Column: Vikings need to make a serious run at Kirk Cousins

There are NFL teams out there that can take an injury-discount flier on Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings aren’t one of them. After winning 14 games and advancing to the NFC title game, they’re ready for a big-time passer who can take them all the way.

His name is Kirk Cousins.

Cousins, 29, is the gunslinger the Vikings need to make the offense as good as its league-leading defense, a 6-foot-3, 217-pound prototype who has averaged 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions since becoming the Washington Redskins’ starter in 2015.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has been aggressive on personnel moves when the situation calls for it — most recently sending a first-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Bradford when Bridgewater was lost a week before the 2016 season opener — and he’ll have to be if Minnesota wants to move on Cousins.

Cousins passed for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for Washington in 2017, which finished 7-9 because of a defense that gave up 24.3 points a game, 21st among 32 NFL teams and roughly nine points more than the Vikings’ top-ranked defense. He’s available because Washington, late to appreciate Cousins and unable to sign him long term, started its offseason this week by acquiring Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cousins will have his pick of suitors, so Spielman’s mission — should he accept it — is first to convince Cousins the Vikings are the best fit and his fastest ride to the Super Bowl. Second, he’ll have to pay him a lot of money. Had Washington franchised Cousins this offseason, something they did in each of the past two, they’d have had to pay him $34.5 million for one additional year of service.

With more than $50 million to spend under the projected 2018 salary cap of $178 million, Spielman and executive vice president/capologist Rob Brzezinski have options. They will be one of only two teams, along with the Tennessee Titans, to win a playoff game this season and start the offseason among the top 10 in cap space.

“Regardless of who the quarterback is, we have planned for this two years back,” Spielman said Thursday. “We don’t just start planning for this year on our cap. There is a process in place, like everything we do, that’s done very thoroughly, and it is also looking out into the future.”

If the Vikings decide Cousins isn’t the answer, it will be because they think someone already on the roster is.

Case Keenum, who signed a one-year deal to be Bradford’s backup before the season, revitalized a moribund career by leading the Vikings into the NFC title game for the first time since 2009, throwing for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But after plotzing at Philadelphia — 28 of 48 for 271 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in a 38-7 loss — does he look like the long-term answer?

That’s what the Vikings want.