Considering what’s next for the Minnesota Vikings is a disorienting undertaking. Following quarterback Kirk Cousins’ torn right Achilles tendon, which was confirmed Monday by the team and is expected to cost him the rest of the 2023 season, there are a considerable number of questions.
There are questions about the future. About what the injury means for the team’s long-term plan at quarterback, especially with Cousins’ contract set to void next March.
And there are questions about the present. About how this Vikings team, sitting at 4-4 and squarely in the NFC playoff picture, will move forward.
There are few obvious answers, but the questions are worth asking. This one, specifically: Come Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons, who will be under center?
“We’re going to talk about that,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said Sunday night. “We’ll talk internally, getting a lot of opinions and thoughts on where we’re at.”
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The list of potential options begins with rookie quarterback Jaren Hall, 25, who replaced Cousins on Sunday against the Packers. The Vikings drafted the BYU product in the fifth round last spring. At the time of the selection, the team’s brass lauded Hall’s athleticism and maturity. He displayed both qualities throughout training camp and at Lambeau Field on Sunday. He commanded the huddle. He orchestrated the correct cadences. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 23 yards … but also fumbled near the Vikings’ goal line.
“I did think Jaren did a nice job,” O’Connell said. “It’s not easy to come in cold — legitimately cold — and get a couple of completions there.”
Given O’Connell’s background as a former NFL quarterback and quarterback coach in the private sector, he is calculated when it comes to QB development. He understands the complexity that comes with playing the position at the highest level. He and the Vikings believe strongly in Hall’s trajectory. But does it behoove that trajectory to throw Hall into action at this juncture? Originally, Minnesota planned to have him learn from inside the quarterback room as the third-stringer behind Cousins and 28-year-old Nick Mullens.
That brings us to another potential option. Mullens, who began this season as Cousins’ backup, is on injured reserve due to a back injury. He is eligible to return, if health permits, following the Week 9 matchup against the Falcons. Mullens started 17 NFL games from 2018 to 2021, going 5-12 and throwing 25 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in those games. At 4-4, and feeling like they have a chance to push the Detroit Lions in the NFC North race, is Mullens the best option?
“I think we’ve got to take a look at potentially all the options,” O’Connell said, “including building the best possible group around Jaren. We’re going to continue to build a complete offense based around a lot more than just the quarterback.”
But who, beyond those internal options, might make sense? Here are seven other potential quarterbacks they could pursue:
The obvious hurdle here is Tannehill’s price tag. He entered the season with a base salary of $27 million. That’s $1.5 million per week. In other words, if a team were to acquire him, they’d be on the hook for $15 million. That is unless the Titans would be willing to eat a large portion of his salary.
The Vikings staff has a good relationship with the Titans, and Tennessee proved it was open for business by moving safety Kevin Byard to the Eagles. Add in Will Levis’ impressive debut Sunday against the Falcons, and Tannehill makes sense. The 35-year-old may not be as mobile as he once was, but he has won multiple playoff games.
Even if the Vikings decide to roll with Mullens for the long haul, they’ll need a quarterback for this week. Hall is on the roster, and 31-year-old veteran Sean Mannion is on the practice squad. Another arm is necessary. Wolford, 28, is a sensible option. He spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons with O’Connell in Los Angeles and started three games last season for the Rams. He is on the Buccaneers’ practice squad, meaning the Vikings could pluck him with ease.
With the help of former teammates Brandon Powell, Cam Akers and Johnny Mundt, Wolford could do a crash course in the Minnesota offense, then start Sunday against the Falcons. His overall experience would prevent Minnesota from having to throw Hall into the fire too early.
McCoy, too, is familiar with O’Connell and his scheme having spent a ton of time with the coach from 2017 to 2019. McCoy played quarterback for Washington at the time, while O’Connell rose the ranks from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. They are close. McCoy also knows Cousins well from their shared time in Washington. It’s just a matter of whether or not the Vikings view the 37-year-old veteran as a worthwhile upgrade on Mullens.
McCoy has started 36 NFL games, going 11-25. In 56 games played, he has thrown 34 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. Mullens has nearly a season and a half of experience in the current iteration of O’Connell’s offense. He knows the language. He has a rapport with the team’s skill players. At the very least, McCoy is a trusty option who worked out with the team three weeks ago.
Only two names on this list have started a game this season in the NFL. Tannehill is one, and Dalton is the other. He faced off against the Seahawks in late September and completed 34 of 58 passes for 361 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Dalton, 36, is well versed in numerous systems, and Thomas Brown, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, comes from the McVay tree and worked with O’Connell in Los Angeles. Mobility is not Dalton’s strong suit, but if the Vikings see value in a quarterback who has started more than 150 NFL games, he would be a solid answer.
Wouldn’t this be something? This man needs no introduction in Minnesota. The Vikings needed a quarterback to step up in 2017 after Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury. They turned to a trusty backup named Case Keenum. It worked out OK. He led Minnesota to an 11-3 record, threw for more than 3,000 yards and tallied 22 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. It was, dare I say, a miracle.
Keenum is older now — 35, to be exact. But like McCoy, he knows O’Connell well. He started eight games for Washington in 2019, throwing for 11 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He is currently in Houston as the third-string quarterback behind rookie C.J. Stroud. Acquiring him might be a bit tricky, but it would make for an incredible reunion tale.
Foles transferred from Michigan State in college, which paved a path for Cousins to become the Spartans’ starter. It would certainly be something if Foles were to return to football to fill in for Cousins all these years later.
The 34-year-old Super Bowl champion, who beat the Vikings in the 2018 NFC Championship Game, is a free agent. He played in three games last season for the Indianapolis Colts and threw zero touchdown passes and four interceptions. He has not spent much time in the NFL working in Sean McVay’s coaching tree, so his acclimation to the offensive language in O’Connell’s scheme might take some time. Still, this would be a bet on experience and pedigree.
Has a quarterback ever interviewed a coach for a TV broadcast and then played for that coach during the same season? Ryan called the Vikings’ season opener against the Bucs for CBS. He spoke highly of O’Connell on the broadcast. Whether the 38-year-old would be willing to leave the booth is the major sticking point here.
Ryan would operate an offense rhythmically. His body of work would ease any concerns over snap counts or clock management. He also has the type of acumen that aligns with how O’Connell has managed recent games, working to ensure the Vikings are in the optimal play at the correct time. His mobility might be lacking, but Ryan threw for 3,000 yards last season with the Colts.
Give him the Vikings’ skill players, especially with Justin Jefferson set to return in a couple of weeks, and who’s to say the opportunity isn’t enticing enough to bring Ryan back for one last go-round?
(Photo of Ryan Tannehill: Michael Hickey / Getty Images)
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