Looking for a Kirk Cousins Pay Cut? Here’s How it Could Actually Work

Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

Over on Vikings Territory, Dustin Baker spent a few moments dissecting a recent debate: should we be expecting a Kirk Cousins pay cut?

In an ideal world, the answer may be “yes.” After all, most people who follow this team are Vikings fans rather than just Cousins fans. Nevertheless, the chances of Cousins simply slashing dollars off his deal is unlikely.

Take a peak at how Dustin frames things: “Assuming Cousins would encourage a paycut is lunacy. He would’ve done it by now. In fact, Cousins and his agent are renowned for acting shrewdly amid contract negotiations — not for embracing warmhearted salary shrinkage.”

Vikings Are Playing With Fire Regarding Their QB1
Sep 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

At various points, Mr. Cousins has proven that he’s a shrewd businessman. Resisting the pressure from Washington to sign a deal he didn’t love while riding out the franchise tags proved it. His aplomb while negotiating with both the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings in 2018 further proved the point.

Since that time, we’ve seen Cousins promote fireplaces, TVs, and jewellery (to name just a few off-field opportunities). What can I say? The man knows how to make money. Just his NFL earnings have surpassed $200 million.

The wild thing, though, is that Cousins has previously discussed his willingness to accept less money if it involved winning more. Prior to signing the original deal in Minnesota, Cousins actually said he’s looking to take below the maximum amount possible:

How much should I make it about the money? As a retired player looking back, do you wish you had made more money or do you wish you had won more games? The dream is that we go to a place where we can win. And the hope would be that this isn’t a decision for two or three years, this is a decision for decades.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Shortly thereafter, he wonders about raising his family in Minnesota. That’s no small consideration, folks. Money is important; family is more important.

Now, we’re a long way from Cousins making that comment. And, in some ways, he has already fulfilled his word. The Jets did offer more money, and yet he chose to head to Minnesota. Is there any possibility at all that he’ll embrace a Brady-style pay cut to give his team a better shot at winning?

Another thing that’s important to remember is that Cousins has been in this position before. In fact, Cousins has routinely been a topic of discussion during this part of the offseason. After the initial couple seasons, #8 inked an extension in Minnesota. In so doing, he brought his cap hit down by a significant amount.

The first two years in a purple uniform featured Cousins carrying a $24 million and $29 million hit. However, the extension that kicked in going into the 2020 season meant that the QB1 played under a $21 million cap hit. A single-season cap hit of $21 million is supremely manageable for a player of Cousins’ calibre.

Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; A general view of U.S. Bank Stadium as Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) leads the offense during the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

At the combine, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah discussed the QB situation, concluding that Cousins has the necessary talent to win in the NFL:

A necessary condition is having a starter-level quarterback, a quarterback of above a certain threshold. Now, that doesn’t mean for sure you’re going to win, that’s not the only thing you need, but that is one of the things you need […] Kirk quarterback meets that threshold, so we know that. How do you build the rest of the team around him to make sure you can win in that way? Different quarterbacks require different things around him.

The final portion of that quote is telling. Does Kirk Cousins surpass the talent “threshhold?” The purple GM gives us an emphatic “yes.” However, we also need to ask, “does he do so at a price point that allows the purple GM to build out the rest of the roster?” That’s a question that’s open for debate, and it’s one Adofo-Mensah seems to be asking.

Reducing the 2023 number – likely through an extension and not a mutually-agreed upon pay cut – may be the most plausible route as of March 1st, 2023.

Until we receive firm clarity, the Kirk Cousins pay cut speculation will continue. Playing the game’s most important position while being paid top dollar will inevitably lead to strong opinions. Adofo-Mensah can quash at least some of the speculation by making a firm decision on how things are going to shake out for 2023 and in the coming seasons.

Editor’s Note: Information from Over the Cap helped with this piece.