Since his franchise tag saga began during the 2010s, Kirk Cousins has been one of the NFL’s financial kingpins. The veteran quarterback’s fully guaranteed $84MM Vikings deal in 2018 remains a landmark NFL accord. He signed two more Vikings contracts, running his career earnings total past $230MM, but is now less than two months from free agency.
Cousins and the Vikings’ most recent negotiations failed, however, leading the 12-year veteran to play out the extension he agreed to in 2022. Minnesota restructured Cousins’ contract last March, adding void years to set up a showdown before the start of the 2024 league year.
Having obviously done extraordinarily well with guarantees since his first Washington tag (2016), Cousins sought multiple additional years of locked-in money during his latest Vikes talks. During the 2023 negotiations, the Pro Bowl passer wanted guarantees through the 2025 season, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes. The Vikings, meanwhile, were only willing to offer guaranteed money into 2024. This led to the sides breaking off talks and the restructure coming to pass.
Teams often bend for quarterbacks, and Cousins almost definitely did not ask for fully guaranteed money through 2025. Given his age and performance level, that would have been a non-starter for the Vikings. But it is notable the team did not want to be tied to any Cousins guarantees beyond his age-36 season. The Vikings now must consider paying for that age-36 season; Cousins will turn 36 in August. Both team and player have said they want to complete another contract, and the Vikings face a time crunch now.
Minnesota must re-sign Cousins before the 2024 league year begins on March 13. Otherwise, $28.5MM in dead money would accelerate onto the team’s 2024 cap sheet. A new deal would still bring some dead cap for the Vikings in 2024, per Goessling, but it would be $10.5MM rather than the concerning total that would come about if no deal was agreed upon. The legal tampering period begins March 11, giving Cousins two days to officially explore non-Minnesota options. Though, the Combine regularly gives free agents an idea of their value ahead of the tampering period.
Cousins’ Achilles tear — his first major injury as a pro — will factor into his latest Minnesota negotiations. The Vikings will not having a clear QB answer if they cannot re-up Cousins would play into the financially savvy passer’s hands, but it is unlikely the organization bends on a three-year guarantee following this Achilles malady. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings want to extend this partnership through 2025. Though, that would probably be necessary, seeing as Cousins’ two Washington franchise tags make him an unrealistic tag candidate. Minnesota resides in the strange position of being unable to tag either of its top two free agents-to-be, with Danielle Hunter‘s reworked contract including a no-tag clause for 2024.
Cousins’ affinity for the Twin Cities notwithstanding, he sounds open to exploring the market. Bill Belichick is the favorite to be named the next Falcons HC, and Cousins would be interested in playing for the legendary HC. Regardless of who their next coach is, the Falcons are looking to upgrade on Desmond Ridder.
“I’m not going to turn down an opportunity to play with a future Hall of Fame coach, but we’ll have to see where March leads,” Cousins said, via Isabel Gonzalez of CBS Sports. “It’s just a lot of unknowns right now.”
Cousins has not hit free agency since 2018. He is believed to be ahead of schedule during Achilles rehab and said he wants to extend his career into at least his late 30s. The October injury may affect his market, but with Baker Mayfield stationed as the only other free agent passer who could command a higher-end starter salary, Cousins would attract attention if he truly tested the market.