‘Built to last’: In 10th year, Cousins relishes durability

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — When his assumed replacement was drafted this spring, Kirk Cousins found himself facing a likely end date for his time with the Minnesota Vikings.

Being finished playing football will probably be a different story. Even though he’s entering his 10th year in the NFL, in some ways Cousins is just getting going.

“The more I play, the more I realize this position is really built to last in how they’re protecting the quarterback, the league rules are. If you play smart, you don’t try to be a hero and get hit all the time but you step out of bounds and you get rid of the football and you get down, I think you can prolong your career quite a bit,” Cousins said Wednesday, before the team’s first full practice of training camp.

“With the advances in the nutrition and the staff support we have and just the medical care, I just see that there’s really no reason that you can’t play a long, long time, and there’s no reason to think that you can’t still throw the ball as well at 38 as you did at 24.”

Cousins will turn 33 next month, as he approaches his fourth season with the Vikings. His contract, carrying salary cap hits of $31 million this year and $45 million next year, all but ties him to the team through 2022. After that, there’s no guarantee, particularly after the Vikings picked Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond with their first of four third-round selections this spring.

So while his ceiling and value continue to be debated in the echo chambers of sports talk and social media, Cousins sure doesn’t appear headed for any physical regression. He has never missed a game for injury, after all. Though many of them boast a much longer list of accomplishments, Cousins can point to fellow quarterbacks from Tom Brady on down the experience ladder as yet more evidence he’s nowhere near aging himself out of a job.

“The position is so mental. The coverages, the blitzes, the making good decisions is really everything,” Cousins said. “The longer you play, you’re just going to get better and better and better, so I think I’ll be a much better quarterback at 38 than at 28.”

According to SportRadar data, only 12 active quarterbacks in the NFL have started more games than Cousins: Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr. Cousins (104 starts) has a longer tenure in the league by two years over Tannehill and Carr, but he didn’t become a full-time starter until 2015.

Cousins, who finished with a career-high 35 touchdown passes in 2020 after a concerning early spate of turnovers, continued his offseason training focus this year on trying to iron out any aches and pains in his joints with his personal trainer and maintaining a high level of cardiovascular conditioning with tennis and other activities.

“I just want to make sure I come back in great shape but also that I correct any lingering issues from previous wear and tear,” Cousins said.

His record with the Vikings is 25-21-1, not what he or the team envisioned when he first signed with the team in 2018 for a fully guaranteed $84 million. He’s repeatedly shown limitations under heavy pressure, and he’s probably not going to become a creator outside the pocket when the play breaks down. His accuracy — plus that aforementioned durability — has never been an issue, though.

This year he’ll have a wiser Justin Jefferson with the benefit of a full offseason, to form a potent duo with Adam Thielen. The Vikings just signed Dede Westbrook, too, to provide a potentially more viable No. 3 wide receiver.

“I like Kirk. As soon as I signed he shot me a text message, and I thought it was crazy because obviously Kirk has been in the league for a while. I’ve been watching him for a minute now,” said Westbrook, who spent the last four years with Jacksonville and is coming off a season shortened by an ACL injury. “Obviously, for me to get that text message saying, ‘Hey, it’s Kirk Cousins,’ he’s excited to work with me, heart kind of dropped. I’m excited to be out there with him too, building that chemistry up.”

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