While Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer noted the ups and downs with Cousins in 2018, the focus shifted away from what didn’t go right to how big of a jump they expect him to make this season.
And that’s not just an expectation either believe is specific to Cousins. Both Spielman and Zimmer discussed the transition period for players they’ve acquired through unrestricted free agency and how the first-year learning curve often sets up success for Year 2.
“I think he had a good year,” Zimmer said. “I think because he signed the big contract, everybody’s on his rear end about that and we didn’t win enough games. Same with me, I guess. But the big thing is, every free agent I’ve had in my 25 or 26 years, however many years I’ve been coaching, they’ve always played better the second year.
“They have to learn where everything is. They have to find a place to live. You can go through our free agents: Captain Munnerlyn, when he was with us, his second year. Linval Joseph, second year. All these guys, typically, they don’t know anybody, they don’t know where their locker is, all this stuff. You throw that in with new terminology, whatever. I think he’s going to play great.”
Spielman, who removed the interim tag from offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and hired Gary Kubiak as an assistant head coach/offensive adviser this offseason, concurred.
“Going into his second year and with my history with UFAs, they usually start clicking pretty good going into the second year,” Spielman said. “And if you put them in a system that they’re pretty familiar with, it makes that transition that much easier.
“I can just give an example with Brett Favre, when he ran the same system in Green Bay forever and then he went to New York that year, a totally different system, and probably didn’t have his most productive year as a pro. Then he ended up coming back to us and got back into a system that he was familiar with and it made a huge difference.”
Bolstering the coaching staff around Cousins this offseason entailed making adjustments within the offense, including the use of “very similar” terminology to what Cousins worked with in Washington.
By hiring Kubiak, the Vikings hope to create synergy with Cousins by pulling back on the quarterback’s time with the Washington Redskins. Kubiak’s time coaching under Mike Shanahan in Denver and working with Kyle Shanahan in Houston will give the Vikings a chance to build upon established familiarity of a system that Cousins knows well.
“First of all, it’s definitely going to help Kirk,” Zimmer said. “The system, the terminology, the things he’s done really well with the Shanahans — with Kyle and coach [Mike] Shanahan — it’s definitely going to help.”