Minnesota Vikings fans may be apprehensive about paying Kirk Cousins big money with a new extension, but it’s a savvy move by the organization.
Despite being much-maligned throughout his career, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been an above-average passer during his tenure in Minneapolis. Cousins showed much improvement in his second season with the Vikings and led the team to a 10-6 record and road playoff victory.
Cousins completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,600 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019. Among all starting quarterbacks, he ranked 16th in passing yards, fourth in completion percentage and eighth in touchdowns.
Despite being relied upon less heavily than in 2018, Cousins had several games in which he threw for 300+ yards and three touchdowns. He was also more efficient, garnering a better touchdown to interception ratio and a higher QBR.
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Cousins was about to enter the final year of his three-year, $86 million deal he signed as a free agent in the 2018 offseason. Instead of allowing him to play out the remainder of his deal, the Vikings felt Cousins warranted an extension and elected to lock him in for the foreseeable future.
They agreed to give their quarterback a two-year extension worth $66 million, with $61 million fully guaranteed. This made Cousins the fifth highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in terms of annual salary and gave him nearly as much guaranteed money as the recently extended Ryan Tannehill. While the cost may seem exorbitant, this move was a savvy one for Minnesota
Saving Cap Space
This move restructured the final year of Cousins’ previous deal, which allowed Minnesota to save $10 million in 2020 cap space. This comes after the Vikings cleared $20 million in cap room by releasing Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes.
Minnesota still has several needs to address in free agency, including re-signing their cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander as well as potentially extending their recently franchised safety Anthony Harris. They also need added depth along the offensive line and defensive front.
This additional cap space could prove valuable, as they now have more flexibility to sign an important piece to their roster at a position of need. Whether they choose to re-sign their current players or acquire new free agents, extending Cousins has given Minnesota more mobility in the market and allowed them to better compete in 2020.
Beating the Market
The Vikings were smart to extend Cousins before the rest of the quarterback dominoes fell. No matter how inferior Cousins is compared to the other prolific passers who are due for contract extensions, he would have demanded to be one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
That’s simply the way the market works; whoever is up for an extension becomes heavily compensated even if they aren’t better than those they surpass in salary. The good news for the Vikings is they got a deal done before their franchise passer became even more expensive.
Several quarterbacks are prepared to break records for guaranteed money and annual salary in their new deals. Dak Prescott, after being franchise-tagged by the Dallas Cowboys, will command a long-term deal in excess of $35 million per year. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are eligible for extensions this offseason and their price tags will likely surpass $40 million in AAV.
Cousins could have become a lot more expensive had the Vikings not extended him before the start of free agency. Although the price seems hefty right now, it will become a bargain by next offseason.
The extension does not bind Cousins and the Vikings forever, as the new deal only runs through 2022. It’s a short-term contract that will allow the two sides to evaluate their relationship for a little while longer.
Cousins’ dead cap hits for the next three years are $62 million, $41 million and $10 million, respectively, according to Spotrac. In the worst-case scenario, where Cousins underperforms and shows major regression, the Vikings can get out of the deal after the 2021 season; they would save approximately $35 million in cap space if they choose to release him after two years. More than likely, however, Cousins plays well enough to earn his keep until the end of his deal.
A two-year extension grants both sides flexibility and allows the team to build on their impressive 2019 season. While Vikings fans may have wanted to see how the 2020 season plays out before committing to Cousins, they should be happy that they took the prudent route by addressing his contract early. Whether you like him or not, he’s an above-average quarterback and a better option at the position than Minnesota could reasonably acquire right now.