Kirk Cousins is in the news as the trailer for the Netflix’s series “Quarterback” came out this week, featuring Cousins, Patrick Mahomes, and Marcus Mariota in an in-depth look at their 2022 seasons, on and off the field.
Cousins also made some news during his press conference at the end of Minnesota Vikings minicamp when asked about his contract situation. He was asked if there had been any contract talks since they broke off in March and he said no, adding that they’ll probably talk again next March.
Cousins hasn’t seemed that concerned about his contract status and appears now to be betting on himself this season — his last under contract with the Vikings.
How Contract Negotiations Paused with the Vikings
The Vikings and Cousins began contract extension negotiations early this offseason back in February, but they reached an impasse over the length of the contract guarantee the Vikings were willing to offer. Cousins’ side were willing to take around a $5 million discount to his market value (currently estimated at $43.2 million by Spotrac), but the Vikings would only guarantee his 2024 salary and not his 2025 salary. Cousins’ side were reportedly surprised by the Vikings’ position. That led to the impasse and talks were paused by early March, at which point the Vikings restructured Cousins’ contract to push more cap hit into future years, but without an extension.
Cousins Betting on Himself
Cousins had said in a press conference earlier this year that he’ll need to earn the right to a contract extension, and his comments suggest that any extension for Cousins prior to his current contract expiration is not forthcoming.
One would assume that should Cousins have a good season, he would no longer be willing to take a discount on a contract extension.
Update: Per PFT, Cousins’ contract expires after the deadline for a franchise tag, which means he cannot be franchise tagged next year.
Given that Cousins would remain under contract throughout the franchise tag period next year, the Vikings do not have the option to tag him. It’s either extend him or not. In the absence of further talks, the only compensation the Vikings would get for the loss of Cousins would be a 2025 compensatory pick — presumably a third-rounder — and only if they don’t add more free agents than they lose in 2024.
Vikings Retain Flexibility
That flexibility does come with an added cost and risk, however. The Vikings have no option to franchise tag Cousins and could find themselves lacking any leverage in contract negotiations. Cousins will be the top free agent quarterback next season and is likely to have interest from multiple teams. Should the Vikings decide to move on from Cousins, or be unable to extend him, they would be left with limited- and not particularly good- options.
Vikings Options Likely to be Limited
When Cousins’ contract expires, the Vikings will not know who their draft picks will be. They will be limited in their quarterback options to those on their roster, free agents, and those available for trade. One can speculate whether a quarterback like Trey Lance or Brock Purdy will be available for trade, or if either would be an upgrade over Cousins, but there is no better quarterback than Cousins set to be a free agent next season.
And barring a disaster this season, the Vikings are unlikely to be in position to draft a top quarterback in next year’s draft. And so the Vikings would be looking at Jaren Hall, a trade candidate, or an unknown drafted quarterback as alternatives to Cousins next season.
How Will Cousins Respond?
Kirk Cousins is no stranger to doubters and uncertainty, as he mentioned at a press conference earlier this year. Even back in high school, people were asking him about his lack of scholarship offers going into his senior year, having broken his ankle his junior year. He ended up performing well his senior year and had a couple offers from Western Michigan and Toledo, and was told he was the backup plan by new Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. If the five QBs ahead of him didn’t sign they’d offer him a scholarship. All five declined and Cousins got his scholarship as a 2 or 3-star recruit.
After Cousins signed with Michigan State, Nick Foles joined the program and was expected to become the starter. Cousins beat him out and Foles transferred to Arizona. Cousins finished his last year at Michigan State leading the Big Ten in most passing metrics.
But as a fourth-round draft pick and somewhat of an afterthought given that Washington had gone all-in to draft RGIII number 2 overall, Cousins was once again in a similar position as he was early on in college. But three years and a major injury to RGIII later, Cousins was the starter in Washington. He finished that 2015 season with 4,166 yards passing, a league-leading 69.8% completion rate, a 101.6 passer rating (5th), 34 TDs (five rushing), 11 INTs, and 3 lost fumbles.
But Washington was not sold on Cousins, however, and placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him. That year, 2016, Cousins led the league in passing yards, was sixth in EPA, third in CPOE, and seventh in passer rating. Still, Washington and Cousins could not agree on a long-term deal and Cousins was again placed on a franchise tag — the first QB to ever be placed on consecutive franchise tags.
Ultimately Cousins got his long-term deal in 2018 when he signed a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed deal with the Vikings. It was the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history and also the highest-paid contract at the time it was signed.
In 2019, with one year left on his contract, Cousins ranked 5th in EPA/CPOE composite, won his first playoff game, and had a career high 107.4 passer rating (4th overall). He was given a two-year, $66 million fully guaranteed extension following the 2019 season.
He ranked within the top ten QBs in passer rating and EPA/play in 2020 and 2021 and received another extension- one year, $35 million fully guaranteed following the 2021 season.
And so, Cousins has been able to rally at key junctures throughout his career- and has been rewarded for it.
This season, Cousins may have the best offensive supporting cast of his career. Between coaching staff, offensive line, and receiver corps, Cousins has a solid group around him, still a lot of continuity despite the losses of Cook and Thielen, and is coming off an 8th ranked season offensively with a record 8 game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks. Cousins also has continuity of scheme and coordinator for the first time since 2016 (perhaps his best season statistically) which also puts him in a good position to have a strong season.
He’s also more relaxed and more of a leader than he has been in the past. He’s been spending time since OTAs taking groups of players out to dinner after practices, has good relationships with players and coaches, and seems to be comfortable and enjoying the everyday grind more so than in the past.
All that sets up well for Cousins to bet on himself.
In the meantime, the Vikings don’t really have a safety net if they’re unable or unwilling to extend Cousins. Lack of a viable alternative also leaves them with no leverage in contract negotiations. The same is true in trade negotiations for another quarterback.
This is setting up to be a bad situation for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who is taking a big risk at the most important position in professional sports, and with limited time left in his contract. If Cousins does well and the Vikings ultimately extend him, it will likely be for a much higher price than they could’ve gotten for him a few months ago. If he signs with another team, Adofo-Mensah’s decision not to extend him a few months ago will also be questioned, particularly if he has no idea who the Vikings’ next starting quarterback will be. A bad season by Cousins may vindicate Adofo-Mensah’s decision not to extend Cousins, but also increases the pressure on him and Kevin O’Connell to deliver in 2024. Adofo-Mensah is under contract through 2025.
Who will be the starting quarterback for the Vikings in 2024?
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