Once the second of two quarterbacks taken by an NFL team in the same draft—a very non-advantageous position—Kirk Cousins is now the starting signal-caller on one of this year’s Super Bowl favorites, the Minnesota Vikings. He stands alone as the first and only player in the nation’s most popular sport to receive a fully guaranteed contract.
“I can’t believe what the Lord has done in my life and what He’s done for me on the football field,” Cousins, 30, told Decisionin an exclusive interview. “The ways He has blessed me have really exceeded anything I could have imagined, as Ephesians 3:20 says. I am living a dream, and we’ll see how far the Lord wants to take it, but I truly feel blessed. I feel like I’m serving a very, very big God.”
If this were a movie, the scene might fade back to when Cousins was 19 months old. In the kitchen with his mother while she was cooking, he was on the floor playing beneath a stove and lifted up a soup ladle. Accidentally, he hooked the pot of boiling water and spaghetti above and pulled it onto himself, drenching his neck, shoulders, upper arms and torso with blistering liquid heat.
He suffered second- and third-degree burns and was taken—screaming—to a hospital, where he stayed for two weeks. His fever reached 106 degrees. Skin peeled off his body when his shirt was removed. Eventually, doctors said there would be no major long-term ramifications, except the likelihood that he would never be able to throw a ball normally.
His father, Don, a pastor, recalls: “Sports was a big part of my background, so my son not being able to throw a ball wasn’t very appealing. We prayed for full healing.”
God answered that prayer. Young Kirk did heal completely, and he grew up fervently pursuing excellence at the quarterback position. Yet, his journey was full of challenges and opportunities to either trust God or wilt under the weight of discouragement.
He broke his ankle in the first game of his junior season at Holland Christian High School in Barrington, Ill., and was thought to be out for the entire year, a crushing blow to his chances to impress college recruiters.
Said Don: “When he came back from the doctor’s office with a cast on his leg, he said to me, with tears literally rolling down his cheeks, ‘Dad, I guess my football dreams have died.’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t know that. You’ve got to make a decision at this point in time: Are you going to put your confidence in your circumstances, or are you going to trust God?’
“The next morning, he woke up with a smile on his face and said, ‘I’m going to trust the Lord and let Him handle things.”
Cousins made it back for the final four games of the season and wound up with a scholarship offer from Michigan State, which he accepted. He then survived heavy competition to become a three-year starter for the Spartans.
In 2012, Cousins was selected in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins.
He was flabbergasted. The Redskins had traded up to get the No. 2 overall pick in that same draft and used it to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner. It seemed a bad place for Cousins to land since the Redskins had so much invested in Griffin.
“Of the 32 teams in the league, as I was waiting to be picked, I would have told you the Redskins were the 32nd most likely team to pick me,” he said. “On one hand, I was shocked. On the other hand, I felt like ‘This is so unlikely that maybe God’s doing something.’”
Griffin had a standout rookie season, but then was beset by injuries that crippled his career. Cousins ascended to the starter’s role, and Griffin has struggled since then to stay on an NFL roster.
For two consecutive years after passing for more than 4,000 yards, Cousins was up for a contract extension in Washington, but the team declined to make a long-term commitment to him, locking him down with one-year deals via the free agency franchise tag that severely limited his outside options.
Finally, this year, Cousins became a truly unrestricted free agent—the top free agent on the NFL market—after another 4,000-yard passing season.
Cousins’ contract agent, Mike McCartney—son of former University of Colorado coach and Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney—told any team interested that Cousins was seeking a three-year, fully guaranteed contract, which was unheard of.
Cousins and McCartney prayed, seeking God’s best, determined to give Him all the glory.
It came down to the Vikings and the New York Jets. Though the Jets offered more money, Cousins found peace and God’s direction with the Vikings and signed a three-year, $84 million contract on March 15. The $28 million annual guaranteed average more than doubled the previous best guaranteed average in the league—the $12.1 million given to Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford in August 2017.
The Vikings are one of the top Super Bowl favorites this season. They were 13-3 last year, with seven Pro Bowl players and one of the best defenses in the league. Cousins is surrounded by top-notch offensive players in running back Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Cousins’ sights are set on a Super Bowl title, but also on stewarding his talent, the relationships he is developing with his new teammates, and the material wealth he has been given.
“The Lord is pretty serious about ‘To whom much is given, from him much will be required’ (Luke 12:48),” he said. “I tell God: ‘I want to steward this well so that someday when I see You face to face, You can say well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Cousins aims to be a light in the Vikings’ locker room and also with opposing players. He’s known as such a nice guy that he even congratulates defensive opponents for a hard hit on him. However, he chuckles and admits that the gestures are a bit self-serving.
“I don’t ever want to give a 320-pound defensive lineman a reason to rush harder,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is poke the bear.”
But when the bear fiercely strikes, Cousins believes his past adversity has prepared him to survive. He and his dad have talked about how the second- and third-degree burns he experienced as a 19-month-old just might have given him a higher-than-usual pain tolerance.
God has been so good to Cousins, and he in return desires to give God wholehearted devotion.
“I want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” he said. “I want my teammates to say of me when I’m done playing: ‘You know, that guy was the real deal. Who you saw on camera, who you saw on TV from a distance, he wasn’t putting on an act. He’s that way in real life.’
“I want to tell people the Good News. It’s what my life is built on. That’s where I’m focused as I play, and when I’m done playing, it’ll still be the focus.”
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.