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Vikings 'believe' Kirk Cousins wants to stay in Minnesota; trading Justin Jefferson never 'crossed' team's mind

INDIANAPOLIS – The Minnesota Vikings' goal this offseason is to keep the band together in 2024.

During Tuesday's media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spoke confidently about the club's ability to re-sign Kirk Cousins, who is headed to free agency next month.

"I believe Kirk wants to be a Viking, and we're going to work to try and make that the outcome," O'Connell said.

Cousins is set to hit free agency after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in October. The QB recently posted a video of his rehab, in which he was taking drops on the surgically repaired leg.

O'Connell isn't surprised by Cousins' progress in rehab.

"We've won a lot of games over these two years with Kirk as our quarterback, and I thought he was playing as well as anyone in the National Football League when he got hurt after beating the Packers at Lambeau last year, coming off a Monday night win over the team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl," the coach said on Tuesday. "To have that happen was a big deal for me personally, much beyond my role just coaching the team. But it's been awesome to see him through his rehab and where he is now, really getting right back on his feet and attacking this thing. My feelings on Kirk Cousins have not wavered, and if anything, they're stronger now, having gone through a lot of adversity together."

The Vikings might want Cousins, and the 35-year-old might want to return to Minnesota, but free agency could change the calculus of the contract situation. If another team splashes the pot with a ton of cash or higher guarantees, they could swipe the top veteran off the market.

"At the end of the day, we have our interests, he has his," Adofo-Mensah said on Tuesday. "We'll get to the table and figure out a creative solution and try to meet in the middle. That's what every contract negotiation is, and that's what it'll be with him. What we do know is that we have a really great quarterback, a great leader, and someone we think we can win the ultimate prize with. So that's ultimately what I focus on, and that's where we're at right now."

The Vikings want to keep Cousins in Minnesota and lock down star receiver Justin Jefferson for the long haul. Adofo-Mensah noted that the sides were close to a contract last offseason for the wideout.

"We had a lot of great dialogue last offseason," he said. "I think people forget, deals rarely happen after three years, and there is a reason for that. Two years left. There is uncertainty that somebody's got to hold -- either the club's got to hold, or the player's got to hold. There's new money, old money. How do you look at contracts? Those are very hard conversations to have. So a lot of them don't get done. We got unbelievably close."

Jefferson is in line to leapfrog Tyreek Hill's $30 million per year contract and could surpass Nick Bosa's $34 million per year as one of the highest-paid non-QBs. The Vikings have no qualms about admitting Jefferson is worth a shipload of cash.

"We've said it, and we'll continue to say it: We think he's the best wide receiver in the league and should be compensated as such," Adofo-Mensah said. "We think he's one of the best non-quarterbacks in the league and should be compensated as such. We'll continue to have those dialogues and those conversations."

Adofo-Mensa dismissed the idea that the Vikings could do what the club did with Stefon Diggs and trade Jefferson rather than pay his hefty price tag.

"That's not something that's once crossed my mind," the GM said on Tuesday. "You got a blue(chip) player, a blue(chip) person. You try to keep as many of those as you can."

The Vikings want to keep Jefferson and Cousins together for as long as possible.

Adofo-Mensa said the club keeps Jefferson apprised of their talks with Cousins.

"I think any great player, especially a great wide receiver, should want to have a quarterback, accurate, who is going to throw him the football when he's open -- and he gets open better than anyone in the league," he said. "So that is something that's important. When I first met Justin, he said, 'Kwes, I just want to put wins on the board.' At some point, though, it's got to be a trust in how we're building this going forward to set us up in a sustained window to win for a long time. We've got to earn their trust, of course, but that's a conversation you've got to have. You've got to treat players like partners; you've got to bring them in and have those conversations with them. And that's something we do with Justin."

The GM's comments on Jefferson trusting the organization are important to any conversation about Cousins' future. It indicates that while the team wants to keep Cousins in Minnesota, there is a line they won't cross that could compromise the club's long-term vision.

In the coming weeks, we'll find out whether Cousins will remain in Minnesota or whether Jefferson will have to trust the front office to find a suitable replacement.

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