Denver’s Russell Wilson Release Could Aid Vikings’ Effort to Re-Sign Cousins or …

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The free agency wheels are turning this week, and the Vikings are in the middle of the quarterback derby, with Kirk Cousins potentially being a free agent next Monday. The big news from early this week is the pending release of Russell Wilson by the Broncos. That sets up a situation for the Vikings where they can benefit from Wilson’s release in one of two ways.

Denver’s Russell Wilson Release Could Aid Vikings’ Effort to Re-Sign Cousins or …

It puts another quality vet at perhaps a more affordable price than Cousins on the open market, as Wilson is already guaranteed $39 million in 2024 from Denver. So he may be willing to sign a team-friendly contract with a QB-needy team such as Atlanta, who is rumored to have an interest in signing Cousins. Another quality vet in Wilson is available in free agency (and yes, he still can be a top-15 QB in the right system and with a good supporting cast) and should help the Vikings in their effort to re-sign Cousins.

Russell Wilson
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports.

It also sets up the intriguing scenario of the Vikings signing Wilson on a bargain deal to replace Cousins, drafting a young QB (J.J. McCarthy?) in the first round of the upcoming draft, and having him develop for a year or two behind Wilson.

Despite increased media speculation that Cousins is headed out of Minnesota, I think the Vikings prefer to go with their known quantity in Cousins and draft a QB in the first two rounds. And I believe Cousins prefers not to have to go to a new team with a lesser supporting cast (no Justin Jefferson in Atlanta or elsewhere) and learn a new system as he completes his Achilles rehab.

Cousins and Coach Kevin O’Connell have great synergy compared to working with another coaching staff. We know Cousins’ wife Julie is from the Atlanta area, but I don’t think he wants to uproot his family with young kids in school here and make a big move at this career stage.

But if the Vikings’ offer is not competitive, that changes everything. I’m talking approximately $140 million over three years ($46.66 million per year) with $90 million guaranteed (essentially the first two years guaranteed at $45 million per year). That’s where I think they need to be, as another team, such as Atlanta, would likely be willing to do such a deal.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

If the Vikings sign Cousins to that contract, they can keep his 2024 cap number close to where it will be in dead money if he leaves–$28.5 million. With a $30 million signing bonus spread over three years, a $10 million base salary for 2024 (same as last year), and $10.25 million in old signing bonus/restructure money carrying into this year, his cap number would be $30.25 million.

At some point, the Vikings would take a big dead money hit when they release or trade Cousins. But if it’s not until 2026 after they let a young QB such as McCarthy develop for two seasons, the dead money charge should be close to the $28.5 million they would’ve absorbed this year, and the cap likely will have risen by another $50 million or so by then.

Cousins and Danielle Hunter will likely be the first dominos to fall for the Vikings after the recent release of running back Alexander Mattison (who lost his starting job to Ty Chandler) to gain over $3 million in cap savings. After Cousins and Hunter are resolved one way or another, other free agent signings (of current Vikings and outside free agents) and the mammoth extension of Justin Jefferson come next. It will be a fascinating next several weeks in Vikingland with free agency and the draft on the horizon.

Post-Combine Thoughts on Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison, Jr.:

I think both USC QB Caleb Williams and Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. are coming off as arrogant and entitled with their pre-draft decision-making, which doesn’t play well with NFL GMs and coaches. It may not affect their draft status in the final analysis, but why risk adding more questions about their character and decision-making? I think their agents should be guiding them better. 

Williams did not make teams happy at the Combine by skipping physicals (he’s the first player attending the Combine that I’ve ever heard of doing that) and not working out (which is all too common among top projected draftees who prefer to hold their workout for Pro Days at their colleges). Williams said he’d do medical exams on team visits, but that irritates teams with doctors and athletic trainers in Indianapolis at the Combine for that purpose.

It also will backfire on him when he has to take four to six different physicals on pre-draft team visits in April instead of getting it done in one shot at Indy. He said. “Not 32 teams can draft me. There’s only one of me. So, the teams that I go to for my visit, those teams will have the medical. And that will be it.”

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

That statement reflects poorly on him. How about a team that would trade up 14 spots as the Rams did to take Jared Goff first overall in 2016? He’s essentially locking out such a big jump by a team that likely wouldn’t have his updated medical info.

Williams says he won’t throw at Pro Day either and rest on his game tape. I always emphasized to our scouts and coaches that we should focus on game performance, but GMs still want to watch him throw at Pro Day to see it up close. I agree with Washington QB Michael Penix Jr., who said he wanted to throw at the Combine and his Pro Day to take advantage of every opportunity to impress teams, which is what I advise to our rookies that our agent group IFA represents.

Williams already has questions about his play against the better teams vs. padding his stats against weaker opponents. And there are questions about his father being overly involved and asking teams about giving his son equity in the team if they pick him, which is not allowed.

Then there’s Marvin Harrison Jr. skipping the Combine and his Pro Day entirely. It’s a terrible approach on his part, and his father (Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison Sr.) should be better advising him along with his agent.

This again creates questions in GM’s minds on what is this guy possibly hiding? Perhaps he’ll make team visits pre-draft in April, but will Harrison do all the physicals and workouts for every team he visits? He may just be allowing LSU’s Malik Nabers to surpass him as the highest-drafted wide receiver on April 25.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

As I said, it may not matter in the final analysis, and Williams may well go No. 1 overall with Harrison Jr. in the top five and the first receiver off the board. But why risk it by not being totally transparent in the pre-draft process?  

I’ll be back next week with my reactions to the first wave of free agency signings—including, of course, the status of Cousins and Hunter–along with possible trades and releases that will occur. As usual, the NFL knows how to stay in the news during the offseason.

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