FOXBORO, Mass. — Early in his New England Patriots tenure, Bill Belichick watched Tom Brady transition from unheralded sixth-round draft pick to elite NFL quarterback.
The QB the Patriots will face this weekend also took the long road to pro football stardom.
Kirk Cousins, who will lead the Minnesota Vikings into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, began his career as a fourth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2012. The Redskins had drafted a much more highly touted signal-caller, Robert Griffin III, second overall that same year, forcing Cousins to spend three years as a backup before finally taking the reins full-time in 2015.
Cousins has started every game since, including the first 11 of this season for the Vikings, who signed him to an unprecedented, fully guaranteed, $84 million contract this past spring.
Belichick, who can appreciate a good underdog story, had some kind words for Cousins during his final news conference of the week.
“He’s a smart guy,” Belichick said Friday morning. “He’s a tough kid. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s another guy who’s kind of come up the hard way, earned his stripes. Nobody’s given him anything. He’s had to go out there and earn it, and he has.”
Cousins has yet to reach the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks — even calling him top-10 at this point would be a stretch — and living up to that massive contract will be a tough task. He’s having a nice first season in Minnesota, though, ranking in the top five in completion percentage and passing yards and top 10 in touchdown passes and passer rating.
“I think he’s had a good year,” Belichick said. “This is going to be four highly productive years in a row for him — three in Washington and one in Minnesota — where he’s going to be near the top of the league in a lot of important categories, so he’s pretty consistent. I’m sure he’ll probably continue to get better, but it’s a pretty high level now.”