Speculation that Cousins might be on his way out was already rampant due to the uncertainty bred by the addition of a new GM and a new head coach in Minnesota, coupled with the QB’s $35 million base salary and his $45 million cap hit heading into the final year of his contract — all that compounded by the high likelihood of another big, multi-year deal from somewhere on the way. Possible landing spots for Cousins were plenty and included the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles, both locations where questions at quarterback remain pressing.
But the Vikings’ choice of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to run the team made one trade possibility in particular more viable, considering his connection to an AFC North squad that might also be looking for a change under center this offseason. Adofo-Mensah came up with the San Francisco 49ers organization but spent last season as Vice President of Football Operations with the Cleveland Browns. That franchise is also facing tough decisions at quarterback, as Baker Mayfield enters the fifth and final year of his rookie contract absent an extension.
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Some NFL analysts, like Ian Wharton of Complex, had already predicted that Cousins would end up playing for the Browns in 2022. That scenario seems all the more likely now with Adofo-Mensah captaining the Vikings’ front office.
Deal Details Would Land Vikings Two Picks and Mayfield in Exchange For Cousins
The possibility of swapping Cousins for Mayfield has to be considered as more than just speculation with the developments to this point. That is also the position of Browns reporter Tony Grossi, of The Land on Demand, who said he believes the “dots are being laid” to construct the deal.
Based on Grossi’s approximation, the most likely of agreements would see the Browns pay out around $25 million of Cousins’ salary next season, leaving the Vikings to eat the remaining $10 million off the top. In addition to receiving Mayfield in a swap for Cousins, Minnesota would also be in line for a third-round draft pick from Cleveland along with a conditional pick that could elevate all the way to a first-round selection, according to Grossi.
The deal makes considerable sense on the Cleveland side. Cousins is unquestionably a statistical upgrade over Mayfield under center. The Browns have also built a win-now type of roster with stars like edge rusher Myles Garrett on the defensive side of the ball, and the two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the offensive backfield.
Furthermore, Cousins had one of his best seasons under Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski back in 2019 when he served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. The Vikings made the playoffs that season and Cousins earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, as the QB threw for 26 TDs compared to just 6 INTs.
The real question that remains, then, is how much sense does the potential deal make for the Vikings?
Cousins Superior QB to Mayfield, But Perhaps Not at Current Price
Cousins is a better quarterback than Mayfield and there is no real argument to be made on the other side.
The Vikings’ QB is a two-time Pro-Bowler who’s thrown for 124 TDs and 36 INTs, completing 68.3% of his passes over a four-year run in Minnesota. Mayfield has led his team in Cleveland to the playoffs the same number of times Cousins has in that span, just once, but his numbers are inferior by a considerable margin. Mayfield has completed just 61.6% of his passes over the last four years, throwing for 92 TDs to 56 INTs.
But when examining the price tag on Cousins, the on-field results he’s been able to produce and the Vikings’ options moving forward should they decide keep him, dealing Cousins for any serviceable QB has to be considered a viable option.
Mayfield is owed a little less than $19 million next season, per Spotrac, while Cousins will cost nearly double that amount. Cousins has failed to make the postseason, or even produce a winning record, in each of the previous two seasons. That lack of success is despite Cousins having the services of Pro-Bowlers RB Dalvin Cook and WR Justin Jefferson at his disposal.
Would Mayfield turn the Vikings’ talent into better results in Minnesota? Maybe, or maybe not. But if the Vikings continue to miss the playoffs, what does a win or two in the loss column really matter? The ultimate result is the same. Mayfield’s cost is also disparate enough with Cousins’ that the Vikings could use the extra $10-$20 million — depending on how much they would owe on Cousins’ contract following a trade deal with Cleveland — to address weaknesses along the offensive line, in the secondary or to round out the defensive front with an edge rusher.
Mayfield also gives the Vikings more flexibility come the 2022 offseason. While the QB is slated to hit unrestricted free agency, Minnesota would have the option of applying the franchise tag to Mayfield and retaining him for a year to see if a new head coach and GM could develop the QB into a keeper. If it works out, the Vikings could resign him or even franchise Mayfield a second time. If not, Minnesota’s front office could bide its time and trade Mayfield when his value to another particular team was at its highest.
Keeping Cousins this season puts the Vikings in a much more precarious position with far fewer options. He, too, is a free agent after 2022. The Vikings basically have two choices: they can extend Cousins now for a huge amount of money and commit more years to a man whose statistical output hasn’t translated to the kind of on-field success that much money should command, or they can trade him.
The Washington Football Team already tagged Cousins twice during his career, meaning the Vikings won’t have that option in 2023. If they don’t re-sign Cousins and he has a big year, he can push his price to return even higher than it would cost the Vikings to extend him now. Otherwise, Cousins could simply walk after next season and the Vikings would lose a high-level asset for nothing in return — an outcome Adofo-Mensah is sure to avoid at all costs.