Wednesday March 21st, 2018 6:49AM

Cousins to visit Vikings first; agent says no decision made

By The Associated Press
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kirk Cousins is predictably the top priority on Minnesota's offseason shopping list.

The free agent quarterback is on the verge of a big payday at age 29, his first time on the open market.

Cousins will meet Wednesday with the Vikings once the new league year begins, his agent Mike McCartney said Tuesday. ESPN reported, citing unnamed sources, Cousins will sign a fully guaranteed, three-year $84 million contract with the Vikings, but McCartney said no deal was in place and no decision has been made yet.

"We've only agreed to visit Minnesota first," McCartney said.

The Vikings are banking on this being his last trip, too.

With contracts expiring for Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, plenty of space under the salary cap and coming off an appearance in the NFC championship game, the Vikings have long presented the most desirable destination for Cousins.

Their defense, until faltering over the last five quarters of the team's run in the playoffs, is stacked with stars and directed by one of the league's long-time experts in coach Mike Zimmer. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have formed a dangerous young duo of wide receivers, combining for 2,125 yards during the regular season. Dalvin Cook, whose rookie year was cut short by a torn ACL, is expected back at full strength for offseason workouts.

Minnesota has a sparkling stadium, the site of Super Bowl 52, and the organization just moved into new state-of-the-art suburban headquarters with top-of-the-line practice fields and training facilities just last week.

"I haven't had the chance to pick where I'm going to play since 2007 when I chose to go to Michigan State, so I'm looking forward to that opportunity," Cousins said in Minnesota the week of the Super Bowl during an appearance on SiriusXM satellite radio. "I think it's a pretty short checklist. At the end of the day, I want to win."

Drafted in the fourth round by Washington in 2012, the same year the Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick, Cousins has topped 4,000 passing yards in each of the last three seasons. As a full-time NFL starter, he has completed 67 percent of his throws for 81 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and a 97.5 passer rating.

Unable to agree on a long-term deal with the club, Cousins signed franchise tag tenders each of the last two years to make market-rate money (about $20 million in 2016 and $24 million in 2017) and push out his first experience with free agency. Once Washington agreed to acquire Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, Cousins became one of the most valuable quarterbacks ever available on the open market — a starting QB in his prime.

Though Cousins has never won a postseason game as a pro, the combination of his age, durability and productivity is unparalleled in comparison to the caliber of usual free agents at the sport's most critical position. Last year, the Vikings waited until April 3 to sign Keenum for $2 million.

If the Cousins contract is indeed finalized, he'll be the eighth quarterback to start a season opener for the Vikings in the last nine years. Bridgewater's devastating knee injury right before the 2016 season wrecked his quest to become the long-term leader of the offense and face of the franchise. The Vikings have otherwise been finding stopgap solutions since moving on from 2011 first-round draft pick Christian Ponder.

Bradford, the emergency replacement for Bridgewater, produced a career-best performance to start 2017 before redeveloping his own knee trouble. In stepped Keenum, whose breakout year led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and Zimmer's first win in the playoffs.

Bradford and Bridgewater presented obvious health risks, and Zimmer always came across as skeptical of Keenum's ability to keep up his success. With a new offensive coordinator in John DeFillipo, the quarterbacks coach for Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, the Vikings can reset their scheme to the preferences and strengths of Cousins.

If negotiations hit a snag, there would be no clear backup plan in place for the Vikings. Keenum is bound for the Denver Broncos. Bradford is close to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals and Bridgewater was being targeted by the New York Jets.


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