The Vikings won their third straight game Sunday in routing the Packers. But they also lost their quarterback, with Kirk Cousins suffering what’s feared to be a season-ending Achilles tear. It’s an ill-timed blow for a team that had begun building momentum in the NFC North, but it’s a hurdle Minnesota will have to clear quickly if it intends to remain in the postseason mix.
That’s easier said than done, of course. The only other healthy QB on the Vikings roster is rookie Jaren Hall, a fifth-round BYU product who threw his first NFL passes against Green Bay in Week 8. Veteran backup Nick Mullens is on injured reserve with a back issue, while former No. 2 Sean Mannion just rejoined the team’s practice squad earlier this month.
Odds are, one of those three QBs will replace Cousins in the short term. But what if coach Kevin O’Connell and Co. are desperate not to squander the Vikings’ rise to 4-4? This may be a franchise right in the middle of a “competitive rebuild,” as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah put it this offseason, but with a wild card bid still well within reach, an emergency upgrade could be possible.
In that case, here are 12 different candidates to draw the Vikings’ interest:
The former Pro Bowler is easily the most accomplished veteran set to be available ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, and the Titans should be willing to sell after rookie Will Levis‘ dynamic debut against the Falcons. The problem is, even if Tennessee agreed to eat some of Tannehill’s pricey contract, the aging signal-caller is still recovering from his own injury, a high-ankle sprain. Now doesn’t feel like the time for the Vikings to pay anything of value for an inferior starter with a bigger track record of medical issues. But Tannehill’s history as a serviceable, playoff-caliber play-action passer would make him a relatively high-upside rental.
Hidden away in Dallas as the No. 3 QB behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush, the short-lived face of the 49ers is still just 23, and Minnesota reportedly discussed a potential trade for his services in the offseason. He’s still a total unknown as an NFL passer, but this is an athlete who went No. 3 overall just two years ago. He’s also something of a hometown hero, growing up in Minnesota and starring for NDSU before his injury-riddled run in San Francisco. The Cowboys liked his upside enough to acquire him in August, but perhaps Dallas would sell him for a higher price now. He’d be an intriguing long-term swing for Vikings brass.
The Panthers like Dalton as a trusty mentor for No. 1 pick Bryce Young, but the latter has finally begun to show signs of his own life as an NFL QB, and it’s not like anyone’s really unavailable on a 1-6 team ahead of the deadline. Dalton, meanwhile, is the definition of a plug-and-play signal-caller, offering mostly serviceable spot-starter work with the Saints and Panthers the last two years.
The Saints probably prefer to keep Winston as Derek Carr’s backup, angling for their own piece of the NFC playoff picture. But the former starter is also set to hit free agency after the season, giving him value as a potential rental. He’s far more of a risk-taker than, say, Cousins, but he proved in his first short-lived stint as Saints QB1 that he’s capable of controlling the ball with help.
This is a long shot, but even considering Jones’ statistical rebound the last few weeks, the former first-rounder has rarely found consistently firm footing as the Patriots‘ starter under Bill Belichick. It’s unlikely the Vikings would be rushing to land him, then, but he’s at least got some similarities to Cousins in that he operates best as a pure pocket passer making quick reads.
Cast aside in Houston for promising rookie C.J. Stroud, Mills was prone to untimely turnovers but also had very little support during his two years as the Texans‘ top QB. With Stroud off to a red-hot start in his career, the Texans could be open to moving Mills, who’s just 25 with 26 starts under his belt. You could do a lot worse for an emergency pickup, and he’s signed through 2024.
At 35, Keenum’s best days are behind him, and Houston specifically signed and kept him as a mentor for rookie C.J. Stroud. But with Davis Mills in place as the capable No. 2, why wouldn’t they consider an offer? Keenum worked under O’Connell with Washington in 2019, and he famously captained the Vikings’ improbable NFC title-game bid back in 2017.
Like Mac Jones, Zappe probably doesn’t have a ton of value outside New England at the moment; in fact, other teams have freely passed on the former fourth-rounder when he’s bounced between the Pats’ active roster and practice squad. But if the Vikings are just looking for any pocket-passing competition down the stretch, the gutsy Western Kentucky product could come cheap.
If it weren’t for Joshua Dobbs‘ last-minute addition via trade, McCoy might still be starting for the Cardinals as Kyler Murray’s fill-in. At 37, he doesn’t offer much more than, say, Nick Mullens as a potential Cousins replacement, but he does have more starting experience — 36 games compared to 17 — and spent time with O’Connell in Washington from 2017-2019.
The former Eagles star has been eyeing another opportunity since his release from Washington, to no avail. And his tendency to play hero ball runs counter to Cousins’ more controlled approach. But Wentz has a Midwest background, hailing from NDSU, and probably offers the most big-play juice of any veteran still on the market. He reportedly drew a sniff from the Chiefs in the summer.
Foles has only really thrived when playing for the Eagles — it was his clutch arm, remember, that helped bury the Vikings in that 2017 NFC title game, which led to Philly’s first Super Bowl win. But the guy is a passable pocket thrower when protected, and he’d be an easy sell in the locker room as a beloved teammate.
The smallish but gutsy ex-Rams backup spent two years under O’Connell in Los Angeles, and now he’s resigned to practice-squad duties in Tampa Bay behind Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. Technically he’s not a free agent, then, but he could be claimed and activated to the Vikings’ game-day roster if Minnesota wanted another arm to throw into the mix down the stretch.