Is There any Chance MN Allows the Market to Set Kirk Cousins’ Price?

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC at NFC
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Upon first glance, the idea is idiotic. Kirk Cousins’ price is high, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense to let him slip into free agency to … bring him back.

If Kirk Cousins gets to the end of his deal next offseason, the Vikings will take on a mandatory $28.5 million dead cap hit. Embracing the massive cap charge to then bring #8 back into the purple fold is lunacy. Why not just extend him, thereby allowing the GM to spread out that committed money across multiple years? Doing so could lead to a much tidier, easier-to-digest cap charge heading into the ’24 season.

The benefit of letting him test the market simply rests in allowing the controversial QB to see what other teams are willing to pay him. The team and player haven’t been able to arrive at a number that makes both sides reasonably happy (or reasonably unhappy, the way great contracts sometimes work).

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs away from Green Bay Packers linebacker Justin Hollins (47) during their game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

An extension remains very possible. Earlier in the offseason, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah confirmed as much. The GM thinks his quarterback plays at a high level: “Kirk doesn’t need to show anything to me. Kirk has played football at a high level before I got to the Minnesota Vikings. Last year, we won 13 games. I don’t know what he would need to prove to me or anybody else.”

He thinks that they could begin negotiating again: “Sometimes you come to a place where you decide, ‘Hey, let’s talk later. This is a solution for now.’ That’s all that’s happened.”

3 Bold Predictions
Mar 1, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah talks to the media during the 2022 NFL Combine. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

However, Adofo-Mensah also understands that Kirk Cousins needs the right support around him to thrive. Being able to get those players requires cap space:

A necessary condition is having a starter-level quarterback, a quarterback of above a certain threshold. 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. Having a good level quarterback is a necessary condition. Kirk quarterback meets that threshold, so we know that. How do you build the rest of the team around him to make sure that you can win in that way? Different quarterbacks require different things around them. We know that for sure he meets that threshold; how long does he meet that threshold? Those are the things we got to answer.

Furthermore, Kevin O’Connell recently addressed how a QB on his rookie deal makes life easier. “Having those 4 years of that player,” O’Connell notes, “on kind of that scale that allows you to build a roster around those players has been an advantage.”

Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on during mandatory mini camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The two main decision-makers in Minnesota – Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell – share a similar perspective: getting value on a QB’s deal is very beneficial and Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback. Both of those sentiments are guiding their thinking.

Indeed, at least a few things have become clear in recent weeks and months. The team truly does value what Kirk Cousins offers. Not enough to take leave of their senses by fully guaranteeing multiple years at $40+ million, but there’s a desire for more Cousins.

The team opted against drafting a highly-regarded QB, instead waiting for the 5th to snag Jaren Hall. Bringing in the former BYU QB is about securing their future at QB2 more than it is developing an exit strategy for Cousins (but they’d be thrilled if Hall did develop into a great starter).

Nov 26, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) throws during warmups before a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Plus, the team isn’t going to trade their QB1. Kicking an added $16 million into next year’s budget virtually guarantees Cousins isn’t going to be involved in swap (15 and counting for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Trading him would result in a $38,750,000 cap charge. That’s not happening, folks.

Keeping up? A recap:

  • The team really does like Cousins.
  • The team will not spend too much on Cousins.
  • The team has no crystal-clear succession plan after Cousins.
  • The team will not be trading Cousins.

If there’s no extension, Kirk Cousins will become a free agent next offseason. Plenty of teams will be calling to see if he’ll shepherd their offense. How much will these teams actually be willing to pay him, though?

One thinks of Derek Carr’s recent deal with the New Orleans Saints as a notable comparison. Touted as a 4-year, $150 million deal, the Saints are really only on the hook for the opening pair of seasons. They could cut Carr in 2025 and be left with $17,100,000 in dead money. Not altogether insignificant and yet not totally prohibitive.

Feb 5, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; AFC quarterback Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders (4) observes the playing of the national anthem during the Pro Bowl Games at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

But, of course, therein lies the issue with Cousins: the man has often refused deals that contain fake money. He wants real contract numbers, the kind that come in fully guaranteed money. Given his propensity for guaranteed compensation, Cousins will have a more difficult time putting pen to paper.

In theory, Cousins could flirt with some other teams before circling back to Minnesota. That’s basically what he did the first time, leveraging the offer from the Jets to prompt the Vikings toward a higher amount of money.

If, however, other teams weren’t willing to hand over a large, guaranteed deal, then the leverage swings back to Minnesota. That’s the danger of going on the open market. At that point, the GM would just need to work through the reality of juggling a sizable dead money hit and new contract for Cousins in the same budget.

As far as I can tell, a Kirk Cousins extension is a 50/50 right now. Letting the market decide Cousins’ compensation before re-signing him? Less than 1%.

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