The best offer Kirk Cousins received this offseason indeed came from the Jets. Reports of a three-year, $90MM fully guaranteed Jets proposal turned out to be accurate. Cousins confirmed as much (video link via Vikings.com) in a multi-part series chronicling his unique free agency foray.
Cousins, however, hoped the Jets’ offer would convince the Vikings to raise their price to move closer to the ballpark New York established.
At free agency’s outset, the Vikings offered Cousins $25MM per year. Minnesota increasing its offer to $28MM AAV for three years cinched up the deal, although Cousins confirmed his two finalists were the Vikings and Jets. The Cardinals finished in third place.
Cousins said in January he was interested in signing with a team he could elevate to a Super Bowl. The Vikings are certainly closer to that realm than the Jets, who appear to have been Cousins’ contingency plan.
The twice-franchise-tagged quarterback said at that point during the process he wanted to sign a fully guaranteed, multiyear contract. But if that didn’t materialize, Cousins wanted to continue to play on one-year deals, as he had with Washington. Cousins collected more than $44MM in 2016-17 via the franchise tag.
During an expansive video, Cousins is seen Googling offensive coordinators — Jeremy Bates (Jets), Bill Musgrave (Broncos), Mike McCoy (Cardinals) and John DeFilippo (Vikings) are shown during this sequence — from his in-laws’ house. Cousins added that he was interested in returning to the Redskins, although this came after news of the Alex Smith trade emerged. Nothing to that point indicated the parties were interested in working together any longer, particularly after two failed July negotiations.
Unable to reach any family members by phone, Cousins broke the news of his intentions to sign with the Vikings, pre-Minneapolis visit, to a AAA employee who’d expressed interest in his financial pursuits.
Being the leverage team in the Cousins talks led to the Jets trading up to No. 3 and moving into a spot that turned out to be high enough to draft Sam Darnold, a possible Day 1 starter. Darnold’s at least in position to be Gang Green’s quarterback longer than the now-30-year-old Cousins probably would have.
Prior to Teddy Bridgewater‘s career-defining injury at Vikings practice two Augusts ago, Mike Zimmer assumed the 2014 first-round pick would be his quarterback for the remainder of his head-coaching tenure. But the gruesome leg injuries Bridgewater suffered eventually led him out of the Twin Cities and to the Big Apple. Now, the 62-year-old head coach envisions Kirk Cousins, attached to a three-year contract, as the quarterback for the rest of his run as Vikings HC.
“I always thought Teddy was going to be my quarterback for my career and these are the way things go,” Zimmer said during a Sirius XM Radio interview. “Now, I hope that Kirk is the quarterback for my career … and it’s long, too. Not one year.”
Zimmer expanded a bit on what drew him to Cousins, though Minnesota certainly wasn’t alone in the rare pursuit of a franchise-level quarterback on the market. But the Vikings weren’t viewed as the obvious choice from the outset, given Case Keenum‘s success in 2017.
“Part of it was his accuracy,” Zimmer said of the Cousins pursuit during the interview. “He threw the ball into a lot of tight windows, and we’re seeing that here in camp. Very consistent in the things he was able to do. So I think that was part of it. You know, not too many times is a quarterback that’s really entering his prime at 28 (Cousins turns 30 later this month) get out on the free agency market that’s thrown for 4,000 (yards) for three straight years. I think he’s my fifth quarterback in five years, so I’m hoping we’ve stabilized the quarterback position.”
Here’s the latest from a Vikings rival and the AFC North.
The Packers received a scare when a cart transported cornerstone left tackle David Bakhtiari from the practice field Saturday night, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (on Twitter) Bakhtiari suffered a sprained left ankle. He won’t return to action immediately, but at this point, it doesn’t look like the sixth-year lineman will miss regular-season time.
Bud Dupree suffered a setback this weekend and is in concussion protocol, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The Steelers will be without their starting right outside linebacker for a bit, per Fowler, after seeing the fourth-year player start camp strong. Anthony Chickillo and Keion Adams reside as the top backups, per Pittsburgh’s first 2018 depth chart, and will see more time while Dupree is sidelined. Adams was a 2017 seventh-round pick who did not play last season.
Jabrill Peppers kept his starting spot after the Browns released their first depth chart, but Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal tweets the battle between the 2017 first-rounder and Derrick Kindred is not over. Both continue to receive first-team reps opposite Damarious Randall, and Ulrich adds each will play plenty in three-safety looks this season (Twitter link). It would, however, be notable if Peppers couldn’t keep his starting job considering what the Browns invested in him. A 2016 fourth-rounder, Kindred’s started 15 NFL games.
This turned out to be an important year for quarterback acquisitions. Many teams’ short- and long-term futures will depend heavily on the players they added over the past two months.
A fourth of the NFL made major investments in outside talent at the quarterback position this offseason. Which team did you think is in the best position after all the dominoes fell?
Three teams acquired their unquestioned starters via trade or free agency. The Redskins’ trade for Alex Smith ensured they were not going to pick a quarterback in the draft. As did the Vikings’ subsequent Kirk Cousins agreement. The Broncos entered the draft as a borderline QB destination, but John Elway valuedBradley Chubb more than Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, eschewing a Bills offer that would have given his team extra first- and second-round picks. So, Case Keenum is going to be Denver’s starter.
Four of the five teams that used first-round picks on quarterbacks made sure to add bridge-type solutions, with the Browns moving first to get Tyrod Taylor. The Jets and Cardinals then respectively proceeded to bring in Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. And the Bills made the final stopgap addition in A.J. McCarron. But these players, for the most part, are 2018 placeholders — at best.
The Bills worked the phones relentlessly in an effort to install Allen behind McCarron, and the Cardinals reportedly had the Wyoming prodigy rated as their top QB as well. But Allen could need extensive seasoning, and as of now, a returning playoff team has a fifth-year player with 133 career pass attempts set to open the season and possibly close it as the starter.
Conversely, the player the Cardinals invested in was tabbed by many draft experts as the readiest pro. And Bradford being in front of Rosen for 16 games may be asking a lot from the injury-prone veteran. The Ravens are already planning Jackson packages, and although the player whom some teams wanted to work out as a wide receiver may need a season to develop, this draft’s most dominant college QB resides in Baltimore behind Joe Flacco.
Armed with one of the league’s most talented rosters, Minnesota had the most obvious case to pursue a veteran. And the Vikings made history by authorizing a $28MM-AAV fully guaranteed deal for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Cousins, who may be the safest option among all of these players. But he’s now the league’s second-highest-paid passer and tethered to the Vikings through 2020. Smith is coming off his best NFL season, but his Chiefs teams disappointed in two home playoff opportunities. Washington could also be much further away from contention than Minnesota, and the Redskins have now brought in quarterback who for all the stability he offers is four years older.
It’s debatable the Broncos’ contention window could still be open, with many of their core Super Bowl 50 performers still on the team and having played the past two seasons without much help at quarterback. But a 5-11 team armed with only its second top-five pick since 1992 passing on two coveted QB prospects to pursue the 30-year-old Keenum, a late-blooming talent or a player who benefited from better circumstances, could also be classified as a bold choice as Rosen and Allen’s careers unfold. The Broncos only committed to Keenum for two years and are paying Football Outsiders’ No. 4 2017 DYAR passer $10MM less per year than Cousins commanded.
So, with all things considered, which of these franchises is best set up after this offseason? Did one of the teams that spent a first-round pick on a QB ensure a decade and then some of stability and promise? Or did the teams that went strictly for vets get this right? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!
Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.
Dontari Poe, DT (Panthers): Three years, $28MM. $13.3MM guaranteed, $10MM signing bonus. Poe’s 2020 season doubles as an $8.5MM Panthers option (per veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer). $600K (2018), $900K (2019), $900K (2020) workout bonuses, with another $500K for four weigh-ins a year (via Balzer).
KirkCousins (Vikings): three years, $84MM. $6MM in incentives, including $500K for Super Bowl victory, $1MM for Super Bowl and top-five in points scored, $1.5MM for Super Bowl and top-three in points, $2MM for Super Bowl MVP and top-eight in points (via Albert Breer of The MMQB).
The 2018 quarterback market sent several players to new teams as likely starters. But Kirk Cousins was clearly the prize. Three teams submitted offers. Here’s the latest fallout from the Cousins deal as well as teams’ decisions to sign other quarterbacks, courtesy of TheMMQB’s Peter King.
While King reports the Broncos indeed did not submit an offer to Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, the Cardinals did. They pitched their Patrick Peterson– and David Johnson-fronted core of young players, but McCartney told King Arizona finished third in this derby. Steve Keim was the first GM to call McCartney on Monday morning when the tampering period began, but McCartney told King he called Keim back that night and could not confirm Cousins would visit Arizona. The Cards then pivoted to Sam Bradford.
As reports over the weekend confirmed, the Jets were second, per King. McCartney didn’t confirm to King the Jets made the best offer, but both Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News and ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported they proposed a $30MM fully guaranteed deal, but he said New York pitched its cap space and Cousins’ familiarity with the kind of offense new OC Jeremy Bates would run. However, McCartney placed a call to Mike Maccagnan at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday and could not guarantee Cousins would visit. “That was a tough phone call,” McCartney said, via King. “They were clearly frustrated. They wanted to be guaranteed a visit. I told them I couldn’t guarantee a visit, that if he goes to Minnesota and loves it, he could sign. They were not happy about that. I understand, but I told everyone all along what the rules were, and we abided by them.”
Envisioning a “silent auction”-type format, McCartney told teams to come in with their best offers. However, he appeared to be surprised the Broncos didn’t make one. King reports John Elway liked Keenum “a lot” and didn’t want to pay “in the neighborhood” of $30MM per year for Cousins. The price tags for the slew of veterans on the Broncos’ roster, many of whom lobbied for Cousins to come to Denver, influenced Elway’s Keenum choice to sign Keenum for $18MM AAV. King adds Elway did not want the process to drag into Thursday or Friday and his roster not having a starter-caliber veteran quarterback on it.
The Jets immediately began talking to McCartney about one of his other clients, Josh McCown, but their $10MM offer — a career most for the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback — may have come because the Bills were strong pursuers as well. King reports Buffalo was “seriously interested” in McCown, who signed for $4MM more than he did last year. Buffalo ended up landing A.J. McCarron for less money per season.
The seven-team research list McCartney’s office compiled earlier this offseason included the final four teams, but also featured the Bills, Browns and Dolphins. Going into the final week, King notes McCartney and Cousins felt the Jets and Vikings had the edge but acknowledged the Broncos and Cardinals were still in the mix. McCartney told teams a fully guaranteed contract was important during this process. It’s unclear if the Cardinals offered that, but the other two proposals were for fully guaranteed deals. The agent confirmed only the Vikings, Cardinals and Jets made offers, and Minnesota’s included the pitch of possibly being in position to win multiple titles with Cousins as the missing piece. King notes Minnesota’s new stadium and new facility also surfaced during the team’s over-the-phone proposal.
Let’s take a look at the most recent new contracts around the NFL:
Kirk Cousins, QB (Vikings): Three years, $84MM. Guaranteed salaries of $22.5MM, $27.5MM and $29.5MM. Guaranteed $500K workout bonuses each year. Up to $2MM in incentives per year. No-trade clause and a no-transition tag provision in 2021 (Twitter link via Dan Graziano of ESPN).
Demario Davis, LB (Saints): Three years, $24MM. $16MM guaranteed. $9.2MM signing bonus. Annual salaries of $850K, $5.95MM (guaranteed) and $7.35MM. (Twitterlinks via Graziano and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle).
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reports the Jets finished second in this race and indeed also offered Cousins a fully guaranteed deal — three years and $90MM — and were ready to go punch for punch with the Vikings if they had to. Gang Green even sweetened its initial offer for the 29-year-old passer, but he ended up choosing a Minnesota path instead.
“The Jets were terrific,” Mike McCartney, Cousins’ agent, told Cimini. “I have a lot of respect for Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles and their staffs. Jeremy Bates was very attractive to me, personally, for Kirk to fit into his offense. At the end of the day, it was close.
“I think Kirk decided to visit Minnesota first. Some of it is gut feel, some of it probably the fact that they were in the NFC championship game. But it was not an easy decision.”
Each of the four finalists had a chance to present cases to McCartney, Cimini reports, but Cousins’ camp — per Vrentas — called the Jets on Tuesday morning and informed them the seventh-year quarterback was planning to visit the Vikings first. That apparently was enough to convince the AFC East franchise it wasn’t going to win this race.
The Jets then moved on to their Josh McCown/Teddy Bridgewater backup plan, and Maccagnan has now made a trade to vault from No. 6 to No. 3. The Jets leapfrog the Broncos, who may now be less inclined to take a quarterback at No. 5, and are in position to outflank the Bills. Buffalo is targeting a top-five pick for a quarterback.
Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, said the Vikings’ offer was “not even close” to the best for his client. And a previous report had the Jets ready to offer a boatload for the 29-year-old passer. And it’s quite possible they could have offered a $30MM-AAV fully guaranteed deal. That would have qualified as a better proposal than what Cousins accepted.
While the Vikings didn’t make the best offer, the one they did make comes with some historic provisions: an $84MM fully guaranteed deal, a no-trade clause and the prevention of placing the franchise tag on Cousins once the deal expires, Mehta reports.
During his press conference in Minnesota, the now-wealthier quarterback said he did some scouting on the city while he was in town for Super Bowl week, informing his wife that “everything was checking the boxes” in Minnesota. The Redskins agreed to trade for Alex Smith while Cousins was in Minneapolis, so the Vikings may have been the frontrunners from the start — even though it wasn’t yet known if they were going to place the franchise tag on Case Keenum. Mehta adds Cousins was not believed to have made a trip to the New York/New Jersey area for Jets-scouting purposes.
As far as the Jets go, being so committed to chasing Cousins harmed their free agency prospects, Mehta writes. Although they feared the Vikings in this chase, they were still holding out hope as of Tuesday morning he could be swayed to come to New York. The Jets reporter notes the team could not make sizable financial proposals on Monday because of the commitment they would have needed to make to Cousins if he were to sign with them. Mehta reports the Jets gave Cousins a deadline on Tuesday morning.
After Cousins-to-Minnesota became an accepted reality on Tuesday, however, the Jets sprang into action — most notably with their Trumaine Johnson commitment. New York signed both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater to serve as a bridge to the likely passer the team will draft at No. 3 overall.
Another theory at Jets headquarters is McCartney helped arrange Cousins going to Minnesota to help Josh McCown — also a McCartney client — receive a better Jets offer. While that may be a bit extreme, since McCown got $4MM more in 2018 ($10MM) than he did in 2017, Mehta reports that is a real sentiment with the Jets.
KirkCousins made history when he inked a three-year, fully-guaranteed $84MM contract with the Vikings. However, it sounds like the quarterback may have left some money on the table. Agent Mike McCartney told Chad Graff of The Athletic that Cousins didn’t take the best deal before signing with Minnesota.
“We didn’t take the best offer,” McCartney said (via Twitter). “Not even close.”
It’s unknown who Cousins specifically rejected. The Jets, Cardinals, and Broncos had all expressed interest in the quarterback. Considering New York’s cap space, it’s easy to assume that the Jets may have had the highest offer on the table, but that’s just my speculation.
The $28MM annual salary for Cousins was a bit shy of what we expected, but the guaranteed money ultimately proved to be unprecedented. Our own Zach Links had previously speculated that Cousins could have had better offers on the table, but surmised that he leaned towards the Vikings since they would give him an opportunity to win right away.
The 29-year-old Cousins finished last season having completed 64.3-percent of his passes for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
The worst kept secret in football is no longer a secret. The Vikings have officially inked quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year, fully guaranteed deal.
Cousins now takes the reins of a Vikings team that came one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. Last year, Case Keenum transformed from an NFL afterthought to a legitimate NFL starter. Cousins comes in with a much stronger resume and, frankly, a sharper skillset.
Cousins’ three-year contract is worth a reported $84MM. The $28MM average annual value is less than anyone expected, but the deal is revolutionary in that it is 100% guaranteed. Cousins’ deal figures to shape the future deals of other quarterbacks, including upcoming extension talks for Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, and other star signal callers.
There were plenty of clubs interested in Cousins – including the Jets, Cardinals, and Broncos – but Minnesota wound up being Cousins’ first and only free agent visit. The Jets had the most cap room of the bunch to work with, by far, but Cousins apparently valued the opportunity to win right away with the Vikings. The Jets wound up going to their Plan B by re-signing Josh McCown and adding Teddy Bridgewater. The Cardinals inked Sam Bradford to a short-term deal that will cost less than Cousins’ deal, but is still fairly hefty with $20MM coming to him in 2018. The Broncos, meanwhile, were the first of the group to sign a QB by inking Keenum.