The Financial Implications of Kirk’s Strong Start
Being a Minnesota Vikings fan is an emotional roller coaster. When we lost the opening two games, many of us were willing to tear down the entire team, stripping it down to the studs so we could rebuild a better house. After the unlikely Seattle win, many of us are making plans for February travel. What’s the weather like in California during February?
At the center of all of this, of course, is Kirk Cousins. It’s no exaggeration to say that his time in a purple uniform has been controversial.
Before leaving Washington, Cousins developed a reputation as a QB who is above-average but also unable to elevate. The stats always look nice, but he often fails to elevate in the meaningful moments. Through three years in Minnesota, Cousins has largely lived up to these characterizations.
There’s no disputing that his numbers have been really crisp since coming to Minnesota. Heck, his advanced stats are also impressive. How have we done, though, since Kirk took over? We missed the playoffs in both 2018 and 2020. We got in following the 2019 season; Kirk, to his credit, led an impressive OT drive that saw us vanquish the Saints. It was glorious. Our glory was quickly undone in the following week; we got beat bad by the 49ers.
2021 looks like a critical year for our franchise QB. The leadership trinity – Kirk Cousins, Mike Zimmer, and Rick Spielman – all appear to be fighting for their jobs.
Now, being 1-2 is no reason to throw a parade. It’s a lousy record, one that suggests our friends in purple still have a long way to go. What’s notable about this record, though, is that it could easily be 3-0. In fact, one could argue that Cousins did all he could to get us to 3-0. The end result is some serious questions about Cousins’ status as the QB1 both this season and beyond.
Currently, Cousins counts for $31 million against the cap. There’s no debating that’s a lot of money. The next closest number is Danielle Hunter at more than $13 million. Next year it’s even worse. Kirk heads into 2022 with a fully guaranteed $45 million. Cutting him brings no financial relief. Even with a healthy increase in salary cap space, our Vikings are close to $6 million over next year’s cap.
Here’s the thing: if Kirk (and I acknowledge I’m talking about a really big “if”) keeps playing like he has been, do we really want him gone? The opening three weeks of the year have featured great stats and clutch performance. What more could you ever want from your QB1?
If his play continues its upward trend – again, a lot hinges on that two-letter word – then our best course of action is to extend Cousins. Doing so could free up to $27 million (per OTC).
The trade off, of course, is more years of Kirk under center in Minnesota. The only way that makes sense is if he finally shows that he can put it all together for a full season, marrying clutch play with gaudy numbers the entire time. At 33, Cousins is definitely toward the end of his career, but he could reasonably have another 5+ years of strong play. Plenty of QBs have played well into their mid-30s and even their late 30s. Cousins, so far, has been able to avoid injury. Assuming the injury luck continues to hold up, the health concerns should be relatively minor as he ages.
Indeed, the most important factor rests in whether he can replicate his three-game brilliance over a 17-game schedule. If he can, expect Slick Rick and Brilliant Brze to look toward an extension for some financial relief.