Zulgad: Mr. March strikes again: Kirk Cousins’ negotiating brilliance makes it easy for the Vikings to pass

The Minnesota Vikings’ decision on whether to retain Kirk Cousins seemed as if it might be a difficult one. The veteran quarterback had spent six seasons with the Vikings, he and his family had established roots in the Twin Cities and he had what seemed like a real connection with coach Kevin O’Connell and his teammates.

As the NFL’s negotiating window for pending free agents opened late Monday morning, the Vikings and Cousins’ agent reportedly were still talking with the Atlanta Falcons waiting on-deck.

The Falcons then did the Vikings a huge favor by making their decision an easy on. Cousins agreed to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million in guarantees, according to NFL Network. There is a $50 million signing bonus, $90 million in 2024 and 2025 are fully guaranteed at signing and a $10 million injury guarantee for 2026 will become fully guaranteed next offseason.

This bit of negotiating brilliance solidified Cousins as Mr. March. He might have only one playoff win in 12 NFL seasons, but he’s one of the best all-time at the contract game. Cousins’ performance on Monday, with an assist from agent Mike McCartney, might have been the defining moment of his career.

Cousins will turn 36 on Aug. 19 and is coming off a season-ending torn Achilles’ suffered last October in Green Bay. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah should have been wishing Cousins the best of luck once he heard four years and $180 million. Any other response would have been the reason for Adofo-Mensah’s immediate dismissal.

The Falcons’ decision is similar to what then-Vikings GM Rick Spielman did in 2018, when he signed Cousins a three-year, $84 million contract. It was the first fully guaranteed, multiyear contract in NFL history and was given to Cousins because of Spielman’s belief that he was the final piece to a team that had lost to Philadelphia in the NFC title game.

Cousins, who signed two subsequent contract extensions in Minnesota and went 50-37-1 in 88 regular-season starts, posted impressive stats in purple but led the franchise to only two playoff berths and never got past the second round. The Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs in 2018, falling woefully short of expectations.

O’Connell was brought in to replace Mike Zimmer as coach following the 2021 season in part because O’Connell had worked with Cousins as an assistant coach in Washington and was considered a good fit with the veteran. Cousins led the Vikings to a 13-4 record and guided an NFL record-tying eight fourth-quarter comebacks in O’Connell’s first season, and helped the Vikings rebound from a 1-4 start to get back to .500 when he was injured in Green Bay.

There were some who thought Cousins might see the success he had with O’Connell, especially since things didn’t go well with Zimmer, and decide he might take less on a short-term deal to remain in Minnesota and continue playing with standout wide receiver Justin Jefferson and the up-and-coming Jordan Addison.

But that’s never been how Cousins operates. His only checkdowns come on the field.

Cousins gave a revealing answer in January when discussing his upcoming negotiations and whether he might cut the Vikings a bit of a deal.

“I do think it’s important to be aware of,” he said. “I think God has blessed me financially beyond my wildest dreams, so at this stage in my career, the dollars are really not what it’s about. I had a coach who I was with, who was a younger coach at the time, this was back eight, nine years ago, before my first franchise tag [in Washington], and we were talking about the situation and he made a great comment and he said, ‘Kirk, it’s not about the dollars, but it is about what the dollars represent.’ I thought that was an interesting comment that he made. There will always be some of that, but at today’s point, structure is probably more important.”

Structure, in this case, was code for term and guaranteed money, the latter being the most important to Cousins and McCartney. The fact the Falcons went to four years with that much guaranteed money must have been music to Cousins’ ears.

It also should have been welcome news to the Vikings, who can move on from Cousins with no sane individual questioning why they didn’t match Atlanta’s offer.

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell can get on with what should have been their goal when they took their respective jobs early in 2022 — identifying a young quarterback who can join Fran Tarkenton as only the second franchise QB in team history.

The Vikings are scheduled to pick 11th in the draft this April, but should be looking to move up to grab one of the top four quarterbacks, a list that includes USC’s Caleb Williams (likely going No. 1 to the Bears), North Carolina’s Drake Maye, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. They also are likely to sign a veteran bridge QB; names such as Sam Darnold and Jacob Brissett have been mentioned.

While Cousins was walking out the door Monday, the Vikings reportedly came to terms with three players on the defensive side of the ball. Edge rushers Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel were added from Houston and Miami, respectively, while linebacker Blake Cashman left the Texans to return to his home state.

These moves should help strengthen coordinator Brian Flores’ defense as the Vikings begin life without Cousins. There will be short-term uncertainty at the quarterback position, but Vikings fans can take solace knowing that not paying Cousins ridiculous money means that while he will be heading south their franchise won’t.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire