It seems that we haven’t been able to have any discussion about the state of the Minnesota Vikings franchise over the last few years without discussing Kirk Cousins’ contract. I get it, it was and still is the largest deal on the books in Vikings history. However, I think we never were at the point where Cousins deserves the moniker of “worst contract in sports history.”
In fact, I don’t think that Cousins has the worst contract in Minnesota sports history. To prove just that, I’m going to attempt to compare Cousins’ contract with that of other notable players in Minnesota history who received huge deals.
Kirk Cousins vs Zach Parise/Ryan Suter
Starting off with the toughest one for me to call because I don’t know that much about hockey. You can take away my Minnesota citizenship at any point after admitting that. In my very limited attention to the Minnesota Wild over the past few seasons, Suter and Parise are the two names that seem to come up the most alongside “overpaid.”
So, I looked at the contracts. Both Parise and Suter signed 13-year $98-million contracts in 2012 with no-trade-clauses built into them. Conveniently, overthecap.com tells us that that makes them one and two highest paid Minnesota Wild players in 2019, shocker honestly. Parise is the fifth highest paid left wing and Suter is the eighth highest paid defenseman in the NHL.
Now we’re at the point where I can’t pretend like I’m a bit out of my depth. So, I’m going to do the cheap thing and say that in the so far eight, give or take one due to this year’s pandemic, neither player has led the league in a statistical category except Suter in 2016-17 with a 34 +/-. Well, really he tied with his teammate Jason Zucker.
In the eight years of the Wild having these two anchors, take that however you will, the team has made the playoffs six times. However, they haven’t made it the last two seasons and never made it farther than the second round of those playoffs.
I don’t know how to compare Suter and Parise, but I’ll use the flawed playoff success argument. Of course the NHL is a completely different animal than the NFL for playoffs. In the NHL, 16/31 teams make the playoffs each season, eight from each conference. Compare that to the NFL where six teams from each conference make the playoffs. That’s 12/32, or 37.5% of the NFL make the playoffs versus 51.6% of the NHL.
So, we can assume that it is harder to make the playoffs in the NFL compared to the NHL. Cousins has made the playoffs ½ years for the Vikings and won a playoff game. Suter and Parise have made the playoffs 6/8 year, 75% of the time and won one playoff series.
How does Cousins’ contract compare to Parise’s and Suter’s then? Well, Cousins carries 10.64% of the Vikings cap hit for 2020. Parise and Suter each carry 11.54% of the Wild’s cap, a total of 23.08% of the cap.
In my limited research, NHL teams carry a maximum of 23 players compared to 53 on the NFL active roster. So, the Wild can hypothetically afford to pay less players a higher percentage of their cap.
My final verdict is, I don’t know man. I’d need to know a lot more about hockey to know if Parise or Suter are worth their contracts. However, I think they compare closely to Cousins in how crazy their contract’s numbers are. Thirteen years is an eternity in sports and the Wild are still currently on the hook for five more years in these contracts. The lack of cap mobility alone is problematic, but again I’m not sure if it’s enough to say the contracts are worse than Cousins’.
I know I’m going to get a lot of flack for this section, but try to understand that I’m trying to stretch my knowledge and do something new. This is the most I’ve been interested in the NHL in my life.
Kirk Cousins vs Andrew Wiggins
Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the player that brought the Timberwolves back to the promised land, or rather to the promised land for the first time ever. We’re talking about a generational talent, a guy people were calling “Maple Jordan.” Now, this was during the time when I was most interested in the Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett was moved to Boston.
In his four years prior to signing his huge contract, Wiggins averaged 19.2 points per game, 2.1 assists per game, and 4.1 rebounds per game. So, we take his scoring, easily his best stat, and we see that he never ranked higher than 12th in the league in that category prior to his big deal.
Now, why give him a huge deal with decent, but not spectacular stats? Well, that’s the NBA. Players get paid big based upon their potential. Wiggins still was only 23 when he signed his big contract.
Cousins on the other hand, was a completely proven product statistically while unproven in the playoffs. To me, it makes way more sense to have the Cousins deal where you know what you’re getting and you’re making a play for a team that, at the time, was coming off a deep playoff run.
The initial circumstances of the contracts were completely different and Wiggins was paid for his potential. So, how did Wiggins do after signing his huge contract? Surely he put his nose to the grindstone and finally played up to his potential with all that money.
Unfortunately for Timberwolves fans, no, he didn’t. He played a season and a half more with the team, both with slightly better stats than his previous seasons. However, never up to the caliber of his supermax deal.
He was dealt, along with a 1st and 2nd round pick, for D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans, and Omari Spellman. Maple Jordan never materialized and now he’s gone with the Wolves footing part of his bill still.
However, I think you can argue that the contract worked out okay. The Wolves landed Russell, a great talent and all-star, Spellman who is by all accounts full of potential, and Evans who I honestly have no clue how good he is. So, for the price of one Andrew Wiggins you get your star guard, potentially solid big man, and a flyer player. Not half bad.
Again, it’s hard to compare this to the Cousins deal just due to the big difference in number of players. In the NBA you’re only required to carry 12-15 players during the regular season and of those a lot of the time only 10 guys see the floor in a given night. So, that makes it easier to pay guys huge sums of money. Plus, given how much the league values potential, you can do what the Wolves did and snag more players for a guy’s potential as a superstar.
So, what’s my call? I still think Cousins is a better deal because he’s a known product and he’s already had much more success than Wiggins ever had, both in relation to his peers and playoff success. However, I don’t think the Wiggins deal is far and away worse, just different.
Kirk Cousins vs Joe Mauer
Here is one I do know quite a bit about, both Mauer and the MLB. When Mauer signed his $184-million, fully guaranteed, 8-year deal in 2011, it seemed like an absolute no-brainer. Hometown kid, MVP, multiple times a batting champion, and the greatest defensive catcher in the game at the time.
Of course that was pre-concussion Mauer and pre-bi-lateral leg weakness Mauer. From 2011 to 2018, the term of Mauer’s huge contract, he hit .290 with 62 home runs and 451 RBIs. That’s a yearly average of 8 home runs and only 56 RBIs. So, he wasn’t worth his value during the term of his contract, but if you take his career as a whole, you have a case for it making a ton of sense.
He only topped 13 home runs once, the year that inexplicably hit 28, and he never crossed 100 RBIs, but like I said, he was a hometown player who won multiple batting titles, gold gloves, and an MVP award. So, perhaps his contract was too rich for first baseman Mauer, but not for his entire tenure as a Twin.
So, how does he compare to Cousins? Well, I find the two to be quite similar. Both got fully guaranteed deals after zero playoff success, although that’s less Mauer’s fault and more Rick Anderson’s in my opinion. Both statistically were absolutely great at what they do, but I feel they also both collected a lot of stats that didn’t really help the team. The hard thing is, Mauer’s contract comes in the MLB where the only real salary cap is how much the owner is willing to spend. So, we can’t really made a cap comparison between the two.
I don’t mean that Mauer was a bad player, but I mean that despite being a long-time middle of the lineup hitter, he never collected enough RBIs. Again, you could put that down to the players around him, or his position as a catcher where he usually only played ⅔ of the team’s games, but at some point he should have been able to turn it on and put runs on the board more efficiently.
I always felt that Mauer left a ton on the table by being a slap hitter. He always had a ton of power, but never really put it to use, the one 28 home run season being the exception. I feel Kirk Cousins also sometimes leaves yards on the table by being a bit conservative at times. I’m not saying he won’t take a shot deep when the situation calls for it, but much like Mauer, he tends to go for the safe option and that doesn’t always lead to wins.
Cousins already has a playoff win, which is more than the Twins ever accomplished with Mauer. However, Cousins doesn’t mean what Mauer meant to the state of Minnesota. Mauer wasn’t just an athlete, he was a hero for all the kids to look up to. I started trying to grow sideburns to be like Joe. You can’t put a price on that from an emotional standpoint and I’m sure the Twins organization made a ton more than $184-million over the length of Mauer’s career.