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Attention, Kmart shoppers! Bridge quarterbacks available in Aisle 3

Kmart was a place to be for a child of the 1970s with a 50-cent allowance, no bills and roughly 45 minutes to shop while mom bought the life-sustaining essentials on the other side of the store.

Wandering publicly without adult supervision or mom being hauled in for questioning, a child of the '70s hunted for bargains and would lose his composure whenever those three magical words came across the loudspeaker:

"Attention Kmart shoppers …"

Those wonderful words and a revolving blue light affixed atop a pole alerted the salary cap-strapped among us that a Blue Light Special! was about to begin.

Oh, sure, the spendy Evel Knievel Canyon Skycycle with Energizer Playset would never appear, but this much we knew: limited funds could go a long way toward not-great-but-satisfactory fulfillment should just the right discounted toy appear within our reach while sifting through the bin beneath the blue light.

The NFL has a slightly more affluent version of this rummage sale. It lurks in the shadows beyond the first wave of headlines and hyperventilation that surround free agency, which opens Monday when the legal negotiating period commences ahead of Wednesday's signing period kickoff.

As much as the lovers of Kirk Cousins among us want the quarterback to place himself in a hometown bargain bin beneath a "Blue Light Special!", it ain't happening, folks. Cousins is very much a first-ballot Hall of Fame businessman with a Canton-worthy pen that's inked $231,669,486 in career earnings despite one playoff win.

Spotrac.com says Cousins' market value is three years, $118 million, or $39.3 million per year. Common sense says it's no less than a penny more than the $40-million-a-year Ed Donatell's defense secured for Giants QB Daniel Jones in that playoff pratfall the Vikings gagged on 14 months ago at U.S. Bank Stadium. Throw in recent news of the unprecedented growth of the league's salary cap and, well, someone will force the Vikings to spend beyond $45 million a year on a guy the Purple are trying to court ahead of free agency this month and replace in the draft next month.

The Falcons are that team, reportedly. Atlanta appears to want Cousins because it thinks he can lift a talented, deeper squad beyond a weak division and into a brighter future with no particular expiration date in mind. The Vikings, meanwhile, appear to like Cousins a whole bunch, but only if the rest of the marriage doesn't last too long, prevent a roster rebuild or cost more in future dead money than a celebrated successor can shoulder on a rookie deal in 2025.

Who do ya think is going to win that courtship battle if Cousins reaches free agency?

But that's OK. Not being financially forced to overpay a guy to whom you've already paid $185 million over six years, two playoff berths and one postseason victory isn't an entirely unpalatable Plan B. Especially when he's almost 36, coming off a major injury and plays for a team that seems intent on drafting its quarterback of the future as highly as possible this year.

If it's bye-bye to Cousins, and "no way" to Nick Mullens as a bridge starter for one or two years or, frankly, one or two games …

Attention Kmart shoppers!

Don't snicker. The Buccaneers reached into the bargain bin with utterly no fanfare and found a broken Baker Mayfield for a mere $4 million last year. On ESPN's 2023 list of top 100 free agents, Mayfield was 91st. Jimmy Garoppolo was 17th. (And, by the way, if you really want to throw an even wetter blanket on free agency lists, remind people that Marcus Davenport ranked 12th.)

The Vikings certainly have a lot of positives to offer a retread looking for a successful reboot via a short, team-friendly deal. Chief among them are Kevin O'Connell's QB/player friendliness and 17 playdates with Justin Jefferson.

Russell Wilson comes to mind, obviously. He's being released in Denver and might be lured for the league minimum ($1.21 million) considering old friend George Paton is on the hook to pay Wilson $39 million minus whatever anyone else pays him.

Wilson is motivated, healthy and 100 days younger than Cousins.

Then there's Ryan Tannehill. He is 35, like Cousins. He is nine games over .500 (81-70), like Cousins (76-67-2). He has won fewer than three postseason games (2-3), like Cousins (1-3).

Money and other needs aside, Cousins is the obvious choice. Money and other needs not aside, Tannehill's market value, according to USA Today, is about $13 million, the same deal Davenport got to mostly not play last year.

Perennial backup-turned-intriguing starter Gardner Minshew, 27, is available for about $5 million. Sam Darnold also is 27 and probably can be had for about the same number.

And attention Kmart shoppers! ...

How about Tyrod Taylor? He's definitely not a coveted Evel Knievel Canyon Skycycle with Energizer Playset, but he's a year younger than Cousins and would cost a mere $6.8 million over two years, according to spotrac.com.

And, symbolically, Taylor has the perfect career record to serve as a rickety bridge from an expensive and not-yet-bottom-line-fulfilling Cousins era:

28-28-1.