Kirk Cousins wanted a chance to play for a winner, and that’s understandable. Maybe it’s even a little bit noble, considering fans complain players just chase money.
The upside of Cousins going to the Minnesota Vikings, something that seemed obvious from the moment the Vikings passed on giving a franchise tag to Case Keenum, is clear. But so is the downside.
The Vikings went to the NFC championship game without Cousins last season. The Vikings gave Cousins a three-year fully guaranteed $84 million contract on Thursday to get them over the hump. It has been expected for a while that Cousins’ deal will be the largest in NFL history. Cousins could do exactly what Keenum did last season, and lead the Vikings and their great defense to a loss in the NFC title game, and the signing wouldn’t be considered a success. If the Vikings don’t make it back to that point with Cousins, the move will be considered a failure. That’s a really high bar, but that’s also the burden of going to a team fresh off the NFL’s final four and signing a historic contract.
The expectations placed on Cousins won’t necessarily be fair. He could play very well, as he did for the past three seasons with the Washington Redskins, and the Vikings aren’t guaranteed a Super Bowl. Football is a team sport, and many things dictate playoff success. But the focus is always on the quarterback, and Cousins now has the weight of a tortured fan base on his shoulders.
The Cousins signing also came with a warning, from the Vikings’ head coach. Mike Zimmer said at the combine that he hoped the Vikings “wouldn’t take away from the things that have gotten us to this point,” referencing the hits the stellar defense would likely take by signing a quarterback to a mega-deal. It seemed pretty clear which quarterback he was talking about. Having Cousins eat up so much of the salary cap presents a challenge. No team in the salary-cap era has won with a quarterback taking up an exorbitant amount of the cap. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. But building a roster around a quarterback making a fortune is tougher.
At this moment, it is a worthwhile gamble for the Vikings. Cousins is a very good quarterback, and a quarterback like him has never hit free agency. The Vikings have the makings of a championship team, and it’s hard to criticize them for getting aggressive trying to win the franchise’s first title. And if Cousins does bring a Super Bowl to Minnesota, he’ll be beloved there forever. His contract will seem like a bargain then.
But the pressure is on Cousins, starting immediately. This move signals it’s Super Bowl or bust for the Vikings in Cousins’ three seasons. That’s what the Vikings paid for. Now all Cousins has to do is deliver a championship. You like that?
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