You may have heard recently that Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott turned down a contract that’d have guaranteed the young QB $33 million a year. That’s right, Dak, who helms and offense that primarily runs through one of the best running backs in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliot, turned down a contract that would’ve been, only a few seasons ago, seemed team destroying and ludicrous.
Don’t get me wrong, Dak is great, but is he really THAT ($35 million a year) great? The answer to that question matters and it matters if you’re a Vikings fan as we’re in the middle of a conversation as to what to do at the quarterback position beyond 2020, and it’s ironic that our quarterback and the contract this team gave him that changed the entire landscape for franchise QBs in the NFL.
So, let’s take a look at a couple of things.
First? Let’s talk about how we got here in the first place.
After the 2017 season and the failure that was the NFC championship game, it was clear that the Minnesota Vikings needed more to get over the hump. Despite how great of a season then quarterback Case Keenum had, the Vikings’ offense was limited under him and so the thought was that if the Vikings could get a quarterback that could make all the throws, and thus match their dominate defense with an explosive offense, they’d be really hard to beat.
Enter Kirk Cousins, a quarterback who was a season removed from a nearly 5,000-yard campaign with receivers like Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, two receivers that while good were not in the same league as Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. A quarterback of Cousins’ age and skill hadn’t been available in free agency in a very long time (if ever), as the NFL is always in need of more quarterbacks, and the market for Cousins reflected that. After creating a bidding war, Cousins and his agent inked a deal with the Vikings that was referred to at the time as a “paradigm-shifting, tradition-exploding” contract.
What was so different about his deal?
Let’s let NFL.com explain:
“[Cousins’ deal] not only makes him the highest-paid player in football history, but he’s also the first quarterback to sign a multi-year, fully guaranteed deal. With all the leverage in the world, Cousins and agent Mike McCartney of Priority Sports became pioneers. Only time will tell if they will become trend-setters.”
With Dak turning down $33 million a year in fully guaranteed money, it’s clear that that trend did indeed start after Cousins’ deal. That’s something we’ve seen with other quarterbacks since, with elite QB’s such as Aaron Rodgers going to their teams and asking for a new deal before the ink of Cousins’ deal had dried.
Despite the fact that Rodgers had “…signed a five-year, $110 million extension in 2013 and was set to enter the regular season with two years remaining on his contract, which paid base salaries of $19.8 million in 2018 and $20 million in 2020.”, Rodgers agreed to a new four-year deal that made Rodgers the highest-paid player in the NFL and also the proud owner of the then-largest signing-bonus in league history with a $57.5 signing bonus.
What does this mean about Dak or the Vikings?
First, it means that most franchise QB’s in the league are looking for gigantic deals.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“The two sides came close to deal in September on a contract that would have paid him roughly $33 million annually, sources said, before talks broke down when Prescott upped his asking price.
“I don’t want to get into the details, but we have offered him significant money,” owner Jerry Jones said. “The money we have offered Dak no matter how you look at it would put him as a top-five quarterback in the NFL. That is the way we feel about him. He is one of the best.”
The word is that Dak is looking to become the highest-paid player in the league, taking that title from the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. That would require a yearly fully guaranteed deal that tops $35 million, although that might not last long as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the youngest league and Super Bowl MVP ever, is reportedly looking for a deal that’d top $40 million a year.
Dak is a good quarterback. Whether or not he’s elite depends on how you define that term. He ended the season fourth in average QBR, but he had some stinker games in 2019. He had five-game sin 2019 with a sub-90 QB-rating, and a three-interception game against the Packers as well. He did, though, nearly reach the 5,000-yard mark and had a good touchdown to interception ratio of 30:11, those are numbers that you’d think any team (outside of the Washington Redskins) would love to have, and that means that with the current reality of the cost of quarterbacks in the NFL that the Cowboys basically have to pay whatever Dak asks.
That brings us to the Vikings, who are currently discussing entering the final year of their above-mentioned record-breaking deal with Kirk Cousins and are thus reportedly and obviously discussing an extension. The Vikings have painted themselves into a corner, of sorts, as they still have most of their core players signed through the 2023 season and because of that, will need to decide whether to continue with Cousins or find a quarterback in the draft that would need to contribute quickly and more efficiently than Cousins has in his two seasons in Minnesota.
I left out free agency, but it’s clear that Cousins deal changed the market for quarterbacks and considering that the Vikings are around $12 million OVER the cap as of the writing of this piece, the reality is that Cousins deal has become a bargain for a quarterback who has put up the numbers that he has. Because of the guarantees in his deal, the no-trade clause and the lack of cash this Vikings team has, it’s safe to say that there’s no option for finding a QB in free agency.
Beyond that, Cousins’ familiarity with the offense, despite the lack of continuity from year-to-year, is important as this Vikings team isn’t getting any younger and can’t waste another part of a season, let alone a whole season, that comes with acclimating to new coaches, new philosophies and new personnel.
Say what you will about Cousins (and I’m sure you will), the reality is that the Vikings have one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked the 2019 unit as 27th “best” in the league in that regard, which means that any quarterback you bring in will need significant investment in the left side of the line if they’re to really do their job in any tangible way.
Unfortunately the left tackle position is one that typically requires a pretty high draft pick, so the idea of using the first-round pick to take a quarterback (who would sit behind Cousins for a season before taking over in 2021) might not work as the Vikings are going to need to shore up the left side of the line if they’re to at least give Cousins a chance in 2020 to earn his wage.
We all knew that Cousins struggled while under pressure in the pocket before he signed here, so the team obviously knew that as well. They did attempt to fix the line, sure, but it’s also obvious that the team saved the offensive line as the last piece of their team-building plan. They didn’t draft an offensive lineman from the 2013 draft until the 2017 draft before the 4th-round of the draft, instead relying on over the hill free agents that often had injury-plagued careers to hopefully stay healthy long enough for the Vikings to make a run.
It’s been that offensive line “plan” that has plagued this team time and time again, from the 5-0 start to the Sam Bradford lead season that ended with an 8-8 record, to most recently the 49ers’ dominance of the Vikings’ front five. So using a high draft pick on anything other than a left tackle (and then left guard), would only set up whatever quarterback you’d be signing instead little chance to succeed when they presumably take over Cousins
This team would be better off shoring up the line and allowing it’s new offensive coordinator in Gary Kubiak to run the offense in 2020 (and beyond) with Cousins at the helm for a myriad of reasons. The most ironic of which is that the deal that the Vikings gave Cousins has essentially created a market in the NFL that has made it hard for the Vikings to sign anyone else except Cousins after 2020. Sure, they could draft someone, but does anyone have faith that general manager Rick Spielman will find the next Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson with the 25th pick in April’s draft?
The good news is that some of us believe that Cousins can get the job done if he’s given the time an offensive line that isn’t ranked near 30th in the league could provide, as whenever he rolled out of the pocket and had time to make downfield throws, he was statistically as elite as any quarterback in the NFL.
Remember Patrick Mahomes? The soon-to-be $40 million man? At one point, with the Vikings allowing Cousins to get out of the pocket, Kirk had almost identical numbers to Mahomes’ 2018 MVP-campaign.
— Look at Cousins the last 4 games and how he’s come on
— Compare Cousins’ start to that of last year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes through 8 games. 🤷🏽♂️ pic.twitter.com/fukVUTipzc
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 25, 2019
Or they could always attempt to trade for Dak?