It’s been the lede in most conversations regarding the Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and it started almost the day that they signed him. Is Kirk Cousins really worth the money, the guaranteed money, that the Vikings have given him?
Whether or not you were on board with the Cousins signing back in 2018, where we are with Kirk right now, there’s really no argument to be had that he’s worth the money and/or the quarterback of the future for the Minnesota Vikings. That cat, it’s officially out of the bag.
Trouble is, rather than letting him play out the final year of his guaranteed contract in 2020, before the season you just locked him up with a 2-year, $66 million contract extension with $51 million guaranteed ($41MM in dead cap in 2021, $10MM in dead cap in 2022). You made your bed, now you need to sleep in it.
Signing Cousins in 2018 has cost the Vikings a lot of money over the past few years, but there’s more to it than just that. Making a mistake at the most important position on the football field, and spending an arm and leg to do so will cost your team more than just money. That’s what we’ll be breaking down a bit today following another poor performance and another disappointing loss.
THE MONEY THEN:
The 3-year, $84,000,000 contract that brought Cousins to Minnesota was debated from the day that it was made public. At the time, the argument was between Cousins at the cost of $28 million a year, and Case Keenum at a much lower rate allowing you to use that excess money to build more around your quarterback. Case Keenum signed a two-year deal with the Broncos averaging $18 million per season. Throw in a little hometown discount for a place that he seemingly wanted to stay and let’s say maybe $16 million a year would have gotten it done. That’s an annual savings of $12 million a year over what Kirk has cost.
With $12 million worth of extra spending cash in free agency. That’s enough money in the first year to have bargained your way into a new starter at OG or OT, if not only adding to depth which is presently non-existent for this team. That money would have increased in 2019 and 2020 as well assuming that the admission that Case Keenum was not the answer was made and ties were cut. That’s three years worth of money they could have spent in free agency, three years worth that the team decided to lock up in Kirk instead.
THE MONEY NOW:
But that’s a whole lot of hindsight. Pump the breaks a bit and let’s say that the team did sign Cousins to the first contract, but didn’t extend him this offseason. What would the outcome of that have been?
Clearly, it would mean that the future considerations would be easier to decide. We’d for sure be looking at a QB in the draft and the future of this team would have moved away from Kirk and off in a different direction.
But there are two-sides to that coin as well. Signing Kirk to the two-year extension this past spring was a tactic to not only put faith in Kirk but to free up some cap space to hold onto a few other players as well. At the time, that money was reallocated for Anthony Harris and signing him to the $11.4 million franchise tag.
Or maybe that money would have been saved and reallocated to Dalvin Cook before the season started as well? If you were in the camp that was in support of extending and re-signing guys like Cook and Harris, that Cousins extension had to happen.
THE PLAYERS THEN:
If Kirk had never come to Minnesota, and Case Keenum had played one year before being ousted as the QB similarly to what played out for him in Denver. The Minnesota Vikings would have drafted a quarterback in either of the 2019 or 2020 NFL Drafts. For the sake of our argument, let’s say the draft positions didn’t change at all. Going with Cousins in 2018 means that you passed on QBs like Drew Lock in 2019, Jordan Love & Jalen Hurts in 2020. Clearly, players with big questions surrounding them but with futures that are still optimistic to say the least. You could have landed one of the veteran free agents to patch-work a year while the youngster adapted and became ready.
THE PLAYERS NOW:
Trevor Lawrence seems like a pipedream since the Jets are just SO BAD, but guys like Trey Lance and Justin Fields are a little more realistic for a team that’s started 1-5 on the season. That said, Kirk might be good enough to push the Vikings to a pointless win or two on the final stretch of the season. On top of that, getting locked in with at least another $51 million at the QB position for two more seasons, you are ignoring other needs on your team. You’re changing your draft strategy, you’re changing your free agent strategy and you’re changing the trajectory of your team.
THE FUTURE OF THE TEAM:
All in all, with where we are today, you have to look at the Kirk Cousins experiment as a failed attempt to land a franchise quarterback. And unfortunately, the repercussions of the experiment aren’t ending at the end of this season. Say what you will about the three-ish years that we’ve already endured with Kirk at the helm, but these decisions have impacts on the future of this team as well.
The further we go down this path, the more and more it looks like there might be some new leadership in the mix as well. Maybe that means a new head coach, maybe that means new coordinators, but what would that mean? The specifics of this situation have no doubt left the Vikings less attractive to some of the big name potential coaches than it would have otherwise been. If a new coach came in they’d be inheriting a team with no money to spend in future free agency…they’d be tied to a quarterback who isn’t the future for at least two more years…you’d be thin with depth on the offensive line, defensive line at cornerbacks and with the linebackers. It’s not a super attractive landing spot for high profile future coaches who could hitch their wagons to another organization with a brighter future.
It’s not a wonderful situation, there’s really no sugar coating it either.
If the Cousins experiment had worked out, you’d be getting a top flight quarterback who *could* carry a team to the promise land. But it seems as if it has not, and because of a decision or two that has been made in the past, the Vikings are a bit stuck.
I hope that I’m wrong, I hope that Brzezinski can pull another rabbit out of his hat, I hope that the salary cap expands exponentially following a recovery from COVID. I hope that Rick (or the future GM of this team) strikes it right later in the draft the way that teams have done with Rodgers, Wilson and Brady in the past. You might need to get lucky to dig yourselves out of this hole that they are in.