A Clever Contract Caveat Will Allow the Vikings to be Shrewd with Kirk Cousins Negotiation

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) prepares to throw a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

On March 13th, Kirk Cousins’ contract will void. The $28.5 million of lingering dead money would move from hypothetical to actual. The only way for the Vikings to avoid that fate is to extend his deal.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has said that he’s hoping the Vikings can continue their partnership with the quarterback. Meanwhile, the quarterback has consistently expressed his desire to finish his career in Minnesota (though his recent media blitz does shoehorn some uncertainty into the mix). If there’s a mutual desire to work together, what’s the holdup? Money, dingus! How much is enough? Well, that question is more complicated. Both sides may gain some clarity soon.

The Vikings Can Wait on Kirk Cousins Contract

Before free agency fully arrives, the NFL will venture into the “legal tampering period.”

Essentially, teams can start negotiating with players who are still technically employees of another team. The new league year will begin on March 13th, so that’s when a lot of contracts will expire as various players become free agents. On March 11th, though, the league’s teams can come to verbal, not written, agreements with players. None of this is against the rules (hence the “legal” portion of the tampering).

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) leaves the field after the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Why does that matter? Well, for starters, the time period from March 11th to 13th will allow both sides — the Vikings and Kirk Cousins — to discern what the rest of the league thinks the QB is worth.

Consider, for instance, a scenario where a team like the Falcons is willing to hand over a couple seasons at $45 million (fully guaranteed, as per tradition). If Minnesota won’t move beyond $35 million fully guaranteed, then Cousins will almost certainly bring his talents to Atlanta as Minnesota pivots toward building around their in-house talent at QB, the options in free agency, and the 2024 NFL Draft.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and quarterback Nick Mullens (12) in the tunnel against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If, however, the financial chasm isn’t too large, then both sides could go back to the negotiation table with clearer focus and insight about what’s fair for a 36-year-old QB who is coming off of an Achilles tear but who is nevertheless a top-10 NFL QB.

Maybe Adofo-Mensah is willing to push the compensation into the high-30s whereas the rest of the NFL won’t go any higher than $40 million per season. In that scenario, a contract reconciliation seems likely to occur. Would they really sever the relationship over $2-$3 million?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

All of this can occur within those couple days, a slim window but one where a pile of work can be accomplished. After all, Cousins confirmed that he’s waiting until March like the rest of the world to learn about his fate for 2024 and (potentially) beyond.

In the lead up, he’ll be working with his agent to determine fair compensation and what he’s willing to accept. The Vikings will be working through their own version, deciding how much can get spent on Cousins while assessing all of their options at the game’s most important position.

In less than eight games, Cousins led his team to a 4-4 record behind his 2,331 passing yards, 18 TDs, and 5 INTs. He has never been an All Pro, won a major award, or led a team beyond the Divisional Round, but he has continued to improve throughout his career and Justin Jefferson has been achieving history with Cousins tossing the pigskin.

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.