Vikings QB Kirk Cousins managed to quiet his critics for a week after last week’s upset win over the Saints in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but those critics are back with a vengeance after Cousins and Minnesota went out with a whimper in the team’s divisional round loss to the 49ers on Saturday.
To be sure, the loss did not fall entirely at Cousins’ feet. The Vikings gained just 21 yards on the ground against San Francisco’s stout defensive front, and Cousins was sacked six times. But for a highly-paid player who repeatedly faces questions about his ability to win meaningful games, it was a disappointing performance.
Nonetheless, Cousins is going to be back with the Vikings in 2020, the last year of his current contract. The real question is whether the team will seek to extend its relationship with the 31-year-old signal-caller beyond that.
As Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out, Minnesota is currently projected to have the least amount of cap room in the league entering free agency. Cousins will count for $31MM against the team’s cap in 2020, but an extension could lower that number and give the Vikings some much-needed breathing room.
And Cousins did post a career-high QB rating of 107.4 in 2019 while throwing 26 TDs against such six interceptions, so an extension would make plenty of sense. After all, it would be difficult to find a free agent or rookie QB to replicate that type of production.
In the immediate aftermath of elimination, though, Cousins and head coach Mike Zimmer — whose current contract also expires after 2020 — did not want to talk about the future. “I don’t know what [Cousins’] contract situation is, so I’ll worry about that down the road,” Zimmer said.
Cousins, meanwhile, said, “[t]hat’s just not focus right now. My focus is on this game and the playoffs. I certainly love it here and love being a Viking.”
September 28th, 2019 at 3:39pm CST by Sam Robinson
Entering their third NFC East game this season, the Redskins are 0-3 and may be close to a regime change. Jay Gruden entered this season atop Las Vegas “first coach fired” lists, raising the stakes of Washington’s game against the Giants. Case Keenum is in line to start again, but Mike Jones of USA Today notesDan Snyder would “love” to see Dwayne Haskins make his debut. Gruden and his staff do not yet view the rookie quarterback as ready to play. This marks the latest disagreement between the staff and ownership on Haskins.
Snyder pushed for the Redskins to draft Haskins at No. 15 overall, while Gruden wanted the team to address one of its other key needs with the pick, Jones adds. A report circulated in April that Snyder and team president Bruce Allen preferred Haskins while others in the building backed a Daniel Jones pick — though, that turned out to be moot since the Giants stunned most draft observers by nabbing Jones at No. 6 — but it appears the sixth-year Redskins coach would have been fine not taking a quarterback at all.
Here is the latest from Washington:
This was not the first disagreement Gruden had with Redskins higher-ups regarding signal-callers. Gruden wanted Kirk Cousins to be retained, but Allen was not on board, Jones notes. Allen and Cousins had a notable falling out, from his “Kurt” references to the ongoing contract negotiations not meeting the former Washington passer’s expectations. These issues have prompted some around the league to question whether the Redskins will ever build a perennial contender while Snyder and Allen are running things, per Jones.
Gruden is the NFL’s lone active coach with at least five seasons’ experience to not post a 10-win season with his franchise. He’s also the only one to fail to guide his team to a playoff win. With the again-injury-stricken Redskins coming off a double-digit loss on national television, Les Carpenter of the Washington Post notes Gruden may be coaching for his job against the Giants. Washington has gone 35-47 under Gruden. Since Alex Smith‘s gruesome 2018 injury, which occurred while the team was in first place in the NFC East, the Redskins are 1-8. Washington has former 49ers HC Jim Tomsula on staff, as defensive line coach, in the event an in-season promotion becomes necessary.
Matt LaFleur‘s hands-on approach in his first year as Packers HC will have to be tabled for a while. The torn Achilles LaFleur suffered this week will require immediate surgery, with Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reporting he will go under the knife Sunday. The 39-year-old coach was active in his first weeks leading the Packers, taking on an “enormous” load. But with the recovery from this surgery necessitating a potential six-month timetable, LaFleur’s methods will have to change. The coach was overseeing practice from a golf cart this week. This will certainly mark an interesting period for the Packers, LaFleur managing Achilles rehab while going through his first year as a head coach.
“A couple weeks ago I kind of tweaked my calf on the other side,” LaFleur said, via Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But this one, I knew immediately. It was way more forceful. I thought somebody hit me in the leg. I looked around and nobody’s by me. It’s just one of those deals. We’ll rebound. We’ll be back.”
Shifting to some of the players in the NFC North, here is the latest out of the division:
Kirk Cousins does not have any early retirement plans. In discussing the arrival of rookie center Garrett Bradbury, the second-year Vikings quarterback said he would like to play well into the 2020s. “I told him, ‘I’d like to work together for about the next decade,’ ” Cousins said, via Dane Mizutani of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I just tried to set that vision for him and say, ‘You be the guy here for the next decade and let’s not have to worry about having anybody else snap for the quarterback.” While it is uncertain if Cousins will be in Minnesota beyond 2020, the final year of his fully guaranteed deal, the soon-to-be 31-year-old passer would prefer he stay in the Twin Cities on what would be multiple additional contracts.
With Bradbury sliding in at center, Minnesota’s incumbent snapper will slide to guard. Pat Elflein has started 28 games at center since beginning his NFL career, but he said (via Mizutani) he is now working at left guard. Elflein last played guard at Ohio State. Elflein lining up on the left side would put free agent addition Josh Kline in line to start at right guard. Both will be adjusting to the Gary Kubiak–Rick Dennison zone-blocking scheme.
Trey Burton will not participate in the Bears‘ final OTA sessions next week or their mid-June minicamp. Chicago’s top tight end underwent sports hernia surgery, Matt Nagy said (via NBC 5’s Mike Berman, on Twitter). The Bears hope he will be ready by training camp. Burton played all 16 games for the Bears last season, reaching career-high marks in receptions, yards and touchdowns (54/569/6).
The NFL news cycle had not seen Mike Shanahan-Broncos overlap in many years, but Monday brought that, with a report indicating the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach was a consideration for the Broncos late last year.
With the Broncos likely set to have a coaching vacancy soon, Shanahan would conceivably be in play for a Broncos reunion this time around. But that does not appear to be the case. The 66-year-old coach will not be among the candidates considered if/when the Broncos fire Vance Joseph, Mike Klis of 9News reports.
John Elway‘s hesitance in giving Joseph his second season was partially Shanahan-related, but Broncos president Joe Ellis was less on-board than the GM, ultimately nixing the idea. However, the talks for Shanahan to reclaim his post as Broncos HC did not go too far, with The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala reporting (subscription required) Ellis did not directly refute the idea of Shanahan 2.0. The Elway-Ellis talks regarding Shanahan were not especially formal, Jhabvala notes, adding no offer or deal framework was discussed.
This news called into question who was making the final football decisions in Denver, but Jhabvala notes the GM, and not Ellis, is still the point man on football operations. Ellis did give Elway the go-ahead to fire Joseph after last season if he so chose, but that a thorough coaching search be conducted rather than rehiring Shanahan. That said, Ellis did not want Shanahan to be part of the search. And it appears that stance remains.
The Broncos fired Shanahan after 14 seasons in 2008. He has not coached since his Redskins tenure ended after the 2013 campaign. Part of this Shanahan-return talk involved Kirk Cousins, with Woody Paige of the Colorado Springs Gazette reporting Shanahan and his former pupil met during the offseason, Cousins indicating he would follow Shanahan to Denver at a reduced rate. However, Jhabvala refutes this, writing Cousins did not meet with Shanahan nor discuss a discount Broncos setup.
Denver then went with Case Keenum for Joseph’s second year, and while the results have been better than they were in 2017, injuries and some maligned in-game coaching decisions have weakened this year’s team. Joseph, who met with Elway on Monday about the Shanahan reports, is 11-19 in two years. Joseph will not be fired before the season ends, Klis adds.
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).