Standing in a suit and shiny yellow and purple tie, cleanly shaved with a fresh haircut, new Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins gave us a glimpse of the approach that drove him from fourth-round pick to the highest paid player in the NFL.
While much of the focus of Thursday afternoon’s press conference to introduce Cousins surrounded his contract, it wasn’t until he talked about wanting to land in Minnesota that we got a peek behind the curtain of his rise.
“I like to prepare and I like to cover my bases and I don’t like to be surprised,” said Cousins, who spent the first six years of his career in Washington.
Just two days into Super Bowl week, his team made a trade to acquire quarterback Alex Smith, officially bringing an end to the Cousins era in D.C. So instead of club hopping to see if he could hang out with Snoop Dogg and/or Cardi B, the 29-year-old QB rented a car and started a reconnaissance mission.
“I had five or six days here, rented a car and drove by Winter Park and drove through Eagan,” Cousins said. “I wanted to get a feel for the area and did the best research that I could. At the end of the week, I called [his wife] Julie and I said, ‘Everything is checking the boxes here.'”
This sort of behavior is on brand for Cousins. A Sports Illustrated from last year piece dug into his obsession with preparing for games and the resources he uses to maximize his talent like a brain coach, physical therapist, kinesiologist, biochemist and fitness guru. And mentors, too. It seems Cousins is always looking for new people to learn from. In this case, University of Minnesota head football coach PJ Fleck.
“Super Bowl week I reached out to coach Fleck and asked if I could come and sit with him for about an hour and learn from him about leadership and some of his culture-building that he does,” Cousins said. “He was kind enough to grant me an hour and I sat in his office and picked his brain.”
“There’s plenty more where that one-hour conversation came from,” he added.
Cousins was dropped into a difficult situation in Washington from Day 1.
Draft gurus everywhere were confused at the D.C. football team’s decision to draft a quarterback in the fourth round after selecting Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection. When Cousins finally got his chance to become the full-time starter, his skill was questioned consistently and his team refused to fully buy into him as the franchise QB.
“I have always felt a little bit underrated and a little bit overlooked,” Cousins said.
His competitiveness was not lost on head coach Mike Zimmer, who opened his press conference with the type of analysis you’d expect – breaking down Cousins’ accuracy and talent for running bootleg and play-action.
“One of the other things I like about him is he was a guy that always had to prove himself like a lot of our football team,” Zimmer said.
Never has that chip been so apparent as when he screamed, “YOU LIKE THAT!?” after a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015. The outburst became so famous that it came up in his opening presser.
“It’s a balance as a quarterback,” Cousins said. “I want to stay within myself and never get too high or too low, but I think there’s a healthy passion and fire there that can help bring out the best in me.”
While a high-pitched scream does give us an indication that he’s competitive, nothing demonstrates the chip on Cousins’ shoulder better than the fact that he is a Minnesota Viking. He could have taken a lesser deal to stay in Washington, where he’d always be wondering if the team had his back. He could have taken a bigger deal in New York, where they are rebuilding. Instead he got the all-in contract and a team that can compete for a Super Bowl this season.
“He bet on himself several times and won,” Zimmer said.” Those things are really important.”