Outside of one victory over a quite literally winless Carolina Panthers team, the Minnesota Vikings have nothing to smile about in 2023. The start to the season has been an unmitigated disaster for Kevin O'Connell's men, and things have gone from bad to worse in light of a multi-week injury to superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
The man at the center of it all, Kirk Cousins, has been doing his best to keep the team afloat with a flawed supporting cast. Beyond Justin Jefferson and tight end T.J. Hockensen, there isn't much help for him in the passing game, while the defense is safely in the bottom half of the NFL.
Alexander Mattison has never had a rushing success rate at 50 percent in his career, and now that Dalvin Cook is gone, that hasn't changed with him as a starter. Though Cousins has a QB Rating above 100 and only four interceptions to 13 touchdowns, the Vikings are a dismal 1-4.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that a mutual break-up does not appear to be in the cards. Kevin O'Connell still has faith in Cousins, while Cousins has no interest in leaving the franchise or waiving his no-trade clause. However, Schefter leaves the door open for a "perfect storm" to cause Cousins to depart Minnesota.
NFL Rumors: Kirk Cousins won't OK Vikings trade, at least not yet
It makes sense for O'Connell to want to stick with Cousins despite his flaws as a quarterback and the Vikings' poor start to the season. If he lacks faith in anyone, then it should be in the wide receivers behind Jefferson, the new starting running back, and a defense that seems to be a far cry from the dominant unit of seasons past.
However, if the Vikings are bad enough, they may try to cash in their chips for Cousins and start fresh as a franchise with a quarterback in the draft who has higher upside. It's a risky strategy and involves the ownership committing to the current GM/coach tandem with a rebuild, but it may be the strategy they go with if things get dire.
And they could get dire. The Vikings are 1-4 and with just a couple of more losses, they would be effectively eliminated from playoff contention. Jefferson is the skill position player effectively carrying the load to support Cousins, and he's out for several weeks. The Vikings could conceivably lose all of those games, because he alone accounts for 114 yards per game.
So if the Vikings are bad enough, Cousins could try to force a trade before the Oct. 31 deadline, joining a team with more potential in 2023. If the supporting cast is strong enough, Cousins may be willing to part ways with Jefferson and his current receivers, which Schefter did note is something that he is wary about - having that chemistry is important to him.
But with struggling teams, anything is possible. If the Vikings turn it around, which is entirely possible, then the trade rumors become moot. However, if Jefferson's absence leads to a further slide, that "perfect storm" could cause the hinges to creak, busting down the door leading to full-blown trade discussions and the break-up of a marriage that, quite frankly, nobody was banking on lasting.