Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is slated to be the NFL’s fourth-highest paid passer in 2021. His cap hit is $31 million, trailing only Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. No, Patrick Mahomes’ earth-shattering extension has not kicked in yet.
Because Cousins is not universally considered an upper-echelon quarterback, he is frequently interwoven in trade rumors and criticism about his earnings. The 32-year-old accounts for 4,000+ passing yards, and 30+ touchdowns per season, but that is not enough for the Vikings-fan body politic to accept his proficiency as a passer. There is always a “yeah but” with Cousins, offered by folks that cannot grasp the efficacy of his skill set.
So, when Ben Roethlisberger accepted a noteworthy pay cut with the Pittsburgh Steelers last week or reports indicated Tom Brady would rework his contract with the Tampa Buccaneers, some eyes leered at Cousins. “Everyone else” is being reasonable – why not Cousins?
For the sake of the team, it would indeed be warm and fuzzy if Cousins found a humanitarian bone in his body. But athletes play sports primarily to make money – and win along the way. It’s about balance.
How plausible is Cousins’ participation in taking a pay cut or restructuring his deal [again]?
Cousins Isn’t There Age-Wise
Roethlisberger and Brady are nearing the end of their respective careers. They’ve been around. They’ve seen a lot. They’ve accrued boatloads of cash.
Cousins is relatively young. If he follows the career path of likeminded quarterbacks, he likely has 6-10 seasons left to start at quarterback with the Vikings or otherwise. Based on age, now is not the time for Cousins to “take one for the team” and earn less money. He can save that until he’s Roethlisberger’s or Brady’s age. Would you take a pay cut in the prime of your career?
This is the player perspective and arguably more applicable – that of Cousins’ agent. Cousins’ money people are not going to initiate “reduce my salary” talks because, well, they are not in the business of earning their client less money. In fact, such folks are employed to effectuate the total opposite tendency. The more money – the merrier.
If you are Kirk Cousins, you scoff at the notion of reducing your salary at age 32.
The Coronavirus Argument
Nevertheless, if you’ve breathed oxygen in the last 12 months, you know these are unique global times. The NFL’s salary cap is shrinking a tad. The cap goes up – like clockwork – each season. Not this year.
If there was an occasion for a quarterback in his prime to ponder a one-time pay cut, now is the time to get on board. The Vikings salary cap is underwater because the franchise spends gobs of money on players like Cousins, Danielle Hunter (who also wants more money – we think), Riley Reiff (stay tuned), Anthony Barr, and Adam Thielen. All of those mouths are worthy of feeding, although Reiff is unlikely to play under the banner of his $17+ million cap hit in 2021. Also, Dalvin Cook’s extension has not hit the books yet, but that is on the horizon, too.
Should Cousins arbitrarily engage in pay-cut or restructure talks, he would do so on the backdrop of COVID-related circumstances. It’s the only sensible method for the Vikings to approach Cousins on the topic. “We didn’t order this pandemic, but here we are. Help us out.” – would be the conversation starter.
A Toss-up, but Probably No Pay Cut
Don’t hold your breath on a pay cut. It is more logical that Cousins would again entertain a restructure of his deal. But this would probably entail an extension – something that the loudest disgruntled fans would decry. Too bad.
The Vikings effectively have a one-year window to win a playoff game. Otherwise, the futures of head coach Mike Zimmer and Cousins become ultra-dicey. The experiment of Cousins-with-Zimmer has spanned three seasons. The results are mixed. A sweet road playoff win was the hallmark of the tenure – missing the playoffs in 2018 and 2020 were low points.
If general manager Rick Spielman absolutely adores Cousins behind closed doors, an extension is realistic. Should Spielman quietly endorse the wait-and-see approach for 2021, Cousins contract probably chugs along as-is.
A pay cut would curry favor for Cousins with the fan base. Most Cousins detractors dislike his presence on the roster because the guaranteed-money connotation from 2018 never left his reputation. The Vikings failed to reach the postseason that season, and that enraged Cousins truthers.
But quarterbacks in their prime aren’t lightning rods for pay cuts.