Minnesota’s overtime win over the Saints in the 2019 wild-card round unlocked new contracts for multiple key members of the organization. The highest paid of the bunch — quarterback Kirk Cousins — likely won’t be going anywhere any time soon, without leaving behind a significant cash and cap burden.
The two-year extension signed by Cousins gave him $30 million up front along with 2020 and 2021 salaries of $9.5 million and $21 million guaranteed for injury, skill, and cap. And here’s the kicker: Cousins’ $35 million salary for 2022 becomes guaranteed for injury, skill, and cap on the third day of the 2021 league year.
This means that, to avoid owing Cousins $35 million in 2022, the Vikings will have to unload Cousins before the middle of March 2021. They’d still owe him $21 million for 2021, a year in which the cap may be as low as $175 million. They also would have paid him $61 million for one season under his new deal.
Their only hope to avoid the extra $35 million in financial obligations and to reduce the one-year investment to $40 million comes from a potential trade. Their best hope in that regard would be to get a phone call from the 49ers, if they decide to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo and acquire the quarterback whom 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan had planned to sign as a free agent in 2018, but for the trade that brought Garoppolo to town.
So would the 49ers take on a two-year, $56 million obligation to Cousins? At $28 million per year, that’s a bargain in light of the current market — even with a reduced cap in 2021 due to the pandemic. If, of course, Shanahan still wants Cousins to be the 49ers’ quarterback.
Many will say it’s premature for the Vikings to be thinking about their options with Cousins. Others will say that Cousins’ performances in the team’s first two games are sufficiently abysmal to put the question on the table.
Passer rating of 61.9. Two touchdowns against four interceptions. A pair of safeties prompted by his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to a corner blitz (vs. the Packers) and a quickly-collapsing pocket (at the Colts).
That continues to be the biggest flaw in Cousins’ game. He can run the play that’s called, as long as he has time to run it. When the protection falls apart or a defender otherwise springs free, Cousins can’t pivot to an unscripted play, like some of the best quarterbacks in the league can, and do. Whether it’s a lack of mobility or an inability to improvise, Cousins simply can’t whip up an on-the-fly batch of chicken salad.
Whether the Vikings keep Cousins beyond 2020 ultimately may hinge on how deep the bottom goes. With upcoming games against the Titans, Texans, and Seahawks, 0-2 seems destined to become 0-5 (barring a dramatic turnaround from Week One and Week Two). The question then would become whether the Vikings can hold serve in an empty home stadium against the Falcons in the last game before Minnesota’s bye to avoid taking 0-6 into their annual week off.
If the worst-case scenario happens, there won’t be much the Vikings can do about it, thanks to the various financial rewards handed out after the 2019 season. Still, at that point plenty of Vikings fans will begin clamoring for the team to let what quickly has become a scholarship year run its full course, in order to give the team a shot at Trevor Lawrence.