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In Retrospect… was Cousins’ Contract a Bargain?

Cousins' 2018 Contract Broke Records at the Time but Things have Changed (Including his Performance)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on our sister-site,, yesterday morning (before Monday Night Football). Not that that changes the argument, but that game wasn’t included in the numbers for that reason.

Hear me out.

I’m sure everyone reading this article has seen in the comment section of any article about Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (or the team in general), talk about his “massive” contract. Now, I put the word “Massive” in quotes because everything in professional sports is relative. Even the smallest NFL contracts make the money you and I make each year look minuscule. So, yes, the $84 million dollars that the Vikings guaranteed for their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, last off-season is a lot of money (to you and I) and it WAS a lot of money in terms of NFL contracts. So both in terms of real-life and in terms of what people were used to in the NFL. The thing is, and this is the point of this article, is that it is no longer as insanely expensive as it seemed at the time in terms of what contracts are and can be in the league we all love so much.

Cousins’ contract was a game-changer, sure, but taken literally (as it was), that means that it also dictated how much money other quarterbacks received when signing extensions post 2018. So, armed with what we know now, Cousins’ deal wasn’t as egregious as it seemed at the time and considering his high level of play this season, it is and was actually a bargain.

Per, Cousins’ contract as a percentage of the Vikings’ salary cap in 2019 is still a lot. I could explain it, or I could just share their breakdown (which is much nicer than any words I could string together whilst furrowing my brow).

As you can see, the Vikings rank second in the NFL in terms of what they spend on the quarterback position as a percentage of their cap at 15.12%. That amount is only trumped by the lowly Detroit Lions, who spend a bit more on veteran underachiever Matthew Stafford. However, things change dramatically in 2020. Let’s take a look…

As you can also see, Cousins/The Vikings drop to seventh in terms of their percentages in 2020. That makes sense, as established or elite (or both) quarterbacks used Cousins’ deal as leverage for a much more lucrative extension beyond this season. Regardless of what you think of Cousins, considering how he’s performed in the vast majority of this season, his deal is much better than the deals that QB’s like Jared Goff received. The same could be said for Matt Ryan, who you’d think would get some of the flack that Cousins’ received as a “stat-padder” considering his personal output vs. the success (or lack thereof) of his squad this, and last, season.

The same could be said for Goff, who “lead” his team to the Super Bowl last season. However, Sportrac’s list isn’t the only metric people are using to determine the value of a quarterback as compared to his contract. An article from today from The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg, titled ‘Kirk Cousins went from bust to bargain this season’ outlines a pretty nifty metric for examining just that.

In his article, Greenberg uses a metric from TruMedia that breaks down expected points added per game from the addition of a new quarterback. After finishing as the 14th “best” passer in the NFL last season, Cousins only added 0.2 expected points (which is, according to Greenberg “the number of points scored above what we would expect given the down, distance and field position of each play”). How they determine that I’m sure is reliant on some fancy algorithm that’d give me a nosebleed, so I’ll just take their word for it.

Comparing that performance to Cousins’ 2018 salary, Cousins only “earned” $1.1 million in cap dollars in 2018 (compared to his $24 million dollar cap hit). So, yeah, I get the frustration from last season even if I don’t really agree with the logic (as the offense was a complete mess last season from the line down to the running back, all the way up to the offensive coordinatorS (plural)). But, again, let’s take this as gospel for the sake of argument as it at least is consistent in analyzing quarterback play solely, so it’ll give us an idea as to what Cousins’ performance means in 2019.

Speaking of which, Greenberg discusses the early-season woes of Cousins and the Vikings, then goes into Cousins’ post Week 4 breakout. According to Greenberg/TruMedia, the Vikings offense is scoring eight points per game more than expected on Cousins’ throws (that includes Weeks 1 through 4). That means, according to their metrics, that Cousins is performing at a level that’d require a salary this season of $47 million. That amount is so high that it almost makes up for 2018, bringing his total earned salary to $48.3 million of the $53 million he’s made.

You can see that below, courtesy again of TruMedia and Greenberg (as well as The Washington Post):

While I’m sure some of you are arguing that it’s Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, not Cousins, that has improved the Vikings offense (which isn’t how football works), Greenberg discusses that as well.

He states that while Cousins “improvement has coincided with an improved Minnesota rushing game”, he continues that “…not all of the Vikings’ offensive progress can be attributed to the emergence of Cook”. Why?

Despite Cook’s massive numbers, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (the DVOA you see NFL analytics guys talking about on Twitter right before your eyes gloss over and you time travel to the next morning), the Vikings “only” have the 10th-best rushing attack in the NFL (as opposed to one of the top two or three). DVOA compares “success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent”. So, basically, what the Vikings and Cook pick up on first-and-ten from the Packers 25 vs. what other teams have or would. The passing game, by comparison, “enjoys the fifth-best passing efficiency, per the same metric”.

Point being, let’s give Cousins some credit. I wrote an excruciatingly long piece about that last week. Titled, ‘Is Cousins the MVP? Does it Matter?’, the piece explains that, no, Cousins isn’t the MVP. So now that we’re done arguing an (mostly) arbitrary and subjective award, let’s at least give the guy credit when credit is due.

I’ve seen every excuse in the book thrown at Cousins this season as those who were so glad to call him a bust attempted to explain away his success, lest, god forbid, they have to admit that perhaps they were wrong. Simply because Cousins didn’t perform up to (HUGE) expectations in 2018, doesn’t mean that he won’t or can’t in 2019. That’s, again, not how football works. Now that he has some semblance of an offensive line/run game/consistent offense strategy (none of which he had in 2018), he’s shining. Yes, he is also surrounded by nearly unmatched talent at every skill position, and yes he’s not perfect. But, that’s why the Vikings made the move to get him, isn’t it?

The idea was that the offense in 2017 wasn’t matching the level of the defense, despite having a lot of talent on the roster. That was partially due to the fact that their quarterback, Case Keenum, couldn’t make and wasn’t allowed to make every throw on the field. That limited the Vikings’ playbook, their options and eventually their season. The idea was that if they could find someone who could make those throws, it’d be hard to stop this team considering the talent they had on defense. For a team that allowed under 16 points a game in 2017 on average, the idea of a team that could put up 26.3 points per game (as they are in 2019) was something the Vikings front office couldn’t, and shouldn’t have, pass(ed) up.

For the most part that’s what we’ve seen since Week 4. Except now it’s the defense that’s performing under expectations. While that’s a topic for another article, the reality is that Cousins is not only performing up to his contract in 2019, he’s massively exceeding his contract value. While that may mean scary things for the Vikings post-2020 (when Cousins, by design, is set to sign a new contract with the Vikings or elsewhere), it means that we should not only be relieved in 2019, but ecstatic, in terms of the play from Cousins.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started back in May of 2015 and has talked Vikings online since the advent of the internet, namely on Reddit's /r/MinnesotaVikings section under the username p_U_c_K. He purchased before the 2017-18 season, used to write for and is the host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, as well.

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  1. I mean this genuinely, or ask it genuinely… What do you mean?


    This isn’t even about excuses, it’s about credit. And if you feel like people are making excuses by using objective measures to analyze Cousins’ performances, explain why? Otherwise there’s not a whole lot I can say in response.

    Cousins isn’t the problem this team has. Not even close. He’s playing great despite a complete lack of offensive identity from week-to-week or opponent to opponent, and without any help from the defense.

    The reason I keep writing these types of articles is because I feel like VIkings fans really have wanted a franchise quarterback more than anything for my entire life as a fan. Now that we have one, or the closest thing to one since… Culpepper? Since Favre was always looked at as a stop-gap, they’re for some reason explaining away his success…

    I can only presume that’s because a lot of people don’t want to admit they were wrong about the guy. Which, is kinda sad.

    But, I’d love to hear why you think this is me making excuses. Especially since I was sourcing from other sources who have no dog in this fight. I have a bias, I wanted Cousins to come here. I thought he gave the Vikings the best chance to win a championship. I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel I was wrong about that. Instead, I’ve seen an organization ignore the offensive line for over half a decade, and wilt from a coaching perspective when the team goes up against a good opponent (especially good opponents with offensive minded head coaches), and a defense that hasn’t played like it’s supposed to for two seasons now and that is getting worse and worse as we near the playoffs.

    Again. Cousins isn’t the problem. So, it’s hard to see how you’re saying I’m making excuses when the point of this article was simply to tell people to stop mentioning his contract amount because it’s really not that big of a contract (either in terms of what other QBs have received and are going to receive since, and in terms of his performance against that amount, or that amount as a percentage of the payroll).

    Appreciate the support though! Truly!

  2. He still can’t put the team on his back and carry them to a win when they need it most. Fancy calculations and stats are only that, he is a waste of money until he gets playoff wins…. and not just 1

  3. Most of your argument is rationalizing a poor decision based on other poor decisions made in the league. Just because there are bigger wastes of money doesn’t make him any less overpaid. He was supposed to be the missing piece for a super bowl run but he obviously isn’t it.

  4. I would argue that he’s done that. The Broncos game is a good example, but MNF was too. Sure, that last drive sucked, but I hated the play-calling all game and considering… Okay. I’ve said this from the jump and say it almost daily on purpleUPDATE (and by jump I mean before they signed him and I came out as one of the first (if not the first) person in Vikings media to advocate for the team signing him). He isn’t Tom Brady, he never is going to be.

    But, when put in positions to take advantage of his talent(s), he can be excellent. Those positions were nowhere to be found on Monday Night, and he still got the Vikings to within 4 late in a game rife with awful decisions, mistakes and coverage from Rhodes. Now, I know that he didn’t do those things all by himself, but that’s the argument we’re having is that he either is or isn’t something, so if it’s his fault or he isn’t doing enough by your definition then I’m saying he actually did.

    We’ve seen that. His numbers aren’t an accident.

    But that’s when the offense wasn’t running almost solely shotgun spread nonsense, the same stuff we saw wasn’t the best fit for him in 2018.

    But, in regard to “putting the team on his back”, I would argue that considering how bad the secondary/defense has been, I’d argue that Cousins/the offense has been carrying this team for awhile. If not for an offense, or quarterback, that is putting up, the team wouldn’t be 8-4.

  5. Actually, my argument (at least the part you’re referring to, which is comparing his salary to those above it in 2020) is that his contract amount isn’t that much just by itself. Remove everything else, and his “huge” contract was huge at the time. However, it set the market and by this time next season it’ll be around 15th in the league. That’s how these things work. I mentioned Stafford (and Goff) and how those contracts don’t translate to performance, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that people keep acting like this is 2018 and that his contract is still this outlier, when it isn’t.

    Beyond that. If you think he isn’t the guy to get the team over the hump… Why? On the list of concerns as the playoff near, is Cousins really your main concern? Or even a top concern? It’s not the health of Dalvin Cook/Thielen? Or the play-calling from the coaching staff on offense and defense? The secondary? The defense wilting in big games constantly and increasingly more so each time?

    But no. It’s Cousins?

    My articles are a reflection of the Vikings zeitgeist. So, people think I’m obsessed with “defending” Cousins. I’m not, I’m only writing this much about him because I keep seeing people making the same arguments as if this season hasn’t happened yet and we’re still upset about potentially losing Barr or Hunter because of COusins’ “record” deal.

    This team has real problems. But I would argue that Cousins isn’t one of those people. The argument for getting over the hump was back when we had a powerhouse defense and only needed an offense that could perhaps put up 21 points a game. We’re putting up more than that, a lot more. The defense is a shell of its former self against bad opponents, so I have no faith at this point that they’ll fix things before the playoffs and I’m sure people will somehow blame Cousins despite the fact that our 6th ranked rush defense was giving up 8 yards on first down on the same damn run plays Monday Night. Almost 220 yards rushing was given up. And on offense?

    We decided to eschew play-action and bootleg/rollouts for a game plan that required we have Treadwell on the field constantly. I’m surprised it didn’t work… How about we use our tight ends more? Or get Cousins out of the pocket?

  6. The way I see it, as a college student who has studied market value. Your value is based on the market you fall in, so as quarterback you look at QBR and stats. Cousins did that well enough to get a contract from us (skol nation). I think he was just padding his stats to get it, not taking the risk and the time to build trust with his team. Doug’s is a dog the year with Keemun he completed the most catches while covered in the league. That trust mentality and knowing when and where to place the ball to you guy is made over time and risk. Two things cousins is lacking in, yea he is doing good but that is going to get us win against bad teams. Against good teams big plays/ risk that work out are needed to be taken. So when he takes risk and knows how to take them he will be worth the money. Until than he will be a well played quarterback. He needs to get ready for the playoffs to take risk needed to be a game changer. Not a pad stater but a egoless guy willing to put his heart on the line and give it his all. Captain Kurt is my guy hope he figures it out in time #skol from Texas

  7. As for contract no he is not worth it, he has not made a noteworthy difference we still beat the teams we should and still come up short against playoff bound teams. Going off year to year he has improved but at cost to the cap, he is taking up the same cap as the other upper tier QBs but not producing the big plays to keep defenders to respect the long ball. If he can learn to gamble and trust his guys he would be a beast. Diggs had the best catch percentage while guarded the year with keen one because Keemun trusted him and two knew how to place the ball for his best chance. As Cousins more of a pad stater ( whole time with redskins) to make him as an individual look the part, lacks the kill instinct needed to throw guts throws in tight situations. He developed a lot this year but still needs to loosen up and take better risks. He is overpaid as for now and has not shown that this is his team yet, he was paid high by us for not having any playoff experience and hope he rememberers that when it comes to another signing and actually a good deal could be made. Allowing us to build a good team around him that will improve with more cap room

  8. I just want a QB that I can believe in. Someone to offer me hope at the end of the game when we need a TD to win. Someone who’s done it before and gives me a warm feeling deep, deep down that he can do it again. A hero. I need a hero. And sadly, for however good Cousins has been statistically, he’s not the hero.