompt Jefferson to delay his return. As has been the case throughout his recovery, the Vikings will expect Jefferson back when all parties agree he is 100% healed. — Seifert
What does the injury mean for Cousins’ future?
The remaining years in Cousins’ contract will void next March, after the March 5 deadline for declaring franchise players, giving him a guaranteed trip to free agency if he wants it.
The Vikings’ plan was essentially to see how the season turned out, and how Cousins performed, before rendering any judgment on his future. From a performance standpoint, O’Connell said Sunday that Cousins has been having “maybe his best season as a pro.” As of Sunday evening, Cousins was tied for the NFL lead with 18 touchdown passes, ranked second with 2,331 passing yards and was No. 9 in Total QBR (64.4).
No one knows how the Vikings will react competitively to losing their starting quarterback, which would determine whether they are in position to select a top-tier quarterback in the 2024 draft. But the question has now shifted.
No longer will they ask themselves whether they should bring back a quarterback who is playing the best football of his life. Now, they will have to decide if it makes sense to bring back a quarterback who will turn 36 next August who is coming off the first major injury of his professional career. That juxtaposition alone suggests there is now less of a chance he will play next season in Minnesota than there was when Sunday began. — Seifert