Vikings Dodged ‘Riskiest Contract in Free Agency’ but May Pay High Price for It

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Vikings

Getty General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings decided to let Kirk Cousins walk because keeping him in purple and gold would have been too expensive, but the resulting cost could be even higher.

The $180 million contract ($45 million annually) Cousins received from the Atlanta Falcons, which included $100 million guaranteed, isn’t a wild investment to make in a quarterback in the contemporary NFL — at least not in a general sense. However, Cousins will play next season at 36 years old and is coming off of an Achilles tear that represents the worst injury of his 12-year career.

Beyond that, his price-to-production ratio was a far cry from great during his six-year tenure in Minnesota. Cousins earned three Pro Bowl nods across that span and regularly put up borderline spectacular regular-season numbers, but the Vikings made the playoffs only twice and amassed a 1-2 postseason record over those two trips.

Cousins’ questionable value is what general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah avoided by allowing the QB to walk in free agency, and it’s what led Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report to characterize Cousins’ deal with the Falcons as the “riskiest contract in free agency” on Friday, March 29:

The question here isn’t whether Cousins makes the Falcons a better team. It’s whether he makes them good enough to justify $45 million per season and $100 million in guarantees.

To be fair, Cousins is a good quarterback. … But while Cousins may be good, he isn’t great — the 35-year-old has struggled in high-pressure situations, winning just one playoff game in five tries and going 19-36 in 4 p.m. ET and primetime games.

Does Cousins make the Falcons better? Yes. Does he make Atlanta a Super Bowl contender? No.

Kirk Cousins Probably Wouldn’t Have Made Vikings Super Bowl Contenders in 2024

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

GettyQuarterback Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

Atlanta has legitimate talent on the offensive side of the football in running back Bijan Robinson and wide receiver Drake London. That said, the Falcons’ skill position talent pales in comparison to the wide receiver combo of Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison in Minnesota, combined with the talent of tight end T.J. Hockenson and new running back Aaron Jones.

But the Cousins’ math remains the same in either situation. He’s good, not great. He could have made the the Vikings a legitimate playoff contender in 2024, but Super Bowl contender would have been a stretch.

So that means that Adofo-Mensah and Minnesota dodged a bullet by avoiding a massive multiyear contract extension for Cousins, right? Not necessarily.

Super Bowl contention is a rare quality in the NFL, often truly possessed by only a handful of teams each season. But there is significant value in being an annual playoff contender, both in terms of satiating the fan base and inspiring belief among the best players in the locker room that winning will remain consistent. In other words, the kind of stuff that keeps GMs and head coaches in their jobs across multiple contracts.

Vikings Making Big Bet on Unknown QB in Draft by Letting Kirk Cousins Walk

Kirk Cousins, Denver Broncos

GettyQuarterback Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota passed on other top free-agent QBs like Baker Mayfield in March and chose not to trade for the likes of Justin Fields, formerly of the Chicago Bears. Instead, the team signed bonafide bust Sam Darnold to a one-year deal and will now put all its eggs in the draft basket.

In fairness to the Vikings, this isn’t a bad year in which to make that bet, with as many as six quarterbacks poised to come off the board in the first round. However, Minnesota’s first pick doesn’t arrive until No. 11, which removes the team by a number of selections from the guarantee of selecting a top-three or top-four prospect.

The team has taken steps to improve its odds of landing a franchise signal-caller this April, including dealing assets to acquire the No. 23 overall pick from the Houston Texans, which it can package with the 11th selection to trade up. The Vikings may also need to include a future first-round pick to jump into the top 3-5, though doing so is now paramount to validating the strategy they’ve employed over the least several weeks.

The situation Minnesota has created for itself involves a season in 2024 that could end up characterized as merely treading water, which wastes a year of Jefferson’s prime as he holds considerable leverage as an extension-eligible All-Pro player. It then involves investing incredibly heavily in a rookie quarterback without a guarantee of precisely who that player will be due to an inability to project exactly where in the draft pecking order the Vikings will be able to select him.

Adofo-Mensah showed restraint in letting Cousins walk, though the bet he’s making is risky. But there is no turning back now.

Read More