Throughout his career, Kirk Cousins has been known for two things: his stats and winning the negotiation.
With a $45 million cap hit due next season, Cousins’ contract with the Minnesota Vikings has reached a turning point. He can either take a pay cut to help improve the team or play hardball and collect his salary.
Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller stated on his podcast that he left the combine believing the most likely outcome was Cousins playing out the final year of his deal. This for a guy who views lucrative one-year deals and fully guaranteed contracts as a vision from God.
The reality is that Cousins is seeking a pyrrhic victory.
The term refers to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans at the Battle of Hercules during the Pyrrhic War. While his forces won the battle, they suffered many casualties that eventually led to their demise.
It’s a graphic example to compare to an NFL contract negotiation. But there’s a parallel to what’s going on with the Vikings’ desire to sign Cousins to an affordable extension.
Cousins believes he’s worth the same amount of money that other quarterbacks are demanding. Derek Carr also demanded a $40 million contract, and ESPN reported that Aaron Rodgers is mulling a deal that could alter the market.
Having thrown for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns during three of his four seasons in Minnesota, Cousins has a case to get his money. If the Vikings aren’t willing to pay him, he knows that another team will, and he’ll be able to cash in when the time comes.
A similar scenario occurred during his time in Washington. With his contract coming up, Cousins’ agent proposed a fully guaranteed deal that kept him in DC. After the Washington Commanders rejected the proposal and placed the franchise tag on him, Cousins enjoyed two highly paid seasons before hitting free agency.
The Commanders allowed Cousins to walk in part because they didn’t want to pay him. But when Cousins hit the market, the Vikings and the New York Jets could engage in a bidding war for his services. In a documentary detailing his free-agent process, Cousins admitted to using the Jets as leverage to get a bigger deal with the Vikings. In the end, Cousins got exactly what he wanted.
With several teams looking to upgrade at the quarterback position, Cousins could believe that the same market exists in 2022. But that may not be the case.
If Cousins stays at $45 million, the Vikings will have to find a different way to fix their cap issues. That’s not only necessary to improve the team, but it also ensures that Minnesota can find a way to create a window in 2023 and beyond.
At this point, Adofo-Mensah would have to make some tough decisions involving good players.
Adam Thielen, Danielle Hunter, and Harrison Smith would all have to think about restructuring their contracts. The Vikings could cut other players such as Eric Kendricks and Michael Pierce. They couldn’t retain pending free agents like Patrick Peterson, and there are more moves that the Vikings could have to make.
A weakened roster could be catastrophic for a quarterback like Cousins. Adofo-Mensah hinted at this during his combine press conference, saying that Cousins is great “when the odds are shifted in his favor.” Taking players away from his supporting cast could give him more to overcome. Vikings fans have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
Cousins could miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons without good players around him. Even if he puts up impressive numbers, some teams could see him as a stat-padder and be reluctant to give him the contract he wants. With teams seeking a younger, cheaper quarterback, a 35-year-old Cousins could find himself categorized as a “bridge quarterback.” That would lead to the one-year deals he prefers but significantly less than what the Vikings would offer in an extension.
If Cousins were to sign a deal for an annual value of $35 million, it could make a huge difference. The Vikings could sign guards to fix the offensive line. The secondary could add some younger players instead of one-year rentals. And the extra savings could provide depth in case of injury.
Even if things went wrong, the Vikings could use their roster to keep the odds in Cousins’ favor. That could mean a couple of extra wins and a chance to make a run in the playoffs. If the Vikings draft a quarterback, they could trade Cousins and cash in one final time with his new team. However, it would be advantageous if Cousins could lead Minnesota to a deep playoff run.
The odds are slim that Cousins would be willing to take a pay cut. But compared to the other outcome, it might be the best business decision he could make.