EAGAN, Minn. — When Kirk Cousins takes the first snap for the Minnesota Vikings in their season opener, he'll move into third place on the franchise's all-time list for games started by a quarterback.
One of the NFL's most scrutinized players, whose value to the Vikings and within the league has been the source of intense debate since he signed a groundbreaking contract five years ago, Cousins has unquestionably checked the box in one of the sport's most critical categories: durability.
Entering the season at the age of 35, Cousins is determined not to lose it. With his current deal set to expire in March, he's also well aware that his future in the game at least partially depends on it.
“Shame on me if there was more out there to get and I didn’t do all I could,” Cousins said earlier this summer. "So even if it ends after this year, I have to feel like I walk away with peace of mind that I did everything I possibly could.”
That included hiring his longtime body coach, Chad Cook, on a full-time basis. Cook lives in the Atlanta area, where he founded and directs the Players Performance Institute, but not this fall. He has an apartment near Vikings headquarters so Cousins can bookend his days with in-home and in-person sessions — even squeezing some in during training camp lunch breaks — designed to keep his arms and legs functioning at optimal levels.
Cook is married with a daughter playing college soccer in Georgia. His family was fully supportive of the tradeoff of time away for the opportunity to work so closely with Cousins — one of “one or two" athletes, Cook said, he has ever trained that he would consider going full-time with.
“There will be a risk of a freak injury. He’s not an insurance against those. You can get hit awkwardly and something can happen,” Cousins said. “What we’re trying to prevent is more of the nagging stuff, the chronic stuff. Then when something does happen, can we nip it in the bud a little faster?”
Cook and Cousins have been cautious about not crossing boundaries with the Vikings, viewing their work together as adjunct to the team's well-regarded medical staff.
“All we’re trying to do is, when he’s got free time, keep pushing the limits of what he’s physically capable of doing and keep him as healthy and durable as he can be,” Cook said in a recent phone interview.
One of Cook's specialties is a trademarked procedure called Muscle Activation Technique, or MAT, that involves assessing for weaknesses and applying a calculated amount of force to those lagging muscles in an attempt to restore their efficiency.
“We’re not sitting there in the gym and just beating him up. We’re really fine-tuning and dissecting and analyzing and assessing what’s firing and what’s not firing and flipping the switches back on,” Cook said.
The Netflix documentary “Quarterback” that featured Cousins, Patrick Mahomes and Marcus Mariota provided an up-close look at the punishment that comes with the position, and subsequent promotional appearances allowed Cousins — always inquiring, forever a student — an opportunity to talk to his peers about taking care of their bodies off the field.
Mahomes, too, has a personal trainer, Bobby Stroupe, who founded and runs the Athlete Performance Enhancement Center in his hometown in Texas.
“You can’t prevent all injuries," Mahomes said. "But you can prepare your body the best way possible.”
With 128 starts since he became a full-time starter in 2015 with Washington, Cousins has the most by any NFL quarterback over that span. That's also tied for fourth-most among all players, according to Sportradar data.
The list of active players from his 2012 draft class has dwindled to the dozens. Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford are the only current starting quarterbacks who’ve been in the league longer than Cousins, who entered in the same season as Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson. Cousins is outranked in experience by just a handful of backups, too, and even 2011 draftees Blaine Gabbert and Tyrod Taylor are younger than him despite entering a year earlier.
One of Washington's wide receivers when Cousins was there was Santana Moss, who imparted some wisdom on the young quarterback near the end of a 14-year career about the benefits of extracurricular bodywork beyond the lifting-and-running basics.
“It's the consistent daily habit that over time produces a great result,” Cousins said. “I've never worked with someone this consistently, so I am excited to see in February what it was like to get that quality of work with that consistency for seven months straight. It could be a big difference-maker.”
Whatever it takes to get a few more years out of a career defined by overachievement.
“Being a starting quarterback in this league is a privilege and a platform,” Cousins said. “You get an opportunity to use that to impact people. I might never have as big of a platform as I have now.”
The Vikings open their 2023-24 season this Sunday, hosting Tampa Bay.
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