Vikings alter Kirk Cousins succession plan after losing out on Justin Fields

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kellen Mond is not threatening Kirk Cousins for his job right now.

Mond, the Texas A&M quarterback selected by the Minnesota Vikings two picks into the third round on Friday, is nowhere near ready to lead an NFL offense let alone challenge an established veteran for playing time.

But this move -- the highest draft pick the Vikings have spent at quarterback since Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 -- is a statement.

As the Vikings stacked their board and evaluated players and scenarios in draft meetings, one topic kept surfacing. Drafting a quarterback wasn’t the team’s most pressing need, but this offseason, Minnesota began considering a plan for life after Cousins.

The 32-year-old Cousins is under contract through the 2022 season and due $56 million over the next two years. The cost for his services is manageable this season with his $21 million base salary. It’s next year where things get exorbitantly expensive. Cousins’ $35 million base salary for 2022, which has already been fully guaranteed, comes with a $45 million cap hit, the second highest among all NFL players that season.

That astronomical price tag and Cousins’ level of play, which has been outstanding at times and also suspect at times, put the Vikings in a spot to consider their longer-term options.

The Vikings came away with "one of the top players on our board," according to general manager Rick Spielman when they drafted Mond 66th overall. And the circumstances for the rookie couldn’t have worked out better.

Mond, who many considered the next best following the top five quarterbacks in the draft, has been afforded time to develop in the Vikings’ offense should he eventually be in position to take over for Cousins.

Cousins doesn’t have much to worry about right now. Mond is a backup quarterback. He is not Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who, had things panned out differently, would have put Cousins on borrowed time as the true heir apparent in Minnesota.

According to multiple sources, a Vikings coach reached out to Cousins in the lead-up to the draft to let him know Minnesota was considering taking a quarterback at some point. It wasn't to warn him that his job was in jeopardy or that he was being immediately replaced. It was a simple heads-up so Cousins wouldn’t be blindsided.

On Thursday, Spielman said the Vikings tried to trade up from their position at No. 14 but declined to specify which player they were targeting. Sources told ESPN that Minnesota had an eye on Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and tried to move up to land him before he went to the Los Angeles Chargers at 13.

The Vikings were also preparing to take Fields given the way the board was falling.

As Minnesota watched Carolina and Denver pass on Fields at Nos. 8 and 9, their distant dream suddenly felt like it could become a reality. With Vikings ownership in the main draft room, front-office personnel worked the phones and tried to see where they might have to move up to land Fields.

At No. 10, the Dallas Cowboys swapped with their division rival Philadelphia Eagles, who took wide receiver DeVonta Smith. The Vikings were three picks away from closing in on Fields when the Chicago Bears dealt their No. 20 pick, their No. 164 pick and their 2022 first- and fourth-round picks to the New York Giants to move up nine spots to draft Fields, a potential franchise-saving quarterback.

The Vikings were stunned, and this one really stung. They wanted one of the top quarterbacks, but they weren't desperate enough to give up that kind of draft capital for a player who would be sitting behind Cousins for at least a year.

But Fields was the guy for Minnesota, and the team was prepared to take him if he had been there at No. 14 and begin a process of shifting course.

Had that happened, the Vikings would have had an unquestioned succession plan for Cousins in place. Aside from Russell Wilson and Nick Foles, only a handful of third-round quarterbacks in the past 10 years have done much as starters. The Vikings took a flier on Mond -- marking the first time they drafted a QB in the third round in the modern era -- who very well could develop into exactly what they’re looking for and allow them to move on from Cousins in two years.

If Cousins’ level of play in 2021 and 2022 warrants a new contact, he could stick around in Minnesota. The idea of a having a Plan B at quarterback has little to do with Cousins’ age or durability. It’s the fact that he could reach a $40 million contract the way his price tag -- and the quarterback market -- keeps escalating. The Vikings have to ask themselves whether they want to pay that price or find a younger, less expensive talent at the position and build their roster a different way.

Spielman may not have gotten his top quarterback choice, but by selecting Mond in the third round, he didn’t cement himself to Cousins either and began putting a potential contingency plan in place for the future.