The Borman Breakdown will be focusing on the salary cap as it pertains to the Minnesota Vikings as well as other pertinent Vikings news and relevant content. For this series I’m going to break down how much each player on the team’s roster counts towards the 2020 salary cap and shine a light on his current contract.
Kirk Cousins ($21,000,000) #1 cap hit on team
- 3 years, $97 million
- $61M guaranteed ($30M signing bonus)
- Contract ranking: 7/111 at QB
Cousins is essentially playing on a three-year, $97 million contract. The two-year, $66M extension he signed in March raised the AAV (average annual value) of his deal from $28 to $33 million, which is 7th-highest among NFL quarterbacks. While the extension saved the team a much-needed $10 million in cap space this offseason, it was structured in a way that’ll pay the quarterback big bucks down the road.
|Year||Age||Base Salary||Prorated Bonus||Guaranteed Salary||Cap
Dead Money & Cap Savings
Under contract through 2022, Cousins has cap hits of $31 million and $45 million the next two seasons. For this year, at least, he’ll cost $21 million against the cap, which is $8 million less than last year and the 14th-highest figure among signal callers.
Former NFL agent Joel Corry of CBS Sports wrote the following about Cousins’ contract shortly after the quarterback signed his extension in March:
Earliest realistic exit point: None
Cousins is perfectly positioned for another extension in 2022 because of a $45 million 2022 salary cap number, the early vesting of his 2022 salary guarantee and putting a franchise tag on him in 2023 would cost $64.8 million (144 percent of Cousins’ 2022 salary cap number).”
What is early vesting, you might ask? Due to a trigger in Cousins’ contract, on the third day of the 2021 league year, his entire $35M base salary for 2022 becomes guaranteed. I’ll say that again in a different way. The last year of Cousins’ contract is currently guaranteed, but only for injury. On March 20, 2021, that $35M base salary for 2022 fully guarantees.
An early way out?
Could the Vikings cut Cousins before the trigger sets in? Yes, they could. But it would come at a potentially cap-crippling cost. If the team were to void the deal this offseason and release the QB with a post-June 1st cut designation, they would still be stuck paying Cousins $31M next season and $10M in 2022 while he plays for another team.
“I really just don’t see it happening,” said Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus. “He’d have to continue playing at this level for much of the season. It’s not so bad as for me to say there’s a 0% chance, but given the cap could stay flat or perhaps even go down, if you eat $31M dead on one player in 2021, you could more or less be sacrificing the season.”
In this hypothetical, the Vikings would need to find a starting quarterback in the draft or a sign veteran for close to the minimum. The team would incur a second straight season of $20+ million in dead money debt and have very little money for free agency. This offseason aside, Minnesota is generally one of the more responsible teams when it comes to managing dead money. They’d also have to cut or restructure more veteran contracts in order to stay under the cap in 2021.
That doesn’t mean it’s inconceivable. Those familiar with the team’s front office know that restructuring contracts to maneuver cap hits isn’t uncommon. And seeing as there’s a high likelihood that the team could move on from Riley Reiff next spring, it should be noted that these two cuts alone would put the team at a projected $3.8M in cap space in 2021 with a $176M cap projection. Not to mention the $35M it would create the following season, leaving the team with nearly $80M in salary cap space in 2022.
Still, it just doesn’t make sense to cut Cousins and pay him $31M in a down cap year to play for someone else without a proven plan at quarterback. So while this may be an enticing option for number crunchers, let’s classify the pre-trigger release as a worst-case option — and an unlikely one at that.
History has shown that Cousins will likely rebound and play better than the first two games of the season. But, in the event the season does go pear-shaped and the team decides to go in another direction at QB, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com believes there’s only one way for the Vikings to get out of Cousins’ deal.
“The only realistic out is trade,” wrote Fitzgerald. “And I’m not sure anyone wants to take that on at the moment.”
Both Fitzgerald and Spielberger agree that a trade the most common-sensical option because of how large the 2021 dead money hit would be in a year when the salary cap could drop as low as $175M.
Trading Cousins this offseason would cost the Vikings $20M (dead money hit) in 2021 and $10M in 2022, but it would save the team $11M in cap space next season and $35M the following year. If he’s traded after June 1st (following the 2021 NFL draft), the dead money hit shrinks to $10M and the cap savings jumps to $21M.
The issue, as both Spielberger and Fitzgerald noted, would be finding a team willing to take on his contract. The San Francisco 49ers have been rumored to want Cousins in the past, and they can move on from the contract of Jimmy Garoppolo for only $2.8M in dead money in 2021 (if he waives his no-trade clause). Depending on how Cousins finishes the season, this connection could be worth monitoring this offseason.
For the Vikings, it could be very difficult to recoup any sort of value from Cousins’ current deal if the losing continues. But if Cousins turns things around, the Vikings could look to trade him while he still has value. Extending and/or restructuring the QB’s contract in 2022 is obviously still an option, even if it’s looking like a long-shot at this point.
Sean Mannion ($887,500)
- 1 year, $1,047,500
- $910K vet’s-minimum base salary
- $137,500 guaranteed (signing bonus)
- Contract ranking: 60/111 at QB
Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune provided the following details on Mannion’s deal in March: The team re-signed the quarterback to a one-year deal worth a veteran’s minimum base salary of $910,000 and a $137,500 signing bonus.
With all due respect to Mannion, he’s a bargain-bin option behind Cousins. That’s by design. The team knows how durable Cousins has been throughout his career and they know it doesn’t make sense to spend a bunch of money on a backup that may never play.
The team values Mannion for his work ethic, professionalism and relationship with Cousins. Rostering him is also an easy, economical way to save cap space. But until Mannion is able to show doubters that he’s actually a capable player, it’s hard to get excited about a 28 year-old backup with zero career touchdowns.