Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have done a lot right. Next: finding Justin Jefferson a QB for 2024
Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have done a lot right. Next: finding Justin Jefferson a QB for 2024

Published Dec. 29, 2023 8:00 a.m. ET

The Minnesota Vikings' plan for a "competitive rebuild" would have worked this year… if it wasn't for those meddling injuries. 

Between a former quarterback at head coach, one of the best receivers in football among myriad other skill players and a revamped defense with a fear-instilling reputation, the Vikings are just one question away from being a scary team.

Unfortunately for them, it's the biggest question a team can have: who's the quarterback?

Kirk Cousins was playing some of the best ball of his career before an Achilles rupture ended his season prematurely. It was before Minnesota's defense put it all together, too. Cousins is set to be a free agent in 2024, coming off that Achilles tear and on the wrong side of 35. It isn't likely the veteran will be fully ready to start the 2024 season, no matter what Aaron Rodgers says. 


It is likely, however, that he will come at a discount as a result.

Minnesota couldn't make a clean break from Cousins even if they wanted to, anyway. Cousins had void years built into his previous contract that the Vikings kicked down the road. The end of the line is now coming up and Cousins is currently scheduled for a $28.5 million cap hit in 2024, according to Spotrac. That's a lot of dead money for someone not on the team. 

The Vikings could instead negotiate an extension to spread more of that money out over the next few years while retaining a veteran who could return to form — or Cousins could become an Alex Smith-esque mentor for the next franchise quarterback in Minnesota.

The Vikings have every incentive to solve this issue early, too. Because of the elegance of their rebuild, if they get decent quarterback play, they're ready to win now. They need someone to come in and hit the ground running. 

Vikings' Justin Jefferson, 49ers' Brock Purdy and more help those in need this holiday season

But whatever quarterback they get can't be expensive, either. Minnesota is estimated to have a little less than $35 million in cap space next year. They also have to extend their best player — superstar receiver Justin Jefferson.

There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the season about getting Jefferson a new contract. He's still on his rookie deal, costing the team just $4.17 million in 2023. That number goes up next year, which Jefferson is set to play on his fifth-year option of $19.7 million, but that's still well below market value for a receiver of Jefferson's caliber. 

Spotrac has his market value listed at $28.2 million — and that's probably conservative. By waiting to get a deal done, Minnesota hasn't done themselves any favors. Jefferson will likely want north of $30 million after 28-year-old Tyreek Hill signed a four-year, $120 million contract in 2022. Jefferson is five years younger and already has an Offensive Player of the Year award under his belt. 

Jefferson isn't the only productive player the Vikings should pay, either. Outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, who currently has a career-high 15.5 sacks this season, is set to be a free agent in 2024. He renegotiated his deal prior to the 2023 season and is only on a one-year, $17 million contract. Hunter has been instrumental in all the pressure defensive coordinator Brian Flores' system gets and parting ways with Hunter would set the unit back. 

Linebacker Jordan Hicks is also set to be a free agent and has been a key part of the defense. So much responsibility is given to the players via Flores in this system and Hicks bears the brunt of it. 

This is all to say the contending window is open for Minnesota, but not for long and not by much. They have a lot of decisions to make that could limit what they spend on a quarterback. The Vikings likely also won't be in position to draft an immediate starter after reaching seven wins. In the NFC, that still leaves them in the playoff hunt. It also means a draft pick somewhere in the convoluted middle of the first round. 

Minnesota also took a shot on a quarterback last year, Jaren Hall in the fifth round, to see if they could find a diamond in the rough. We haven't seen much of Hall so far, though he'll start in Week 17 as the team tries to get a more thorough look at him. Backup Nick Mullens couldn't keep the team afloat for long, having dropped the last two games and throwing four picks in their loss to the Lions this past Sunday.

Even before Cousins went down, there was always going to be a quarterback decision coming for the Vikings in 2024. Their fallback hasn't changed: it's Cousins. And they may have just built a good enough team that Cousins could be enough. It would certainly be the path of least resistance. 

But Minnesota's window could close more quickly than they want it to. It all hinges on being able to retain the talent they have, like Jefferson, but not at the expense of equipping them with the pieces to use that talent. 

It's quite the puzzle to figure out and the result will likely define general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's tenure in Minnesota. 

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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