Cousins Extension Makes Sense but Current QB Market Making It Difficult + Bud Thoughts

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Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

Kirk Cousins had his best season as an NFL QB in 2022. His stats have been better in other seasons, but the knock on him in the past was not coming up clutch in big moments. Cousins was great at crunch time in the Vikings’ 13-4 regular season that won the NFC North as he led eight come-from-behind victories. 

Unfortunately, that clutchness didn’t carry over to the playoff loss to the Giants when Cousins threw the ill-fated fourth down pass on the final drive short of the first down marker to T.J. Hockenson (rather than taking a shot to superstar Justin Jefferson as he did on 4th-and-16 for the play of the year in Buffalo). But with better protection throughout that Giants game and on the final throw, I think Cousins would’ve delivered a win over the G-Men before facing the top-seeded Eagles in Philly. 

Cousins Extension Makes Sense but Current QB Market Making It Difficult + Bud Thoughts

I think the Vikings football leaders in GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Coach Kevin O’Connell believe Cousins is a top 10-12 QB. The key question is if they think he can be a Super Bowl quarterback with more time working with O’Connell, Jefferson, and Hockenson while his offensive line improves with further development of a group that appears talented enough with all five starters drafted in the first two rounds. 

Makes Sense
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If they believe in Cousins’ further ascension, he is certainly worth extending for two years beyond the upcoming 2023 season, his last year under contract. The team already restructured his contract by converting part of his 2023 base salary and roster bonus into a $20 million signing bonus and $10 million base, which lowered his salary cap number from $36.25 million to $20.25 million. The team added two void years, so if Cousins is not extended beyond 2023 and leaves next year, there would be a $28.5 million dead money hit to the Vikings’ 2024 cap. 

The 34-year-old Cousins has indicated he wants to remain a Viking for the long term and finish his career in Minnesota. But he won’t come cheap, and therein lies the problem for Adofo-Mensah and the Wilfs (yes, the owners must sign off on the plan and cost factor for quarterbacks, the team’s most important position). 

The Vikings have already seen the wide receiver market explode in the past two years as they prepare to extend Jefferson at a cost of at least — and probably a bit more — than $30 million per year. Now the quarterback market that always steamrolls ahead is escalating significantly as the NFL salary cap—now at $225 million– grows by $20 million or more per year. 

Vikings, Giants Share Naughty 2022 Stat
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) talk after the game. The New York Giants lose to the Minnesota Vikings, 28-10, in NFL Week 5 on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Min Week 5. © Danielle Parhizkaran/, North Jersey Record via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

I think the biggest roadblock in a Cousins extension is Daniel Jones’ four-year, $40 million per year contract (with $94 million in total guarantees) that he signed on the cusp of free agency with the prospect of being given the franchise tag if he wasn’t re-signed. 

After compiling a 12-25 record in his first three seasons with a shaky supporting cast, Jones had his first winning season in 2022, along with the playoff win in Minnesota. He made a big step forward under Coach Brian Daboll as a passer (3,205 passing yards and a 92.5 passer rating) and runner (708 yards, 7 TDs). 

The Giants would’ve preferred to sign him for $35 million per year but stretched to $40 million per year to get a first-year cap number of $19 million in the deal vs. the $32.4 million if they had been forced to franchise Jones. By getting this deal done, they could franchise top back Saquon Barkley at $10.1 million. Under Daboll (who was Josh Allen’s offensive coordinator in Buffalo), Jones has a good chance to further ascend to the level of a Pro Bowl-caliber QB. 

Cousins is at the $35 million per year level on his current deal, which was extended by one year last offseason. He and his agent are likely saying he’s a four-time Pro Bowler who has had more career success than Jones and should be paid slightly above $40 million annually. They also are saying he’s more accomplished than Arizona’s Kyler Murray, who is signed for $46 million per year (although he is a former No. 1 overall pick and nine years younger than Cousins, so his upside appears greater).  

Kirk Cousins Riddle
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The price of poker will only continue to rise in QB negotiations as Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts will likely be extended this year for anywhere from Murray and Deshaun Watson’s $46 million per year to exceeding Aaron Rodgers’ $50 million per year as the top dog. And then there’s Lamar Jackson, who is currently franchised at $32.4 million for 2023 and could sign a lucrative extension before mid-July if he comes off his demand for a Watson-like fully guaranteed contract in the $230 million over five years range.  

Cousins and his agent may be content to sit back and watch all of these younger QBs reset the market while emphasizing the Jones contract in saying an increase over $35 million per year is warranted for Cousins. 

If Cousins is not extended before the April 27-29 draft, we’ll have a better idea of the Vikings plans for the future at QB with their draft decision in the first round (or possibly in the second round if they add a second-round pick that they are missing from the Hockenson trade). If they go defense as expected, then Cousins is most likely their man for the next few years at least. If there is a quarterback they really like out of a strong QB draft class and select with the No. 23 overall pick (or in the second round where Hurts and Drew Brees — to name a couple of prominent QBs — were picked), Cousins days in purple may be over in 2024.    

More Bud Grant thoughts: As I wrote last week, I worked with Bud for 10 years and remained close with him ever since. In my early Vikings management career, before I became GM, I was the team’s director of operations and worked closely with Bud on setting up our training camps in Mankato, all of our team travel arrangements, such as itineraries and airline/hotel choices and details involved with our Winter Park practice facility in Eden Prairie including field maintenance needs and our practice bubble. 

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports.

As assistant GM, I met regularly with Bud and our GM Mike Lynn to discuss player personnel decisions, including players to sign or release. I often talked with him to get his perspective on major player decisions I had to make during my eight years as Vikings GM.

Those who didn’t know him well viewed Bud as stoic and nonemotional, but I knew him as a man with a lot of heart and emotion. When I left the Vikings and was packing up my office (before I knew I was going to be hired as Titans President), Bud made a special trip to the office at 9:00 in the evening to talk with me, boost my spirits and tell me everything would work out fine which it did. 

I was honored to represent the Vikings organization along with one of our team owners Jaye Dyer at Bud’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement in the mid-90s, and he gave a very emotional speech that day. I also saw his tears close up at the press conference announcing Jim Marshall’s retirement (the Vikings long-time defensive captain and leader of the Purple People Eaters).

Bud and I played racquetball at the Vikings facility a couple of times per week for many years, and I saw his competitive fire close up on the court along with on the football field in his great coaching success of the Vikings. He lived a great life to 95 years old. He’s probably the Vikings’ biggest icon and will be missed. Next Week: More free agency observations, including what’s up with Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Cook?

And more insight into free agency around the NFL, including the Bears making a lot of impact signings on both offense and defense, as they look like a team that should quickly be on the rise. And the Lions really improving their secondary in free agency as they set their sights on dethroning the Vikings in the NFC North. The Packers? Stuck in the muck of negotiations with the Jets on compensation for Aaron Rodgers.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl