Kirk Cousins may have been trying out in front of his new team last August. The Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos held joint practices before their preseason game on Aug. 14. Now the Broncos are considered a “top option” for Cousins, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers.
Chad Graff of The Athletic notes that Denver and Pittsburgh could technically fit him under their cap, although that does not take into account free agents and their rookie draft classes. Carolina would have to do some finagling to get him under the cap. But Graff says those are the only three quarterback-needy teams who would consider taking on the polarizing signal-caller’s cap hit.
“Very few teams have the space to take on a player with that large of a hit. Because of that, the number of teams capable of making a trade for Cousins without the Vikings taking on additional money is slim,” Graff wrote. “The top options for a Cousins trade seem to be the Broncos, Steelers and Panthers, with a couple of other teams perhaps marginally interested. The Panthers wouldn’t have enough cap space to incur an additional $35 million. The Broncos and Steelers barely would, but that’s without factoring in free agents or a rookie draft class.”
Cousins is due $35 million in base salary and will receive a $10 million bonus, meaning he carries a $45 million cap hit next season. In this scenario, the Vikings would pay the $10 million bonus, and the Broncos would incur a $35 million cap hit.
Denver would be a natural destination for Cousins. Their general manager, George Paton, was hired by the Vikings to be their director of player personnel in 2007. In 2012, Rick Spielman hired Paton to be his assistant general manager and named him vice president of player personnel. The Broncos hired Paton to be their GM in January 2021.
Cousins has been linked to the Broncos before. Minnesota’s new GM may be able to sell Paton on Cousins because of their previous connection. Denver has a talented roster but hasn’t been able to find a reliable quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. Paton and whoever he hires as his next head coach may feel that Cousins is the player they need to put them over the top, as he did back when the Vikings signed Cousins in 2018.
Pittsburgh seems like a misfit for Cousins. It’s hard to see him getting along with Mike Tomlin any better than he did with Mike Zimmer. And he’d be following in Ben Roethlisberger’s footsteps, a high-pressure situation like he encountered in Minnesota.
Carolina is probably even less of a fit. The Broncos and Steelers have better rosters, and the Panthers would have to clear space to take on Cousins’ $35 million hit.
Ironically, Teddy Bridgewater played in Carolina before joining the Broncos this season. The Vikings played all three teams last year. Denver beat them 33-6 in the preseason, but Minnesota staved off late comebacks against the Panthers (34-28 in overtime) and Pittsburgh (36-28) in the regular season.
A Cousins trade might be the best way for the Vikings to start fresh. The Zimmer-Spielman-Cousins triumvirate produced one playoff win in four years and was a letdown considering Minnesota made it to the NFC Championship with Case Keenum under center in 2017. However, if the Vikings trade Cousins, they will have to find an adequate replacement for him. And failing to do so could mean Justin Jefferson asks out as Stefon Diggs, Percy Harvin, and Randy Moss did before him.