When the Vikings started the 2023 NFL season with three straight losses, many wrote them off as a playoff contender. However, they managed to claw their way back into the playoff race thanks in part to a stellar performance by quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Then, Minnesota was presumed dead in the water again when Cousins suffered a torn Achilles in the team’s Week 8 win over the Packers. He was ruled out for the season, and questions about the free-agent-to-be’s future with the Vikings were raised.
At that point, many presumed that the Vikings would begin to decline. Instead, they have gone 2-0 thanks to strong performances from quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who the team acquired from the Cardinals ahead of the 2023 NFL trade deadline.
The impressive part of Dobbs’ success is that he had been with the Vikings only five days before leading them to a come-from-behind victory against the Falcons. His ability to pick up the offense quickly and star within it certainly will encourage head coach Kevin O’Connell; and now, there could be questions about Dobbs’ future as the 28-year-old prepares to hit free agency.
The Vikings were always prepared to face a major quarterback decision during the 2024 NFL offseason, and it will start with making a decision about the futures of both Cousins and Dobbs.
So, which of the players should the Vikings re-sign at quarterback? Here’s a breakdown of the case for each player and some of the other quarterback options the Vikings could have if they let them walk.
Vikings QB options 2024: Kirk Cousins
Cousins is set to be a free agent during the 2024 offseason and for the first time since he joined the Vikings in 2018, there seems to be uncertainty about whether he will return.
Even before Cousins got hurt, it looked like the Vikings were preparing to move on from the veteran quarterback. The team opted not to give him another contract extension ahead of the final year of his current deal; instead, they added four void years to his contract to lower his cap hit.
The Vikings can’t use the franchise tag on Cousins as a part of his restructured contract, so that guaranteed the veteran quarterback would be able to test free agency. It was expected he would be the best player available and could draw interest from quarterback-needy teams across the league with a team like the Falcons standing out as an option for him.
However, Cousins’ injury will complicate his free agency. There’s no guarantee that the 35-year-old quarterback will be healthy to start the 2024 season, so that may scare some potential suitors away from him, especially if they have other options available to them.
Should the Vikings be scared by that? Probably a bit, but given their familiarity with Cousins, they might be more OK with it than others.
After all, Cousins was on pace for a career year before his serious injury, as he had completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 2,331 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions even despite being without his top receiver, Justin Jefferson, for several weeks. It’s reasonable to expect that he would thrive again in O’Connell’s offense if healthy.
That said, the Vikings may be looking for a fresh start at quarterback anyway. They have been a good team with Cousins, but he hasn’t taken them on the kind of deep playoff run they hoped he would be able to lead; as such, they may choose to look for a younger player with a higher ceiling rather than trust a quarterback coming off an Achilles tear entering his age-36 season.
But perhaps if the price is right, Cousins and the Vikings could agree on a short-term deal that keeps him in Minnesota as he recovers from his Achilles tear. A one- or two-year pact could be in order if there isn’t as much interest in Cousins as anticipated.
Vikings QB options 2024: Joshua Dobbs
Strangely, Dobbs might be the better fit for Minnesota at quarterback. Cousins is the more talented player, but he also isn’t healthy, is in the final stretch of his career and would command a lucrative, long-term deal to continue playing for the Vikings.
Comparatively, Dobbs is just 28, is healthy and has demonstrated that, at a minimum, he can be a high-end backup quarterback in the NFL. If he continues to play well in the Vikings offense, then O’Connell and Co. may start to believe that he can be a rock-solid, game-managing starter.
In two games with the Vikings, Dobbs has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns. He also has run for 110 yards and two scores on 15 scrambles. His dual-threat ability has added a much-needed running element to the Vikings, as Minnesota has struggled to run the ball between the tackles, so that could factor into any decision to sign Dobbs.
It has to be noted that Dobbs’ strong performance has come in a tiny sample size. It’s possible that he could regress even as he becomes more comfortable within the Minnesota offense, so there’s no guarantee that the Vikings will want to sign him.
Still, Dobbs has shown well at times playing for the Titans, Cardinals and now, the Vikings over the last calendar year. Perhaps Minnesota will believe that he could continue to progress if he stays in one place longer term.
Even if he simply ends up being a mobile version of Ryan Fitzpatrick, that could be enough to turn the Vikings into a stable contender. Remember, this team once reached the NFC championship game with Case Keenum as its starting quarterback.
All that’s to say that Dobbs could end up being a nice, stopgap fit at quarterback for the Vikings. They could pair him with a young quarterback and try to develop him behind the scenes while compensating Dobbs at the rate of a Taylor Heinicke type; Heinicke is earning $7 million in average annual value.
Either way, Dobbs should end up being a cheaper option than Cousins. So, if the Vikings like Dobbs enough, they could choose to bring him back and then build up the rest of the team around him with their projected $51.7 million in cap space.
Vikings QB options 2024: The field
There’s also no guarantee that the Vikings will bring back either Cousins or Dobbs. The team could be happy to let them walk to receive compensatory draft picks in 2025. If that happens, the team will have to look elsewhere to find their quarterback of the future.
Below are some of the most notable quarterback options that the Vikings could pursue if they end up acquiring a new starting quarterback.
Michael Penix Jr.
The Vikings won’t be picking high enough to land Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but perhaps they could land a player like Penix. The Washington quarterback is a Heisman Trophy candidate who has been an elite passer with great arm strength and top-tier ball placement on his throws.
Penix has thrown for 3,533 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions through 10 games, all wins, while completing 68 percent of his passes. The lefty would give the Vikings plenty of upside at quarterback, though it’s worth wondering whether they will be in range to select him.
Nix, like Penix, has been one of the best college football quarterbacks during the 2023 season. The Oregon product has completed 77.7 percent of his passes for 3,135 yards, 29 touchdowns and just two interceptions while leading the Ducks to a top-10 ranking.
Nix has good mobility and plenty of college starting experience, as he began his career as a freshman starter at Auburn. His productivity should translate to the next level and he could end up being a higher-ceiling version of Dobbs given that he is just 23 years old.
Daniels has been rising quickly ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft. The LSU product is a dynamic scrambler who has some Lamar Jackson-type abilities in his arsenal. He also has been excellent through the air, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,164 yards, 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. On the ground, he has 918 yards and eight touchdowns on 118 carries.
Daniels may end up being a top-10 pick but if the Vikings like his skills enough, they would have a better shot at trading up to get him than some of the other top quarterback prospects. But like the others on this list, Daniels would fit what the Vikings are looking for and would raise the ceiling of the team considerably.
McCarthy is an interesting projection. He clearly has the talent needed to be a quality NFL quarterback, but he has been held back a bit by a run-dominant Michigan offense. Still, he is getting first-round — and top-10 — buzz, so he would be in the mix for the Vikings if they pass on re-signing Cousins and Dobbs.
McCarthy has completed 76.2 percent of his passes for 2,194 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
Jones may not look like the most desirable quarterback option at this time, but O’Connell may be willing to take a chance on the 2021 first-round pick if he thinks Jones can regain the solid form he displayed during his rookie season.
As it stands, the Patriots seem likely to move on from Jones during the 2024 offseason. The quarterback has struggled during what was supposed to be a potential bounce-back third season, but instead, he has frequently turned the ball over while being benched multiple times for Bailey Zappe.
Jones certainly hasn’t been good this year, but it’s fair to wonder if the Patriots broke him. Bill Belichick paired him with Matt Patricia as the de facto offensive coordinator in 2022 before surrounding him with porous blocking and no receiver talent in Year 3. So, it’s not necessarily a surprise that Jones hasn’t made the most of his time with the Patriots.
Perhaps with better blocking in Minnesota and weapons like Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison, Jones could find more success at the NFL level. Even if not, the Vikings wouldn’t have to give up much to get him. So, if they got Jones to pair with a young quarterback or acquired him as an upside option alongside Dobbs or Cousins, that could ultimately pan out.
Again, this isn’t a sexy move, but the Vikings may be the type of team that. can get the most of Jones’ game-manager skill set.
There are plenty of free agents that the Vikings could sign to provide depth at the quarterback position even outside of Dobbs and Cousins. However, among them, only Mayfield looks like a potential playoff starter.
Mayfield is enjoying one of the best years of his career with the Buccaneers. He has worked hard with offensive coordinator Dave Canales — who got Geno Smtih to the Pro Bowl in 2022 — to improve his accuracy and cut down on his turnovers.
Overall, Mayfield has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,143 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2023. That has helped the Buccaneers achieve a record of 4-5 past the midpoint of the season.
Mayfield might not want to leave Canales and Tampa Bay, but the opportunity to play with Jefferson and Addison may prove too much for him to ignore.
All that said, the Vikings are still most likely to try to re-sign one of Dobbs or Cousins while adding a rookie quarterback to the fold. Soon enough, we’ll find out what their direction will be and whether Dobbs will continue to play well enough to warrant consideration as a full-year starter.