Vikings add elusive final puzzle piece in Cousins

The Minnesota Vikings reportedly acquired the final missing piece to their puzzle Tuesday when they agreed to terms with quarterback Kirk Cousins on a fully guaranteed three-year, $86-million deal.

Minnesota was long expected to be his final destination. The fit for both player and team made too much sense.

Cousins will join a roster built to win now. He'll be protected by a solid offensive line that allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in 2017, and his weapons will include 2017 draft pick Dalvin Cook, rising star Stefon Diggs, and second-team All-Pro Adam Thielen. Finally, he'll be backed by the NFL's No. 1 defense.

For Cousins, who said he'd prioritize winning over money in free agency, the decision was likely easy. The Vikings own the most direct path to team success of all the QB-needy teams. General manager Rick Spielman tediously assembled a roster that came within a game of playing in February's Super Bowl.

Their decisive 38-7 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game is as appropriate an example as any of how a steady pair of hands at quarterback can make the difference between a trip to the Super Bowl and a disappointing end to the season.

In that game, Nick Foles went 26-for-33 for 352 yards and three passing scores while his counterpart, Case Keenum, was made uncomfortable in the pocket all game and finished 28-for-48 for 271 yards, one touchdown, and two picks, including an ill-timed pick-6 that changed the tide in the game.

By signing Cousins, the Vikings erase their final question mark.

Since Brett Favre's final season with the team in 2010, the quarterback position has been in flux. Minnesota has trotted out the likes of Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Shaun Hill, Sam Bradford, and Case Keenum to results varying from disappointing to surprising.

Keenum impressed in 2017 after he was elevated from a backup role to starter in Week 2. And while he earned himself a major payday and a starting position elsewhere, Cousins assures there will no longer be uncertainty under center.

The Washington Redskins weren't convinced the three-year starter was the answer at quarterback. The Vikings will have no such questions. They watched from afar as Cousins elevated the play of an average team.

He threw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his last three seasons, recording a touchdown-to-interception ratio of more than 2:1 in every one of those years. Since 2015, Cousins' completion percentage is the NFL's third-highest, and his Total QBR is seventh. The Vikings would be thrilled to have such consistent quarterback play.

For a team whose options were less-heralded free agents than Cousins, finding a trade partner, picking from the remains of this year's rookie class, and reverting back to Keenum, Bridgewater, or Bradford, handing Cousins $28 million per season was an easy compromise.

Championship windows aren't open long in the NFL. Just look at the Seattle Seahawks, who appear to be blowing up their roster after a seven-year run. If the Vikings are going to continue to chase the Lombardi Trophy with their current pieces, they needed to find the central piece to finish the puzzle.

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