Kirk Cousins Major Contract “Buzz” Gets Another Gust of Wind

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
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First, there was Charley Walters of The Pioneer Press.

The veteran writer had this to say about the veteran quarterback — Mr. Kirk Cousins — getting a hefty deal: “The buzz now is that it will take $90 million guaranteed for two years, despite that he’s still not yet fully recovered from Achilles surgery in November, to sign free agent QB Kirk Cousins. If that’s the case, he certainly won’t get that from the Vikings.”

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

More recently, Dawn Mitchell of FOX9 jumped into the fray. She echoes a similar idea, putting the projected Cousins contract at a staggering $90 million over a pair of years: “Kirk Cousins reportedly willing to take a little less and come back to the Vikings – 90 mil for 2 years. After the season Kirk made it clear he seeks a deal that’s not all about [dollar bag emoji] but also structure .. saying it’s not about the dollars but it is about what the dollars represent.”

In other words, a pair of notable Vikings beat writers sent out identical numbers within a couple of days. What’s notable, apart from the massive money, is the differing conclusions they come to while discussing the same details.

The Contract “Buzz” and The Perpetual Kirk Cousins Disagreement

When he explained that the structure of a deal is what’s most important, Kirk Cousins was likely talking about guaranteed cash.

The passer doesn’t like playing on a deal with bloated numbers that don’t amount to very much (see: Jones, Daniel). Instead, he wants a real commitment from the team, which means locking in fully guaranteed compensation.

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

And while he was legitimately playing excellent football pre-Achilles injury, Cousins is unlikely to land a locked-in $90 million across a pair of seasons. The cost is too great for an older QB with next to no meaningful team success in his decade+ in the NFL.

Yes, he has been getting better. Yes, he could have finished the season as an All Pro. Yes, his teammates love him. But, crucially, he has never been beyond the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Nor has he ever been in consideration for MVP or Offensive Player of the Year. Nor has he ever been an All Pro. As an individual and as part of a team, Cousins hasn’t soared very high when it comes to the league’s various awards and accomplishments.

Putting it all together means that retaining Cousins can’t involve turning the budget upside down. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah understands this reality better than almost anyone. He is, after all, the value GM.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates a touchdown pass with the offensive line during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly justifying the $45 million per year price tag would be a deal like the one that Daniel Jones signed: a 4-year, $160 million agreement. The issue, of course, is that New York structured things in such a way as to give themselves an easy out.

In reality, the Giants only signed up for a pair of seasons with their QB1. Going into 2025, New York could cut Jones for a cap savings of $19,395,000 while leaving behind $22,210,000 in dead money. Designating the cut as occurring after June 1 would mean New York can stretch out that dead money charge across 2025 & 2026, so that will be an option, as well.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) looks to pass the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The point, folks, is simply that surpassing the annual average for Jones doesn’t make a ton of sense as a comparable once the guaranteed money gets tossed into the mix.

It’s hard to think that Cousins belongs at the very top of the QB market. Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, and Patrick Mahomes are all making more and that makes sense. Many of them have accomplished far more in their young careers than Cousins has in his long career.

Ahead of him, though, are players who really don’t deserve to be making more: Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and, indeed, Daniel Jones. Of course, the critical factor is guaranteed money, isn’t it? Presumably, the Vikings would be willing to push the annual average to some soaring highs if the guarantees were light, but Cousins won’t play for that kind of deal. Or, at the very least, he hasn’t been willing to since coming to Minnesota.

Underrated Player
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs onto the field before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

What’s wild is the range within the contract speculation that’s out there. On PFF, Brad Spielberger says $30 million per season across a pair of seasons. I’ve predicted $35 million per season across a pair of seasons. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert said $42.5 million per season over two years, and the aforementioned reports from Walters and Mitchell put things at $45 million per season across two years.

So, there’s a range of $30-$45 million per season for Mr. Cousins. At this point, the expectation should be that he leans toward the higher end since that’s what history tells us to expect. Plus, he’s been doing a media blitz, meaning he’s been putting in the leg work to regain some leverage in negotiations.

Cousins has, without exaggerating, made hundreds of millions playing playing quarterback in the NFL (OTC says north of $230M). The next deal will very likely push him beyond the $300 million threshold. Whether that cash arrives in Minnesota or elsewhere is what everyone is interested in finding out.

In a touch less than eight games, Kirk Cousins was sitting at a 69.5 completion percentage alongside 2,331 passing yards, 18 TDs, and 5 INTs.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.