Cousins represents a $45 million cap hit next season, including $35 million in base salary and a $10 million signing bonus. Minnesota has paid Cousins to the tune of $115 million over the course of the four previous years, during which the Vikings have a cumulative record of 33-31-1 with exactly one postseason appearance and one playoff victory. That’s a giant pile of money to pay for modest results, especially considering Cousins plays alongside a Pro-Bowler in the backfield in running back Dalvin Cook and boasts one of the best wide receiver tandems in all of the NFL in Pro-Bowl pass catcher Justin Jefferson and No. 2 wide receiver Adam Thielen.
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Cousins has been reliable as a starter, missing just two of a possible 65 regular season starts, one of which occurred in 2021 due to a reserve/COVID-19 list designation. He’s also thrown for at least 30 TD passes in three of his four campaigns in Minnesota and finished only one season with a quarterback rating below 100 (99.7 in 2018). As of Thursday, January 20, Cousins was ranked the sixth-best quarterback in the NFL with an overall offensive rating of 88.2, per Pro Football Focus. Of the five signal callers ranked ahead of him, four of them will take the field this weekend in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
All those numbers beg the obvious question: Why isn’t Cousins worth the money in Minnesota?
Cousins Grade Must Come on Curve Considering On-Field Success
“Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback. But if a passer is going to take up more than 20 percent of a team’s salary cap, there better be team success that comes with it,” he wrote. “The Vikings are in a tough spot. … They can sign him to another extension. It would mean more money and more years, but a less drastic cap hit this season. Or they could trade him, but that won’t be easy.”
Ballentine noted a point by Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, who spoke with Chris Tomasson of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press earlier this month. In that article, Fitzgerald surmised that even if the Vikings are able to move on from Cousins this offseason, they are likely to get stuck paying at least some portion of the $45 million he’s owned — most likely the $10 million bonus.
“So the contract sticks [the Vikings] with either being severely hamstrung this season, paying him to play elsewhere or committing to even more Kirk Cousins,” Ballentine continued. “That’s a bad deal.”
Cousins Would Attract Several Suitors On Trade Market
Those leaders, whoever they end up being, may see Cousins as a viable option moving forward. Or they may want to ditch his contract and use the money to beef up weaknesses across the roster — the secondary, the edge pass rush and the pass blocking, to name a few of the most pressing. One thing those leaders will certainly not be interested in is bringing Cousins back into the fold without a new contract. Doing so would allow the quarterback tremendous leverage to negotiate an even bigger deal with the Vikings following the 2022 season, or to simply walk away at its conclusion and leave Minnesota with nothing in return.
Cousins has extensive value as a trade commodity, even despite his expensive price tag. His contract will appear all the more appetizing to contenders missing only a quality QB if the Vikings do, in fact, end up eating $10 million off the top of the deal.
Ian Wharton, who covers the NFL for Complex, wrote last week that he believes the Browns are the top suitors for Cousins’ services in 2022.
“As painful as it may be for Browns fans who are loyal to the quarterback who helped break the franchise’s playoff drought, the team needs to explore all avenues to improve the position,” Wharton wrote. “Mayfield was awful in 2021, as injuries exacerbated poor decision-making, field vision and accuracy.”
“The natural choice is to acquire Kirk Cousins, as the Vikings look to shake up their roster and coaching staff,” he continued. “Cousins is entering the last year of his deal, owed $35 million in salary and carrying a $45 million cap hit. That deal is meant to be restructured, and Cleveland can oblige without killing their flexibility. Cousins’ familiarity and extreme success with [Browns head coach Kevin] Stefanski makes this an easy fit to see.”
Other franchises with quality rosters likely in the market for a quarterback this offseason include the Denver Broncos, who are expected to move on from former Vikings’ QB Teddy Bridgewater. Then there is the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is almost certainly going to need to replace QB Ben Roethlisberger who is expected to retire.