For the Vikings, the price of signing Kirk Cousins was $84 million.
For Cousins, the price of signing was one chip.
He can’t pretend there’s one on his shoulder anymore.
The lifelong underdog has become an incredibly wealthy man and a financial trailblazer.
Never again will he be able to walk past a camera and scream, “You like that?!’’ because the answer would be, “We better.”
Never again will he be able to walk up to a team executive on the sideline, as he did in Washington, and crow, “How do you like me now?” Now, he is contractually obligated to make his performances likable.
Cousins’ statistics are impressive and his story was endearing until he took the podium at the Vikings’ new, posh facility in Eagan on Thursday and explained how he wound up in Minnesota.
With one signature, he was transformed from plucky overachiever unappreciated by his first employer into a franchise quarterback for a franchise that expects him to win a Super Bowl.
Because those are the stakes. The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum, then decided Keenum wasn’t worthy of a lucrative investment, then signed the most expensive free agent on the market to replace him. Cousins’ job is to elevate a franchise that already is highly elevated. He’ll be asked to move the Vikings from a penthouse into a penthouse with a better view.
In Washington, Cousins was an intriguing member of a dysfunctional organization. Now he’s required to become the leader of a strong roster that thinks of making the playoffs as a first step, not a destination.
Cousins will be required to beat Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, to make Keenum forgettable, to becalm a position that has been as annoying to Vikings fans as pop-up ads.
And for the first time in his career, Cousins will have teammates wondering, however privately, whether he has commandeered some of their money. That’s what happens in a salary-cap league. The highest-paid players force others to leave or settle for less. That’s the kind of pressure no fourth-down bootleg can prepare you for.
Weeks ago, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted that choosing his next quarterback could get him fired. He could have been more expansive. Zimmer’s assistants and Rick Spielman and his staff are all on the clock, as well.
Even if you favor the signing, as I do, you have to acknowledge that it is the definition of risk. The Vikings are asking someone who has never won a playoff game to make them a better playoff team.
During his opening statement Thursday, Cousins said: “I do believe the decisionmakers here with the Vikings deserve a thank you for getting me here and the way they made this happen. The belief they showed in me means more than what I can put into words.”
That’s fitting, because words won’t matter much any more.
Cousins will have to justify not only his place on the roster and payroll but in the hierarchy of the most scrutinized position in American sport. Every mistake he makes, until and unless he wins a Super Bowl, will provide reminders of all those guaranteed zeros in his contract.
Thursday, Cousins was the star of the storybook celebrating his big day with his family and his new team. For the next three years, he’ll be wearing a target, not a purple-striped tie. For the next three years, a paranoid fan base will ask, “How do we like him now?”