The phone rang, forever changing Kirk Cousins’ NFL path and his life.
The news is comforting, yet stunning. One of the final dominoes in his offseason masterplan has just fallen.
And in this moment, Cousins knows what he and his agent, Mike McCartney, must do next: Get the Minnesota Vikings to increase their offer.
Standing in his in-law’s kitchen this past March, Cousins delivered the contract news to his wife.
“The Jets came up to 30 [million]. Fully guaranteed. Three-year deal,” he told her. “Mike, has to do the same thing with the Vikings. He’s got to get them from $25 [million] to a number that is competitive with the Jets’ offer. But the fact that we have the Jets’ offer is huge, because now it gives the other teams a reason to come up.”
Julie Cousins looked at him in amazement, realizing her husband’s free-agency dream is finally coming to fruition. For once, Cousins is the object of everyone’s desire, the belle of the ball, the hot cheerleader every young quarterback wanted to date. After years of feeling under-appreciated in Washington and being referred to as “Kurt” by Redskins president Bruce Allen, the stage finally belongs to the often-overlooked veteran quarterback. The former fourth-rounder is now a free-agency darling.
But Cousins doesn’t want the New York Jets. He wants the Vikings.
Two franchises. One fateful decision. And one choice that, in the end, played out perfectly for both teams.
Cousins’ self-serving calculation — a fully guaranteed, three-year, $28 million per season deal from Minnesota — paved the way for his much-anticipated arrival to a team stacked with more weapons than he ever had during his Washington days. But more importantly, the Vikings left little doubt about how badly they wanted Cousins to be the face of their franchise.
Meanwhile, the Jets — viewed largely as the patsy in the quarterback’s offseason plot — went back to work putting Plan B into action.
And on Sunday, New York and its fanbase will come face to face with The Guy who got away.
Regardless of the impressive numbers Cousins has posted to this point — 1,921 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions for the Vikings (3-2-1) — and regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, the Jets are the real winners in the Cousins chase.
Did he use them for leverage? Obviously.
Did he have any real interest in playing for them? Nope.
Is there anything wrong with Cousins playing the system? Not at all.
(In fact, more players should take note of how he maximized his leverage.)
This is business. And in this case, being the spurned suitors proved to be a great thing for the Jets.
They lost out on a quick fix, but in losing Cousins, they gained a young, much-cheaper quarterback with an even higher ceiling in Sam Darnold.
After dealing defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson to Seattle in Sept. 2017, in exchange for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick, the Jets packaged that same draft pick as part of a blockbuster trade with Indianapolis to move up from No. 6 to third overall in the draft order in March.
A month later, New York selected its new franchise guy: 21-year-old Darnold.
“A lot’s been made about how young he is,” Cousins said this week of Darnold, who has thrown for 1,346 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Jets (3-3). “You feel like it’s a really impressive start for him in this league, and I’m sure he’s got a lot of great days ahead of him. Hopefully our defense can contain him well this weekend.”
Darnold is a rookie still learning and still navigating the transition to the NFL. But each week, he has shown an ability to shake off poor decisions and slow starts; to remain even-keeled even when facing a deficit; and show acute accuracy whether launching the ball downfield or through narrow windows.
Did the Jets throw more money at Cousins than any other team? You betcha.
Will Jets fans boo him when he steps on the field at MetLife Stadium? No doubt.
But here’s why they shouldn’t: Darnold is their future. And as Cousins pointed out, the kid appears to have “a lot of great days ahead of him.”
So, dear Jets fans: Don’t boo Cousins because he dissed you. Instead, applaud him because he did you guys a favor.
He allowed cameras to capture his free agency process, and worse, signed off on those private conversations being aired publicly in a documentary put together by his marketing team. Cousins could have pocketed $90 million from the Jets, instead he took less money to play for the team he was eyeing all along.
“That show was meant to show the journey and meant to show how impressed I was with the Minnesota Vikings,” Cousins told Minnesota reporters. “It was not meant to be a slight to anybody else. I have tremendous respect for [Jets] coach [Todd] Bowles. I’ve played against him. He’s had my lunch a couple of times. Jeremy Bates, their offensive coordinator, is a phenomenal coach and play-caller; he’s doing a great job this year. So it was really meant to show the Vikings as a great fit for us. Nothing more.”
His franchise-altering decision helped deliver Jets fans exactly what they’ve been clamoring for years: A young quarterback with a cannon for an arm. A talented top pick who appears to have a good head on his shoulders, much-needed pocket presence, and an ability to read a defense.
This Jets team isn’t built to win now. But Cousins did you a favor, New York.
He may have, unwittingly, set up the Jets for plenty of success in the days to come.
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