Why the next five games could help determine Kirk Cousins’ future in Minnesota – Minnesota Vikings blog

Quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​had one of the best performances of his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 21, when he faced Aaron Rodgers and led the Vikings in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers.

At this point, the future seemed a little brighter. The Vikings were at the heart of the NFC wildcard race and looked like a playoff team. Cousins ​​was consistent with who he had been for most of the season, an accurate passer and a reliable leader. He accepted his head coach’s challenge to be more aggressive and the results were impressive. Wherever you looked, Cousins ​​was considered a top 10 quarterback, with Pro Football Focus ranking him No.2 overall behind Tom Brady since that win over Green Bay.

But three weeks later, with a Thursday night showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox Network / NFL), Cousins ​​and the Vikings are at a crossroads. Minnesota are 5-7 after losing to a Detroit Lions team that ended a 15-game winless streak. Speculation continues to grow around Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who is on borrowed time. This speculation extends to Cousins’ future in Minnesota given that he has one year left on his contract.

Several factors will determine whether Cousins ​​will stay or end up on the commercial block, starting with the direction in which the property wishes to move beyond the 2021 season. If the team leaves Zimmer and / or general manager Rick Spielman, two parties that will forever be linked to the decision to bring Cousins ​​to Minnesota, the Vikings could take a clean slate approach. Many times a new coach / front office will want to make their own decision at quarterback. It might be difficult for the Vikings to make the hire they want if the team is committed to Cousins ​​now.

These last five games of the regular season will serve as Cousins’ audition to secure a lucrative overtime with the Vikings or maximize his commercial appeal with another team. And the backdrop to this audition is the fact that three of the five games are scheduled in prime time – when Cousins ​​is 8-17 years old.

The contract

Cousins ​​came to the Vikings as a free agent in 2018, signing the NFL’s first fully guaranteed contract – a deal worth $ 84 million over three years. He received a two-year extension with $ 66 million guaranteed in March 2020, which would keep him with the Vikings until the 2022 season.

At the start of the 2021 league year, Cousins’ $ 35 million base salary for 2022 became fully guaranteed. Next season, the quarterback carries a charge cap of $ 45 million that is 21.24 percent of Minnesota’s salary cap.

His contract makes him the eighth-highest-paid quarterback, based on an average annual value of $ 33 million per year. Since the start of his career in Washington, Cousins ​​has favored signing shorter-term deals that allow him to build on himself. He became the first NFL quarterback to play under the franchise label in consecutive seasons in 2016 ($ 19.95 million) and 2017 ($ 23.9 million) before becoming a free agent and sign with Minnesota.

Cousins ​​’success in 2022 would call into question the Vikings’ ability to be active elsewhere in free agency. An extension could bring that number down to a more manageable number and allow Minnesota the flexibility to improve other areas on its roster – like offensive and defensive lines, both of which have major question marks in 2022 – while still keeping a quarterback with a career 67.1% completion percentage and recording 56-58-2.

While that seems unrealistic given the financial pressure, it’s also not impossible for Minnesota to let Cousins ​​play in the final year of their deal, which would keep their cap at $ 45 million. This would likely result in the restructuring of Viking contracts elsewhere or the release of expensive veterans. But if he hosts another Top 10 QB season, that could make it much more expensive to keep Cousins ​​beyond 2022.

A market

From the Denver Broncos to the New Orleans Saints to the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are plenty of teams that are likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason. Cousins ​​would generate a lot of interest, based on how he’s played this season, evidenced by his best 25-3 touchdown / interception ratio in the NFL.

But the way his contract is structured makes it difficult to move him without the Vikings taking a massive hit.

If Minnesota traded Cousins, the Vikings would incur a lump sum charge of $ 10 million, and the team acquiring the quarterback would be at the mercy of his fully guaranteed base salary of $ 35 million. Unless Cousins ​​agrees to renegotiate his deal before the swap to lower the cap, or the Vikings can make a deal with the Acquisition team to absorb part of the base salary guarantee, this would make an exchange extremely unlikely.

This type of negotiation happens more often in the NBA than in the NFL, but the Broncos and Rams recently orchestrated something similar when linebacker Von Miller was traded to Los Angeles. Assuming the majority of Miller’s contract despite playing elsewhere past the trade deadline, Denver received the Rams’ second and third round picks in 2022.

A team that thinks their title window is now could justify a trade and pay north of the $ 35 million base salary. Whether in Minnesota or elsewhere, keeping the 33-year-old passer, who ranks fifth in completion percentage, fifth in touchdowns and third in passer standings this season, will come at a significant cost to keeping the passer from. 33 Years.

“He’s a good NFL quarterback,” said Mike Tannenbaum, an ESPN front office insider. “We can sit here and debate: is he 6 or 16 years old? But he’s a good NFL winning quarterback, and because of that, he comes at a price.

“On average (salary) per year, he’s someone who’s going to be where he’s been, if not slightly higher depending on how he’s played. And I think the math for him is, ‘if they (Minnesota) aren’t going to pay me this, somebody will.’

And what would another team get for that price?

“He doesn’t have traits that transcend patterns,” said former NFL defensive back and current ESPN analyst Matt Bowen. “He’s probably a mid-level No.1, and you can win with a mid-level No.1 in the proper system where you can read him from the pocket, hit the pattern throws, be aggressive when he has to or when he wants, take one-on-one and sometimes play outside of the structure when necessary, and Kirk can do it all for you.

An extension with Minnesota

If Cousins ​​takes the Vikings to the playoffs, an overtime to Minnesota could be on the table. It is ultimately up to Minnesota to determine if they can find a quarterback as efficient and cheaper than Cousins. It doesn’t appear that the Vikings have this player on the roster, given that rookie Kellen Mond, who was drafted to be Cousins ​​backup, has been inactive all season.

Among notable starting quarterbacks whose contracts are set to expire after the 2022 season, Cousins ​​has the second-highest QBR (57), behind Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams, and the third-highest yards per attempt (7.5 ), ahead of Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and Baker Mayfield of the Browns. His 8.3 TD-INT ratio surpasses all of the aforementioned QBs, as well as Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers.

Cousins ​​has improved significantly in several areas this season. His 0.7% intercept rate is a career best and the best in the NFL. He also throws his best deep ball since 2016, with a 45% completion percentage on throws over 20 yards on the field, which ranks seventh in the NFL.

Part of that is its receiving group. With Justin Jefferson entering the third year of his potential five-year rookie deal, Minnesota may also want to work on his extension this offseason.

According to Over The Cap, which tracks contracts and salary caps, the Vikings are expected to exceed the salary cap by $ 11.4 million in 2022. An extension for Cousins ​​would help ease Minnesota’s financial burden, but find ground Settling with a quarterback who never strike a deal favorable to the team could be difficult.

Cousins ​​may be worth more elsewhere, and the Vikings must decide where he fits into their plans based on his performance over the past five games. In turn, Cousins ​​must determine the next step, whether it is to be traded to a team that can put him in a better position to win a title or to stay in Minnesota with a new contract with the conviction. that his best years are yet to come.

“He’s not the perfect quarterback, but you (Minnesota) have to consider your options,” Tannenbaum said. “That’s why he will be paid well, whether it’s Denver, Cleveland, New Orleans or Minnesota. There’s going to be a bunch of teams that need a quarterback, and he’s not a perfect player, but they’ve won a lot of games with him, and that’s the most important position.

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