Zulgad: Vikings would be wise to do nothing when it comes to Kirk Cousins’ contract
There has been great debate about Kirk Cousins’ play in five seasons with the Vikings, but there is one area in which the quarterback’s success can’t be argued. That would be at the negotiating table.
Cousins, and more specifically his agent, Mike McCartney, have delivered Hall of Fame performances since 2018. Cousins, who spent his first six seasons in Washington, received a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal when he signed as a free agent with the Vikings. That made him the first quarterback to sign a fully guaranteed multiyear contract.
A two-year, fully guaranteed $66 million contract followed in 2020 and last year Cousins received a one-year, $35 million extension through 2023. Yes, that was fully guaranteed as well. The agreement helped the Vikings save almost $14 million against the cap for 2022 (void years were added in 2024 and ’25), but raised Cousins’ salary to $40 million for the season and included a no-trade clause for 2023.
The takeaway from all of these financial figures is that Cousins has been dictating the terms of his employment with the Vikings since he first walked into TCO Performance Center. That wasn’t such a bad thing last season as Cousins guided the Vikings to an NFL-record-tying eight fourth-quarter comebacks and 13 wins overall in coach Kevin O’Connell’s first season.
However, it appears Cousins’ days of getting guaranteed contracts might be a thing of the past. At least in Minnesota. That became clear at the recent NFL Scouting Combine as Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah discussed Cousins’ situation.
“Obviously from their side, they want it as certain as possible, and from our side, we want flexibility,” Adofo-Mensah said. “You’re always trying to be solutions-oriented and find a way that works for both people. … He has as much importance to this organization and maybe more than I do, so we all have to be on the same page and make sure that relationship works.”
The interpretation: The Vikings and Cousins’ agent have talked about an extension and there’s a difference of opinion about how the contract should be structured. That would start with Cousins wanting more than a one-year extension this time and the Vikings balking at that.
The divide likely grew this week as Giants quarterback Daniel Jones received a four-year contract with $105 million in guarantees, and New Orleans signed free agent Derek Carr to a four-year deal with $100 million in guarantees. Neither received fully guaranteed deals, but that’s what Cousins almost certainly wants again on a multiyear agreement.
Adofo-Mensah can’t be blamed for not wanting to lock into such a deal. Cousins will turn 35 on Aug. 19 and at some point soon this organization is going to want to identify a younger and more inexpensive quarterback to replace him and spend the coming seasons throwing the ball to Justin Jefferson.
O’Connell was hired in large part because of the trust in him that he can identify and develop a quarterback who can turn into a franchise player.
The Vikings are expected to sign Jefferson to a rich extension this offseason and left tackle Christian Darrisaw will be eligible for an extension next spring. Those are two players the Vikings are going to have to take care of and it will be far easier to do so if they have a first-round QB playing on a rookie contract.
So what would be the wise play with Cousins? The answer would be to do nothing. Cousins will count $36.25 million against the 2023 cap and will receive a $20 million roster bonus on March 17. An extension would reduce his cap hit for the coming season, but it would create more issues down the road and that’s something the Vikings don’t need.
The team can create cap room for 2023 with other moves. Linebacker Eric Kendricks already has been jettisoned and wide receiver Adam Thielen reportedly could be next. There are other veterans who could and should be moved out as well.
Cousins’ cap hit for next season is scheduled to be the sixth-highest among quarterbacks, trailing Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson ($54.993 million); Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes ($49.293 million); Dallas’ Dak Prescott ($49.130 million); Buffalo’s Josh Allen ($39.772 million); and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill ($36.6 million).
Instead of trying to create more cap space by reworking Cousins’ contract, why not let him play out this deal and see if he can add to his total of one playoff win with the Vikings? If that happens, he could be worthy of another rich extension. But if the Vikings choose to hit the reset, they won’t have to worry about being stuck with Cousins beyond what’s owed to the cap for the void years that were created last March.
Replacing Cousins with a first-round quarterback could prove costly in terms of compensation surrendered in a potential trade to move up, but that player would be a bargain when it comes to his initial payday. That’s a guarantee that Adofo-Mensah would welcome.
Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com