After throwing a league-leading 10 interceptions through six games last season, Cousins bounced back, throwing 24 passing touchdowns and just three interceptions in the final 10 games of the season.
While Cousins’ resurgence was encouraging, the lack of consistency has caused concern over whether he’s worth his cap weight or is just fool’s gold. Cousins has quietly become the 17th highest-paid player in NFL history by embracing the franchise tag early in his career with Washington and later securing the league’s first fully guaranteed contract with the Vikings.
Cousins enters the two-year extension of his original deal this season with steeper expectations than ever — yet Minnesota seems only further from their ultimate goal.
The Vikings need several pieces on offense and defense before they return to their reputation as a contender. However, the team is over the salary cap and may have to cut several veterans to get under the projected salary cap in 2021, leaving little wiggle room to sign veteran talent and pushing Minnesota back to the draft board to fill staring voids for a second season.
Oddly enough, extending Cousins could be an option to create cap space and help Minnesota in the short term. However, Cousins seems content to play out his contract, he expressed in a recent appearance on Pro Football Talk’s PFT PM podcast.
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PFT: ‘Cousins Holds All the Contractual Cards’
In Cousins’ appearance on PFT PM, he made two things abundantly clear, Mike Florio detailed.
“First, he wants to finish his career in Minnesota. Second, he’s content to play out the two remaining years of his contract. That necessarily makes his status beyond 2022 with the Vikings uncertain,” Florio wrote.
Here’s a summary of Florio’s article on Cousins:
Given that a $35 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed on March 19, it could make sense to extend the contract now. It makes much more sense next year. Cousins sounds like he’s not willing to do a new deal in either offseason.
“Honestly, I just signed the extension last offseason and it really doesn’t kick in ’til this coming year,” Cousins said. “It’s a two-year deal. Those two years begin with 2021… I think it’s more about going out there next season and the year after that and playing at a high enough level that would justify being able to do another deal beyond that. That’s really where my focus is. As I said earlier, would like to be a Viking for the remainder of my career. I’ve got to play well enough to make that happen.”
Cousins’ current deal doesn’t have a no-tag clause. But he doesn’t need one. With a cap number of $45 million in 2022 and with the franchise-tag rule guaranteeing him a 44-percent bump for 2023 (the two applications of the franchise tag by Washington carry over for the purposes of triggering the ultra-expensive third franchise tag), it would cost the Vikings $64.8 million to apply the franchise tag after his contract expires.
In other words, Cousins — who maximized his leverage by playing on a year-to-year basis in 2015, 2016, and 2017 in Washington — sounds willing to make $56 million over the next two years and then hit the open market, or to negotiate his next contract with the Vikings knowing that he has a guaranteed path to the open market if the Vikings don’t offer him what he wants.
Would the Vikings Trade Cousins?
While the Vikings are hamstrung by Cousins contract, he presents the best odds at winning at least in 2021. Coach Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman’s job security also seems to be loosening from their grasps which has led Cousins to fall more in their favor recently.
Cousins’ reputation in the NFL is far from sterling as finding a potential suitor for him could be challenging. However, if Minnesota can put together a postseason run in 2021 and allow Cousins another year to battle against his reputation in the league, he could become a potential trade target to a quarterback-needy team in 2022.
While the San Francisco 49ers remain a potential candidate, this season it’s unlikely to occur given Zimmer and Spielman’s jobs riding likely on a playoff berth.
Minnesota will find itself in a similar position next year when Cousins, who carries the highest cap hit of any quarterback at $45 million in 2022, will hit the paydirt of his contract.
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