The New York Jets pursuit for free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins took a grim turn on Tuesday, one day before the official start of the NFL’s free agency period.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Minnesota Vikings are “in the driver’s seat” for Cousins’ signature and have offered him a three-year, $84 million deal. The 29-year-old former Washington passer will visit the Vikings first and if things go well, Rapoport noted that he will “likely” sign there.
It’s not as much as what the Jets were willing to offer Cousins. With an estimated $100 million in cap space this offseason, the Jets were willing to give Cousins a contract in which he would be given $60 million in his first year alone. That shatters the average annual value of $28 million the Vikings are offering.
But Minnesota has much more to offer in terms of its on-field product.
The Vikings are coming off an NFC Championship Game appearance with perennial backup Case Keenum as its starting quarterback after injuries sidelined Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.
Holding the league’s top defense ensured that an abundance of pressure was not put on the Vikings offense, though it holds explosive threats in wide receivers Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs along with young running back Dalvin Cook, whose sterling rookie campaign was cut short due to injury.
It’s head and shoulders above what the Jets have to offer as a rebuilding team that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath is just starting to piece together some promising assets after a surprisingly good 5-11 season.
“Surprisingly good” and “5-11” should rarely be in a sentence but given the talent the Jets rolled out on the field in 2017, head coach Todd Bowles worked miracles with journeyman quarterback Josh McCown, a rag-tag running-back corps and no-name wide receivers.
With the possible loss of leading receiver Robby Anderson due to off-field issues, the Jets have money to acquire some big-time upgrades on offense to coax Cousins to the Meadowlands. But the prospective “what if’s” of a franchise that has been stuck in neutral for the past 49 years is just not that attractive.
So what do the Jets do now?
According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, the former Viking Bridgewater, who is now a free agent, will be the Jets’ priority.
Knee injuries have kept Bridgewater on the sidelines for much of the past two years as he’s appeared in just one game since the end of the 2015 season.
That 2015 season was considered the 25-year-old’s coming out party as he passed for 3,231 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions while going 11-5 as the starter. The performance earned him his first-ever Pro Bowl selection with the feeling that he would be the team’s quarterback of the future.
Instead, Bridgewater could only sit on the sidelines as Keenum led the Vikings to a game of Super Bowl LII.
There is likely to be plenty of rust in Bridgewater’s game should he be given the keys to the Jets offense in 2018, meaning New York could bring back McCown to back him up.
At 38 years old, McCown put together a career season with the Jets, completing 67.3-percent of his passes for 2,926 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions in that no-talent offense.
So if Bridgewater were to struggle or if he encountered injury issues once again, there would be confidence that McCown could step in and produce.
Granted, a combination of Bridgewater and McCown could be a temporary solution for the Jets, who could possibly draft a highly-touted quarterback with the No. 6 pick of this year’s draft.
With an abundance of promising arms slated to go in the first round in the form of USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the Jets will likely be able to select a passer with their top-10 pick.
But all the dominoes will start falling once Cousins puts pen to paper.