GM: Vikings’ shortcomings in 2018 ‘not all on Kirk Cousins’

INDIANAPOLIS — Kirk Cousins’ 2018 season was record-setting from a statistical standpoint. The Minnesota Vikings signal-caller set an NFL high for completion percentage (70.13) among QBs who have thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions in a season.

But those numbers fail to tell the full story of a disappointing outcome for a loaded roster with Super Bowl expectations that stumbled to an 8-7-1 finish while missing the playoffs.

The fully guaranteed $84 million contract Cousins signed was the crown jewel of the 2018 free-agent quarterback market and opened him up to a new level of scrutiny.

But the burden of the lost season should not solely rest on Cousins’ shoulders, according to Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.

“Kirk has a position, and the contract is going to get a lot of blame, but the blame has to be spread throughout,” Spielman said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine.

“I think Kirk, if you look at it from a stats standpoint, he threw for over 4,000 yards and had 30 touchdowns. … We had two 1,000-yard receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs). We had Pro Bowlers. All that doesn’t mean anything. All that comes down to is how we win and lose football games. If he throws for 1 yard and we get into the playoffs, that’s all that matters. We had to go back and peel all the different layers off.

“Coach [Mike] Zimmer [says], ‘I don’t care what your stats are. It’s always going to come down to winning and losing ballgames.’ That’s the most important thing. You know, a lot of times when guys come into a new system and have a new coordinator, especially at that position, I think he did a very good job from a statistical standpoint. We just didn’t win enough games. And that’s not all on Kirk Cousins, either. There’s a lot of other reasons that we didn’t win games.”

As the Vikings continue to sort through what went wrong, Spielman expressed a level of excitement for the direction the franchise is headed — notably, what’s in store for Cousins in Year 2 with the Vikings.

“… With my history with UFAs, they usually start clicking pretty good going into the second year,” Spielman said. “And if you put them in a system that they’re pretty familiar with, it makes that transition that much easier. I can just give an example of back with Brett Favre, when he ran the same system in Green Bay forever, and then he went to New York that year, a totally different system, and probably didn’t have his most productive year as a pro. Then he ended up coming back to us and got back into a system that he was familiar with, and it made a huge difference. Those are the things you’ve got to look at.”

The Vikings made a slew of additions to their offensive staff over the past two months, including removing the “interim” from Kevin Stefanski’s title as offensive coordinator and hiring Gary Kubiak as assistant head coach/offensive adviser.

Though Spielman made clear that Stefanski is in charge of the offensive meeting rooms, Kubiak was brought in to impart his wisdom on Minnesota’s philosophy while guiding a young offensive coordinator. The Super Bowl-winning coach’s history of working with both Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle Shanahan, who coached Cousins in Washington, played no small role in the Vikings aggressively pursuing Kubiak once he decided to get back into coaching this offseason.

“It’s a big factor because, like I said, we’ve got a quarterback that we think is a very good quarterback, but to put him into that system that he’s played in his entire career is why we paid him the money we did,” Spielman said. “I don’t think anyone in the building has any doubt that he’s going to have an outstanding season next year.

“So, I think going back to an offense that he is very familiar with and working under that Shanahan/Kubiak tree and, really, him playing better. But everybody has to play better. We all have to do better at our jobs. But him highlighting what he does well, but that’s any player — do the things that they do well. And that’s what I talked about earlier, is you have your schemes, but adjust some of the things in your schemes so you put your players in the best position to have enough success.”

This week, the Vikings will get their first look at the crop of draft-eligible talent during workouts in Indianapolis. Though the outside perception is undoubtedly on improving the pieces around Cousins, particularly an offensive line that gave up a league-high 227 total pressures, Spielman noted that the new hires were brought in not only to aid Cousins but to help grow a unit that struggled in 2018.

“We’ll address everything in free agency and the draft,” Spielman said. “But since that’s [the offensive line] the bone of contention with everybody, there’s some things not only from maybe improving the personnel up front but also from a schematic standpoint, are there things that we can do to maybe help the offensive line be more efficient, as well. It goes hand in hand — the coaching, the scheme, can we do things differently to maybe help them, but also improving the personnel.”

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