Somewhere at Vikings headquarters, Rob Brzezinski is leisurely sitting back in a leather chair with his feet kicked up on his mahogany desk, thinking to himself, “I told you so.” Or maybe he’s saying those words out loud; we can’t know for sure. Whatever the case, the Minnesota Vikings’ famed vice president of football operations and wizard of the salary cap has, once again, displayed an uncanny ability to apply string theory to playing 10-dimensional chess while others play tiddlywinks, as I like to hyperbolize whenever individuals discreetly display their genius.
We should have never doubted him.
Considerable doubt has, in fact, existed about the Vikings’ ability to survive Kirk Cousins’ onerous $45-million salary cap hit in 2022. It’s been the topic of much consternation for months now. Witnesses from around the region report a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth associated with fans’ despair over its perceived crippling impact next year.
Meanwhile, general manager Rick Spielman, with Brzezinski and his trusty spreadsheets at his side, has gone about his business as if Cousins’ cap hit next season was nothing too out of the ordinary. Countless trades enabling the Vikings to get out from under the weight of Kirk’s cumbersome contract have been proposed from all corners of the NFL interwebs. Spielman has heard them all.
“I know there’s a lot of rumors floating around out there,” Spielman told media members last week. “But Kirk Cousins is our quarterback.”
The obvious comeback to such is statement is that Spielman has to say that whether Cousins is actually on the Purple trade block or not. It would be counterproductive for him to suggest otherwise publicly. He’d sabotage any perceived leverage in trade talks and also very likely piss off his quarterback and a lot of other players. It’s GM 101.
On the other hand, maybe Spielman was shooting straight with the media. Maybe, just maybe, Cousins isn’t going anywhere. Would the Vikings entertain trade offers for him? It would be malpractice not to listen to what a team like the San Francisco 49ers might part with to obtain him. However, at the very least, there’s a path forward for Cousins and the Vikings in 2022 that appears more doable than one might think just looking at the math. A trade might not be as necessary as some have suggested.
So, what’s changed?
On Monday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys agreed to a new contract with quarterback Dak Prescott, which will reportedly pay him $160 million over four years. It reportedly includes an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus and $126 million in guaranteed money, with $75 million due in Year 1.
Suddenly, Cousins’ $45 million cap hit in 2022 looks like it will align with some of the other top-paid quarterbacks. You see, that’s what happens in the NFL — the next star quarterback whose contract expires gets to reset the market.
However, that Cousins’ cap hit is more in line with other expensive quarterbacks is merely part of the reason Vikings fans should breathe a little easier. Frankly, it’s not even the best part. The more significant takeaway for Vikings fans is that Prescott’s gaudy new contract is a tell. It portends more cap room for NFL teams in the not-so-distant future. In the wake of Prescott’s fat new deal, ESPN’s Adam Schefter fired off an interesting tweet.
That should grab your attention. Now, I’ve never claimed to be a salary cap expert. It was my understanding there would be no math. However, what’s been pounded into our collective consciousness the past 12 months is that Cousins’ cap hits take up far too much space and that the NFL salary cap is lower this season due to the impact COVID-19 had on the league. By the way, if you have salary cap questions or concerns regarding the Vikes, be sure to check out Luke Braun’s helpful article.
But what Brzezinski and others of his ilk have undoubtedly taken into account is the sea change coming after the 2021 season in terms of the salary cap. It’s going to grow — probably by a lot in 2023 after going up a decent amount in 2022 – just in time for Kirk’s $45 million hit.
For those who haven’t fully connected the dots on this just yet, just know a few things:
- The NFL remains in really good financial shape despite the pandemic.
- The Monday Night Football package is set to expire following the 2021 season.
- The rest of the network deals are set to run out following the 2022 season.
Per numerous outlets, including ProFootballTalk.com, the new television contracts are basically done, will be announced soon, and will dwarf the last set of 10-year deals. And if these reports are true, the NFL will rake in twice as much money for their TV (and online streaming) product over the next decade.
Now do you see how this makes a little more sense? Maybe the Vikings’ situation with Cousins’ upcoming cap hit in 2022 isn’t as dire as it’s been made out to be. Perhaps, with a little more Brzezinski magic, the financial impact will be more of a headache than a migraine. All things are within the frontiers of the possible when Brzezinski is involved. Of course, there’s also a chance that Cousins (and/or several of his teammates) could eventually do some restructuring to spread some of the cap hits into 2023 and beyond when the cap should jump up considerably.
Thus, while NFL teams slash salaries the next seven days to get under the shriveled 2021 cap by the start of the new league year, keep in mind that this season will be a bit of an outlier, and the purse strings will be loosened in the years ahead as salaries jump up.
Or, you know, maybe Cousins will still be traded, and none of this will ultimately matter to Vikings fans.