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Tying the Purple Knot By Eric Smith

An hour before Kirk Cousins was set to be introduced to media members as the Vikings new starter, the quarterback looked "living-room relaxed" in the team's posh locker room.

A wall of HD televisions ironically played a standard definition game between Michigan and Ohio State on ESPN Classic as the former Michigan State Spartan adjusted to the amenities inside Twin Cities Performance Orthopedics Center.

In the glow of a fireplace, Cousins was excited to be in the Vikings new gleaming facility.

The 29-year-old who has been A-OK to reside in his parents' basement grabbed a spot on a sleek sofa in his new home away from home.

While dressed to the nines in a crisp gray suit, a well-publicized purple-and-yellow tie and less famous purple-and-yellow argyle socks, Cousins is hardly the flashy type.

He introduces himself as 'Kirk' and is quick with a laugh. And while he was certainly impressed by the Vikings snazzy new setting, Cousins is a man of simple tastes.

Cousins has a special attachment with a 2000 GMC Savana limited edition conversion van that he bought from his grandmother for $5,000, even touting his ride on social media.

Perhaps the most-prized free agent of the 2018 offseason, Cousins had multiple options of which team he could sign with this spring.

Yet at 3:30 p.m. on March 15, Cousins stepped to a podium in Minnesota as the newest member of the Vikings.

The marriage between Cousins and the Vikings had been finalized a few hours earlier, with the quarterback inking a three-year deal to be Minnesota's shiny new starter and tying the knot of his purple and yellow tie.

While they are now linked together, Cousins and the Vikings took different roads en route to Thursday afternoon.

The quarterback rose upward on an arc of personal success and growth.

The Vikings started the Mike Zimmer era by focusing on the defense and made progress through drafting, development and retention of core players tabbed by GM Rick Spielman before and after Zimmer's arrival.

But each had been looking for a certain measure of continuity.

Cousins wanted longer-term certainty after back-to-back seasons under the franchise tag in the nation's capital. And the Vikings, despite plenty of recent success, wanted to cement the quarterback position with a single player instead of using multiple starters over the past three seasons.

Now that they are together, Cousins and the Vikings share a common goal of bringing the franchise's first Super Bowl title to Minnesota.

"I would be here a long time if I were to read off the grocery list of reasons why this is the right fit," Cousins said, fresh off of signing his contract. "But for the sake of time, winning is what I said it would be all about, and it's true. I came here for the chance to win. Probably the best chance. That is all that matters in this business.

"More importantly than that, the chance to win comes from the fact that I believe in the leadership of this organization. There has to be a commitment to win from ownership. The ownership, the general manager, the head coach and the quarterback have to all be on the same page," Cousins added. "I feel very good about that dynamic here. Everything rises and falls on leaderships. I believe the leadership here is in place to be able to win a lot of football games."

Here is a look at Minnesota's new quarterback, how the partnership between Cousins and the Vikings has been intertwined and what lies ahead:

'We Can Build Something Together'

As the Vikings entered the 2018 offseason, they were enamored by Cousins' skill set on the field and wanted to learn more about his endearing personality off of it.

But how did Minnesota come to need a quarterback? And why was Cousins available?

Minnesota had one of its most successful seasons in team history when it went 13-3 in 2017, capturing a division crown while advancing to the NFC title game.

The Vikings have won two NFC North titles in three seasons, all while having three different quarterbacks start at least 14 games since 2015.

Teddy Bridgewater appeared poised for a breakout 2016 season, but he suffered a catastrophic, non-contact leg injury just 12 days before the start of the year, leading the Vikings to trade for Sam Bradford.

Bradford started 15 games in 2016 and entered 2017 as the starter before throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 1 win. But he suffered a non-contact knee injury in the season opener and only played two more quarters for the rest of the 2017 season.

Case Keenum then stepped in and went 11-3 as the starter in 2017, recording a career year as Minnesota went 13-3 and won a division title before advancing to the NFC Championship.

All the while, Spielman and Zimmer built up the defense into one of the NFL's best over the past four years. The Vikings led the league in points and yards allowed in 2017 while also setting a record for the stingiest third-down defense.

The contracts for Bridgewater, Bradford and Keenum all expired on March 14.

Spielman said the three most important items on Minnesota's offseason to-do list were to hire a new offensive coordinator, figure out the quarterback situation and fortify the interior of the defensive line. The Vikings hired John DeFilippo, signed Cousins and traded to acquire experienced backup Trevor Siemian and also signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

At the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Spielman cautioned that a team is never just a single player away from a title and that he avoids the "all-in" mentality each offseason.

Cousins, a former fourth-round pick in 2012 out of Michigan State, threw for 13,176 yards and 81 touchdowns while compiling a passer rating of 97.6 in the past three seasons as Washington's starter.

He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the previous three seasons.

That's something that Minnesota quarterbacks have accomplished just three times in franchise history. Brett Favre was the most recent Vikings quarterback to do so, something the Hall of Famer accomplished back in 2009. Daunte Culpepper (2004) and Warren Moon (1995) also passed for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in one season.

Cousins has started all 48 regular-season games over the past three seasons. He is one of six quarterbacks to do so with the same team (Tom Brady was suspended for four games but has made every other start for New England).

The quarterback is 24-23-1 as a starter since 2015 and has been plenty productive. He has 10 games with at least 300 passing yards and no interceptions and 23 games with of a passer rating of 100 or higher (with at least 15 passing attempts) in that span.

He has also been clutch when needed, leading 11 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since 2015, third-most in the NFL.

And while the quarterback has been more than consistent on the field, he has been searching continuity.

He played under Washington's franchise tag the past two seasons, becoming the first quarterback to play back-to-back years under that designation.

"We've had success playing on one-year contracts the last three seasons really, as I finished my rookie deal and then played on those two franchise tags," said Cousins, who is slated to be the Vikings sixth different Week 1 starter in six years when the 2018 season gets underway. "But that being said, it's a great thing for us to know that we'll be here the next three years and that we can build something together.

"I think that's not only good for me, but the entire organization," Cousins added. "We have so much to look forward to."

Both Cousins and the Vikings have been on the rise in recent years.

The quarterback has grown from an unheralded draft pick to a consistent starter with a Pro Bowl appearance on his resume.

The Vikings won 13 games in 2017 (second most in a season in franchise history) and a playoff game but came a victory shy of Super Bowl LII.

Now, their paths are together, and so are their goals.

A Common Goal

The goal for the new quarterback and his new team is simple: Win.

Cousins has had plenty of personal success and accolades but has been to the playoffs just once in his career.

The Vikings have 40 total victories over the past four seasons (including one postseason win), which is tied for eighth-most in the NFL over that span.

The Vikings franchise has been to 10 NFL/NFC Championship games and four Super Bowls but has never claimed the ultimate prize.

Minnesota hopes Cousins, who will turn 30 in August, can stabilize the quarterback position for years to come, even beyond this current contract.

"I think if you have an opportunity to go out and potentially get a franchise quarterback or a quarterback that's going to be leading you for years to come, he's right now in the prime of his career, and if you look through everything, when they get to this age is when they really hit it," Spielman said. "And they go on, and they have long, productive careers. But we're not doing this for a three-year [contract]; we want to do this for his career.

"Our goal and objective every year is to [win a Super Bowl], that's what we do. I think if you talk to 31 other teams, their goal and objective is to win a Super Bowl, or why are you in this business?," Spielman later added. "But with the resources provided by the Wilf family, I know that it's going to give us an opportunity at least to go out there and be competitive week-in and week-out. You can't predict injuries, you can't predict how the ball bounces sometimes, but I know that we believe we're doing things the right way to give us an opportunity every year to go and compete for a championship."

But Cousins doesn't want to be looked at as the missing piece. Instead, he emphasized the importance of assimilating into the Vikings culture.

Minnesota has Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball, and Cousins hopes his leadership style seamlessly fits in with the Vikings.

"First of all, you have to be an example and play at a high level and have to know what you're doing and be competent, otherwise it's going to be hard for people to follow you," Cousins said of his approach to leadership. "I need to master the position and play at a high level day-in and day-out. You have to work hard and be that example.

"But beyond that, I think it's important to be an encourager, to be vocal, to be organized … to reach out to guys and go to them, rather for guys to come to you. And to ultimately be making deposits in teammates' lives, in staff [members'] lives," Cousins added in the locker room at TCO Performance Center. "The time is going to come where I'm going to need withdrawals from people and ask them for something, but you can only do that if you've been making deposits on a year-round basis. I want to keep making deposits in people's lives and show my leadership."

If all goes well, the hope is that Cousins finishes his career in Purple with a Super Bowl banner or two to go along with it.

While Cousins said there is plenty to like about the Vikings roster and the way the team has been built to compete, it is clear he plans to invest in building relationships.

"There's a lot of pieces in place," Cousins said. "I just hope to be able to get to know these guys not only as players but as people and just continue to move this offense together in the right direction."

Football, Family and Faith

The Vikings faced Cousins in each of the past two seasons.

While the teams split the contests, Cousins led Washington to 56 total points in two meetings against the Vikings. The point totals of 30 in 2016 and 26 in 2017 were both the third-highest points allowed by Minnesota in each of those seasons, including the postseason.

Those matchups also gave Zimmer and the Vikings an up-close look at their new quarterback, who threw for a combined 589 yards and three scores with one interception. Cousins also scored two of the 10 rushing touchdowns allowed by Minnesota in 2017.

"He made a great throw in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass," Zimmer told "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen on Friday morning on his 9-to-Noon radio show about Cousins' 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the 2017 Week 11 contest. "He made a great throw on third down on a 7 route.

"He does a great job on the bootlegs and nakeds, the play-action game. I think he's a great competitor," Zimmer added to Allen. "When I said that about him having a chip on his shoulder and having to bet on himself, I think those things are all huge."

Spielman got a glimpse of Cousins' personality Wednesday night while dining with the quarterback and his family at a Minneapolis restaurant and taking a stroll around U.S. Bank Stadium.

Zimmer was also in attendance, along with Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf, DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

It was the first face-to-face interaction with Cousins for Vikings brass, and it didn't take long to be impressed.

"I didn't get to know him until [Wednesday]," Spielman said. "I spent two-and-a-half hours with him and his family and then got a chance to meet his parents [Wednesday night] before we went to dinner, spent some time with them, and you knew right off the bat.

"I didn't need to spend two-and-a-half hours; I needed to spend 10 minutes with him and that family to know what they mean, what they're about and what's important to them," Spielman added. "And it's everything that checks the box here with the Minnesota Vikings."

The Vikings also like what they see from Cousins' mindset on the field. The three-year starter is known for his quick-thinking, accuracy and ability to read defenses.

Both Spielman and Zimmer offered glowing reviews of who Cousins is as a quarterback and a person.

"When you sit there and evaluate him on tape, and we looked at it so many different ways, but the biggest thing that stuck out the most was how quickly he processes things," Spielman said. "When you see him look to the left and see his first option and then all of a sudden to the right, he's already to his third option, where other quarterbacks, if their first option isn't there, maybe they can get to their second option, but the way his mind processes and how quickly he's able to read and react to things on what he sees, I think that makes him unique."

Zimmer, who said the Vikings did their "due diligence" with Cousins, added: "I've had calls from really all over, coaches that have coached with him, coached him, coached against him, and everyone has given tremendous recommendations."

Cousins told Vikings.com that his persona stems from key pillars that are most valuable to him, with spirituality and humility being the most important.

In addition to using the phrase "humbled and honored" on multiple occasions, Cousins revealed that he and his family have routinely prayed a Bible verse, Ephesians 3:20, which reads, "And now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine."

"My faith is ultimately the most important thing to me. My family is very important to me … [I'm] a husband to Julie and a father to [nearly 6-month-old] Cooper," Cousins told Vikings.com shortly before his introductory press conference, where his family sat in the front row. "We want to use the platform that football provides to make a positive difference for people and for this community. We look forward to that opportunity and are grateful that the Vikings are giving it to us.

"What we're known for is playing football, but there's certainly greater depths to us than that. Playing this position at this level does give you a tremendous opportunity to make a difference and have an impact," Cousins added. "That's something that Julie and I don't take lightly, and we want to maximize it to its fullest potential."

Attention to Detail

Cousins revealed a bit of his meticulousness at his press conference, explaining that he rented a car and drove around the Twin Cities during the week of Super Bowl LII to get a feel for the area.

Those who know him best likely weren't surprised at his thorough study of Minnesota.

When asked about the amount of preparation Cousins applied, his father, Don, relayed another example of painstaking attention to detail.

A standout student Holland Christian High School in Michigan, Cousins had calculated his grades in his head before they arrived by mail at the end of a semester.

When the Maroons quarterback realized a slight error on his report card, he was more than prepared to rectify it.

"Kirk has always been a student and took school work very seriously. He was a junior or senior in high school and had gotten straight A's all the way through school," Don said. "He asked my wife, 'Did my report card come?' She hadn't opened it yet, and he did. One of his grades was an A-minus. He said, 'This is wrong. I've got to go back to school. I've got to meet with the teacher.'

"He went back, had all of his grades, and the teacher had miscalculated. [The teacher] changed the grade from an A-minus to an A," Don added. "I told him and his brother, 'I'll try to give you all of the opportunities I can, but I'll never be your source of motivation. You have to be self-motivated.' That's who Kirk is, who he has been since he was a little boy. I never had to motivate Kirk. Kirk has always been self-motivated."

Created By
Eric Smith
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