The Kirk Cousins Contract Is Still a Barrier

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA TODAY Sports)

At the beginning of this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings were coming off a seven-win season, had holes all over their roster, and were over the salary cap. But from the offensive line to coverage to the pass rush, it seems like they were able to add to every facet of their team. However, upon closer examination, the albatross of a contract they gave to Kirk Cousins was still detrimental to the team.

The Vikings added around eight starters to their roster in free agency this year: slot corner Mackensie Alexander, cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Patrick Peterson, defensive linemen Stephen Weatherly and Dalvin Tomlinson, and safety Xavier Woods. On top of this, the Vikings also signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, wide receiver Dede Westbrook, and linebacker Nick Vigil.

The Vikings still have around $12 million in cap space remaining. However, Cousins’ contract is the reason they could not acquire more impact free agents.

Minnesota was coming off a 10-6 regular season and had just eliminated the Super Bowl favorite New Orleans Saints from the playoffs when they gave Cousins a two-year, $66 million extension, tying him to the franchise until after the 2022 season. On the third day of the 2021 league year, Cousins’ contract became guaranteed, making his hefty cap hit an issue for Minnesota.

Earlier this year, when free agency started, the Vikings were tight on cap space. In order to maneuver around this, they had to cut Riley Reiff, saving around $7 million; alter Anthony Barr’s contract, which makes him a free agent after this season; and restructure Adam Thielen‘s deal.

Going into free agency, Minnesota’s greatest needs were pass rush, coverage, run defense, and pass protection — yeah, that’s a lot. In the first wave of free agency, the Vikings were able to address two of these bigger, more vague needs: run defense with the signing of Dalvin Tomlinson and coverage with the signing of Patrick Peterson.

However, after the first wave, the Vikings added to their roster through bargain bin shopping. They banked on the premise that certain free agents would want to be in Minnesota, whether that was because of the coaching staff or other reasons. In that second wave they brought in Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Woods on prove-it deals. They also signed former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who seemed troubled with his contract situation before he settled on a one-year deal with Minnesota.

Given the nature of the offseason, there was a larger pattern in which impending free agents chose to forgo committing to a team with a longer deal because of the cap crunch. This offseason, there were a lot of one-year deals that let players take advantage of the situation. In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts were two teams that only signed free agents to one-year deals.

The Vikings added a decent number of veterans to their roster, but the average term length of these contracts was 1.08 years, ranking 30th in the league. Only Tomlinson’s contract was longer than a year. According to Over The Cap, Minnesota was 24th in overall signings.

Because of the nature of Cousins’ contract and the big chunk of salary cap space it takes up, the Vikings lost out on the top-tier free agents that would have let them turn their “playoff contender” roster into one that would be expected to win it all. Without the albatross contract at quarterback, the Vikings likely end up getting one or two more top-tier free agents. For example, in the first wave of free agency, before signing Tomlinson, Minnesota was interested in pass rushers. However, due to the cap crunch, they lost out on both Carl Lawson and Trey Hendrickson.

Due to the strong work in salary cap manipulation and bargain bin shopping, the Vikings’ brass was able to push all their chips to the 2021 season. However, at the end of the day, the Kirk Cousins contract was still a barrier.

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Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA TODAY Sports)

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