ESPN Suggests Strategy for Kirk Cousins’ Contract

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Once again, the biggest topic of the Vikings’ offseason is the cap space and the connected contract of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The franchise is roughly $24 million over the salary cap and has to make moves to get under that limit until March 15, the beginning of the new league year.

Franchise icons are not safe from getting released to achieve that goal, especially since some of them didn’t play up to their contract in recent years. However, as usual, the focus is on Cousins and his deal. The Vikings have a few options on how to deal with him.

ESPN Suggests Strategy for Kirk Cousins’ Contract

ESPN Suggests Strategy for Kirk Cousins Contract
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, it’s important to know the facts. Cousins is under contract for one more season and is owed $30 million in the 2023 season. His cap hit is $36,250,000. The reason is the 2020 off-season when the Vikings extended his contract and pushed the cap hits down the road to re-sign Anthony Harris.

That move had Cousins’ cap hit at $45 million at the start of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s tenure as Vikings’ GM in 2022, and he had to extend the contract for another year to lower that number. After the 2023 season, Cousins is set to enter free agency, barring another contract extension.

Simply put, the three options for the Vikings are doing nothing and letting him play out the final year of his deal, extending the contract, and trying to trade the passer. The last one seems unlikely. Cousins has a no-trade clause, and there are no rumors about a trade happening.

The Vikings can extend the contract in different ways. One way is repeating last year’s model and just tagging on one more year. The other one is a long-term extension for Cousins.

These Vikings Are Designed
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Both ways have different wrinkles. A longer extension can lower the cap hit, but the team would be stuck with Cousins for multiple years, while a shorter extension would keep his cap hit relatively high, but the team could move on from the quarterback sooner. Of course, the player has a say in that and can decline a potential offer.

If the two sides can’t get a deal done, Cousins would enter free agency, which would likely land the Vikings a third-round compensatory pick in 2025. he would play out the final year of his deal with the aforementioned parameters, and the Vikings will either go in a different direction and QB or try to re-sign him next year, which would most likely increase his price, as Cousins can take a better offer from a different team.

All options should be at the table for now, but ESPN’s Bill Barnwell offers a suggestion for the purple team.

Adofo-Mensah could create cap space by extending Cousins, as he did before the 2022 season, but doing so only extends the passer’s tenure with the team and delays the inevitable. The Vikings seem likely to be in the market for a young quarterback as early as this offseason. While restructuring Cousins’ deal would free up room, it’s probably time to leave that tactic in the past.

Barnwell also noted that the strategy could cost the Vikings some long-term players and building blocks of the last decade of football in Minnesota.

Dalvin Cook Uses Chalkboard Treatment for Fine
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Those players involve, for example, wideout Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook. The two playmakers have high dead cap hits, though. But it’s possible that at least one of the two playmakers will no longer play for the Vikings.

Wideout Adam Thielen has the second-largest cap hit on the roster at $19.1 million, and the 32-year-old failed to top 75 receiving yards in a single game in 2022. Designating Thielen as a post-June 1 release would free up $13.4 million in much-needed room, although they could instead ask him to take a pay cut from the $13.3 million he’s due. They also could free up $7.9 million by releasing running back Dalvin Cook.

Bill Barnwell, ESPN

A few players on defense can create huge amounts of cap space. Releasing edge rusher Za’Darius Smith would save the Vikings over $12 million in cap space, but they would lose one of their top players. Doing the same with linebacker Eric Kendricks can save the team $9.5 million in cap space, and fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks would save the organization $5 million. The two didn’t play at a very high level in 2022 and are certainly easier to replace than Smith.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) warms up before the game against the Eastern Washington Eagles at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, October 2, 2022. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun. USA TODAY NETWORK.

Cousins played well in 2022, but he will turn 35 years old in August and enters the later stages of his career. A dropoff in production can happen at any point, even if he has not shown any signs of slowing down.

If the Vikings decide to play out the final year of the contract, they could be in the quarterback market in the draft on April 27. The Vikings are scheduled to have their first draft selection at pick 23, so they likely have to move up to get one of the top QB prospects.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt