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Minnesota Vikings

Is Kirk Cousins fit for John DeFilippo’s offense?

Kyle Crabbs

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Dec 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before the game between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have made what may be one of the most underrated hires of the 2018 coaching cycle when they brought Philadelphia Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo on staff to be their new offensive coordinator. DeFilippo has called the NFL home since the year 2005 when he was an offensive quality control coach with the New York Giants. In the years since DeFilippo spent two years at San Jose State as an offensive coordinator before cutting his teeth as an NFL play-caller with the Cleveland Browns in 2015.

DeFilippo was not retained after his one and only season calling plays with the Browns, but he is a much hotter name this second go around thanks to some spectacular work with Eagles franchise QB Carson Wentz and career journeyman Nick Foles.

The Vikings are set to undergo drastic change at the quarterback position, which will give DeFilippo the opportunity to give some input on the direction the franchise chooses to go at quarterback.

With 2017 starter Case Keenum, veteran Sam Bradford and 2014 draft selection Teddy Bridgewater all hitting the open market this year, the Vikings can take the input of DeFilippo to heart and build out their offense as desired.

But the Vikings are slated to pick 30th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, so landing one of the top rookies, such as Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold or others, is looking quite grim. Instead, this Vikings program, with over $48 million available in cap space, figure to be players on the free agent market.

Which of the available free agents would be the best investment for coach John DeFilippo and the Minnesota Vikings? There is no shortage of candidates.

DeFilippo has impressed with his acumen in the Xs and Os of football, something he was able to showcase when interviewed by Ike Reese earlier this season. In this video, DeFilippo goes in depth to discuss how much he enjoys red zone passing concepts.

The name most frequently attached to the Vikings right now is former Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins, who is poised to land the biggest free agent contract in league history.

But DeFilippo’s passion for red zone efficiency may temper his excitement to throw money at the Redskins signal-caller. Cousins has not been a player who has consistently yielded red zone efficiency during his extended tenure as the starter in Washington.

In 2017, Cousins finished tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions in the red zone (behind abysmal rookie QB Deshone Kizer’s 6) and had the worst completion percentage (34.6 percent) of the 20 QBs with 25 or more pass attempts inside the 10-yard line this past season.

In 2016, Cousins’ completion percentage inside the 10-yard line was just 35.7 percent, which was second worst of 25 QBs with more than 25 pass attempts. In all, Cousins has logged 15 passing TDs inside the 10 in the past two years, one less than the figure he posted in 2015 alone.

Are there other variables at play here, such as the status of Washington’s skill players and the play calling around him? Of course. But it does bear noting that there is a discrepancy between a key variable of the game for DeFilippo and the strengths and weaknesses illustrated by Cousins in the past two seasons. Is there enough else there in other places to warrant the richest contract in NFL history? There just may be and here’s why.

DeFilippo and the Eagles found success by tailoring the offense to what their players are best at. It’s a simple concept, but the marriage of Cousins and the Vikings big-play receivers is an enticing one.

Cousins was the third-best rated passer in the NFL on 20-plus yard attempts in 2017 (106.4 QB rating), and his ability to push the ball would mesh quite well with the speed of Stefon Diggs and the smooth route running of Adam Thielen.

As a matter of fact, Thielen was Pro Football Focus’ best downfield threat as recently as 2016, where he was credited with catching over 70-plus of his 20-plus yard targets and tallying over 500 yards on those plays.

The opportunity for DeFilippo to pair a potent downfield passer with potent receivers on the boundary, plus TE Kyle Rudolph in the middle of the field, may be too good of an opportunity to pass up. Rudolph hasn’t had a lot of chunk plays throughout his career, but his presence in the middle would be welcomed after seeing the Eagles make the most of a monstrous TE group in 2017.

As a matter of fact, if the Vikings are dead set on throwing money at Cousins to make a big push for their first Lombardi Trophy, why not tap into the Eagles pipeline some more and peg free agent TE Trey Burton to mesh with these explosive boundary receivers and serve as Cousins’ reincarnation of Jordan Reed as an athletic target in the intermediate areas of the field?

The Vikings are close, the addition of a starting QB capable of making the most of the skill set of his top targets would be quite the marriage, especially with such a gifted play caller at the helm.

One additional sleeper for the Vikings as a cheap option to come in as a veteran back-up? Josh McCown. Most recently with the Jets, McCown and DeFilippo were paired together in 2015 with the Browns, where McCown had one of the best seasons of his career.

Although he only started eight games (going 1-7 in those contests), McCown was responsible for 12 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions, while throwing for over 2,100 yards during that stretch. McCown will be 39 years of age next year and is coming off a successful showing with the Jets. The reunion of McCown as a short-term back-up makes quite a good deal of sense for Minnesota, considering the turnover expected in the teams’ quarterback room in 2018.

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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