Another offseason, another round of trade chatter regarding the future of Kirk Cousins. It feels like this is an annual offseason occurrence at this point, but this time it may actually have some traction to it.
Cousins’ trade talks have frequently been linked to the San Francisco 49ers, which has been due to his connections with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. Cousins and Shanahan worked together early in his then-Washington Redskins tenure, and Shanahan is well known to have an admiration for Cousins and his playing style. A reunion in San Francisco was discussed frequently in 2017 while Cousins was on the franchise tag in Washington. However, when the 49ers opted to trade for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo instead of Cousins, those talks ended- for a while.
Talks about a Cousins-to-49ers deal resurfaced in early 2021 when Garoppolo was coming off of his second season-ending injury in three seasons. However, they once again ended when the 49ers opted to mortgage their future to move up for North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, a move that has largely seemed to backfire. The 49ers planned to sit Lance his rookie season and have Garoppolo start, but Lance had to start two games when Garoppolo got hurt. Although he looked raw during those two starts, Lance was slated to be the team’s full-time starter this past season. However, Lance’s season ended in Week 2 when he suffered a broken fibula along with ligament damage to his ankle.
The Cousins trade talks have resurfaced again this offseason, but this time, as mentioned earlier, there is real traction to these talks.
The 49ers currently have a quarterback dilemma on their hands. Although seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy impressed the team enough that they were going to name him the starter for next season, he suffered a torn UCL (aka a tear of the throwing ligament in his elbow) in the NFC Championship Game. His injury requires Tommy John Surgery, and he is now going to miss all of 2023 as a result. This surgery, which is more commonly performed on baseball pitchers, requires a complete reconstruction of the UCL and usually puts pitchers and quarterbacks out for 12-18 months.
It’s not just Purdy’s injury, though. Garoppolo, coming off a broken foot suffered in early December, is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Per Shanahan and general manager John Lynch, Garoppolo will not be coming back to San Francisco in 2023. It’s entirely possible to say that the team will probably just roll with Lance as the starter, but he could actually be hurting a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Let’s face reality when it comes to Lance: his experience, or lack thereof, was not going to get San Francisco to the NFC Championship this season. If anything, his inexperience would have likely held the team back. He is too raw of a player, and his playing style does not fit the Shanahan scheme.
The Shanahan scheme is where Cousins comes into play, and let’s now deep dive into a possible trade of Cousins to the 49ers and what it would mean for the Vikings.
Could the Vikings and 49ers pull off a Cousins-for-Lance swap?
As we know, Cousins would be an ideal fit in San Francisco, as the Shanahan offense does not require the quarterback to do much. All Cousins would need to do is, similar to Garoppolo and Purdy, get the ball to the team’s elite playmakers such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle. It’s an ideal situation for a quarterback such as Cousins, who needs the right coaching and offensive pieces around him to win.
As mentioned earlier, Shanahan’s admiration of Cousins is no secret. This is where Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could use that to his advantage.
When he first took the Vikings general manager position in 2022, Adofo-Mensah called this season a “competitive rebuild,” understanding that the Vikings needed to squeeze the most out of their aging veteran core while slowly pivoting to a youth movement. This youth movement is where a Cousins to San Francisco trade could help the Vikings out.
The Vikings would need a quarterback if they decide to move Cousins, and San Francisco does not have a first-round pick this offseason (it was traded to the Dolphins as part of the Lance deal). It’s entirely possible that Adofo-Mensah presents the 49ers with a chance to take a mulligan on their Lance gamble, and offers them Cousins in exchange for Lance, who is from Minnesota and (presumably) grew up a Vikings fan. Given the rumors that a Lance trade would only cost a third round pick, the Vikings dealing Cousins to bring Lance home would be a steal for San Francisco.
A Cousins-for-Lance swap could also make sense for the Vikings. As mentioned earlier, the Vikings are pivoting towards a youth movement, and this is evidenced by rumors that the team will likely part ways with several high priced veterans this offseason. Trading for Lance would enable second year head coach Kevin O’Connell to groom his quarterback of the future, and build an offense centered around the following four pieces: Lance, receiver Justin Jefferson, left tackle Christian Darrisaw, and tight end T.J. Hockenson. Not only that, but the three years remaining on Lance’s rookie deal would enable the Vikings to pay other players such as Jefferson and Hockenson, both of whom are due for extensions this offseason.
A trio of Jefferson, Darrisaw, and Hockenson would essentially be the Vikings’ version of the trio of Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, and George Kittle. A trade for Lance would, as mentioned earlier, essentially enable O’Connell to create his own version of the 49ers offense, and it would likely be just as dynamic given the caliber of those three players.
A Cousins-for-Lance deal would work out well for both the Vikings and the 49ers. If you’re San Francisco, you need a veteran quarterback to help maximize the win-now mode this team is currently in. If you’re the Vikings, you need a young quarterback to help pivot to the youth movement that Adofo-Mensah has referenced. This possible trade could end up being really good for both sides. The Vikings, right now, are not in a win-now mode like the 49ers are. This roster, unlike San Francisco’s, needs a lot of work (especially on defense), and is not ready to win right away. This could actually provide a great opportunity to help Lance grow as a player, instead of throwing him into a win-now roster that could see his inexperience hold the team back.
If you’re the Vikings general manager, do you explore the possibility of actually moving Cousins to the 49ers in exchange for Lance? It would be a very intriguing fit for both quarterbacks on both teams.