Most recently, NFL insider Albert Breer rehashed Cousins’ potential fit with an old friend in the AFC.
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‘Baker for Kirk?’
“Baker for Kirk Cousins, who says no,” a fan proposed.
“Not impossible,” Breer replied. “That’s a good question. (Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski) has a relationship with Kirk. But I don’t know who’s coaching the Vikings next year.”
Stefanski served as offensive coordinator in 2019, the year Cousins won his first playoff game in his career and also the only playoff game in his four years in Minnesota. Stefanski would be on board given Cousins is a significant upgrade for Mayfield, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin gave weight to the trade interest, tweeting that Stefanski “might rather pay $35 million than extend Baker Mayfield.”
But what’s in the trade for the Vikings?
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Proposed Trade Would Be the Floor of What Vikings Could Garner for Cousins
Mayfield would absolutely be a downgrade at quarterback. But the premise of trading Cousins is not to upgrade the position, it’s to get out from under his $45 million cap hit in 2022, which ranks third at his position, and upgrade the rest of the roster.
The Vikings have five defensive starters on expiring contracts, and while the team will likely let some underperformers go, they’ll need to rehaul with better talent from free agency or in the upcoming draft. Minnesota would still be on the hook for Cousins’ $10 million signing bonus next season, but they would clear his $35 million base salary off the books.
But Mayfield for Cousins would be a robbery by the Browns, who would likely have to sweeten the deal with draft capital. Mayfield, who has struggled playing through injury this season, has been the center of the Browns’ struggles, throwing 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season.
However, last season, Mayfield threw 26 touchdowns and just eight picks in the regular season while also helping the Browns win their first playoff game in over since 1995.
Mayfield carries an $18.9 million cap hit in 2022, per OverTheCap. Considering the cap savings going from Cousins to Mayfield, the Vikings could sign a star defensive end or two starting-caliber cornerbacks with the money saved at the quarterback position.
That’s the balancing act a new regime in Minnesota will have to strike if they decide to trade Cousins: How much are they willing to compromise the quarterback position to retool the rest of the roster?
Better QB Swaps Around the League
An optimistic Browns fan would tell you Cousins for Mayfield is a fair deal. But what other options could the Vikings entertain?
The difference is Carr carries a $19.8 million cap hit, according to OverTheCap, compared to Cousins’ $45 million cap hit on the books. When Carr has produced similar results to Cousins at a significantly cheaper rate, the cap savings could be worth it alone if a trade suitor is willing to take on Cousins’ base salary.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is another quarterback in the Mayfield and Carr tier who would be a slight downgrade but offer more cap space for roster building. Garoppolo took the Niners to a Super Bowl with a solid roster around him, which the Vikings have failed to do with Cousins on the books.
If the Vikings decide to enter full rebuild mode, they’d likely be more willing to accept draft picks. Cousins has been linked to several trade proposals with the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos in exchange for first and an additional mid-round pick.