The Vikings and soon-to-be free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins have been linked for months. Interest has reportedly been mutual all along, but until yesterday we hadn’t seen any numbers or details of what a potential contract between the two sides might look like.
First reported by the Washington Redskins site Bergundy Blog, according to former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, the Vikings are set to offer Cousins a three-year deal worth $91 million and fully guaranteed.
That is a massive number and would make Cousins the highest paid quarterback in the NFL on a per-year basis. This set off a wildfire of speculation throughout the Vikings’ and NFL blogosphere yesterday mostly centered around the two very important questions that come to mind. 1) Is Kirk Cousins worth that much? And 2) Can the Vikings keep their core together and sign Cousins to a deal like that.
To answer question No. 1 first, no. Kirk Cousins is not worth that much money. But that doesn’t matter. In a sensible world Jimmy Garoppolo and Cousins wouldn’t be duking it out for the top spot of highest-paid quarterback in the league. But this isn’t a sensible world. It’s the NFL, a league where money flies around like wildfire and no one even knows what a catch is. Simply put, if you want your guy then you have to go out and pay your guy.
Let’s assume for hypothetical reasons that Cousins is the Vikings’ guy. It’s a big assumption and even with it leaves the second question a very difficult one to answer. This dilemma was beautifully detailed by the Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling and shows there is indeed a path for the Vikings to potentially pull off signing Cousins to a mega deal and keeping their young and talented core in place.
To say the Vikings are a quarterback away from a Super Bowl is both irresponsible and also not too far off from being true. Yes, the entire team was ravaged in the 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, but even if you tear apart every negative aspect of that performance you will always come back to the quarterback to figure out how to get this team over the championship hump.
Case Keenum was a great story last season, but he was not good in the playoffs and much of the scorn aimed at the defense’s final six quarters of play can be redirected towards Keenum and the several short fields he was leaving the defense to defend (Drew Brees only marched the Saints offense down the field for one scoring drive of more than 50 yards in the divisional round).
Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater both hold far more questions than they answer. Money aside, Cousins is a safer option for quality quarterback play than all three.
If the Vikings can acquire Cousins without sacrificing their core, then they should do it. It won’t be easy. The Vikings are looking at extensions for Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Trae Waynes either this summer or next. This makes the most important number in the reported Cousins deal the three years and not the $91 million. If signing Cousins means the Vikings can only sign any less than four of those names they should walk away.
A three-year deal serves both parties pretty well here. It would allow the Vikings and salary cap wizard Rob Brzezinski to front load the contract and avoid a long-term commitment to Cousins who will celebrate his 30th birthday in the middle of this year’s training camp.
The short-term contract is consistent with Cousins’s decisions to not sign long-term deals when Washington used the franchise tag on him in the past, to bet on himself, and would give him one more shot at another big deal before his mid thirties. It also allows Brzezinski the flexibility to be creative and find the space in future cap years to lock up the rest of the Vikings’ young playmakers.
The path is narrow, but it does exist somewhere in the team’s salary cap ether and Brzezinski has been one of the best cap guys in the game during his entire tenure with the Vikings.
Beyond staring at cap space and contract numbers that start to look more and more like Mandarin by the minute, there’s a trust in Vikings’ brass fans should have. A three-year, $91 million fully guaranteed deal for Kirk Cousins may look like the Vikings are punting on some of their young players, especially on defense, but that would mean Brzezinski and Rick Spielman are consciously sacrificing pieces from Mike Zimmer’s vaunted defensive unit. That isn’t happening.
If the Vikings do sign Cousins to a deal next week, trust that Brzezinski, Spielman & Co. have a plan in place to retain the rest of the roster that brought the Vikings to an NFC Championship in 2017 in addition to bringing a hopeful franchise quarterback.
I would say trust the process, but that statement’s origin in Philadelphia has bad vibes written all over it. Trust the purple sounds a whole lot better.