Kirk Cousins has played reasonably well in his three seasons with the Vikings. But he and agent Mike McCartney have played the contract game even better.
First, of course, came the three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract.
Coming off a strong season and his only playoff appearance with the Vikings in 2019, Cousins signed an extension to that agreement — basically for two years and $66 million, with a mechanism that made it as close to guaranteed as possible.
In exchange for a lower cap number in 2020 to give the Vikings some flexibility (a year in which the Vikings won just seven games), Cousins hit the Vikings' books for $31 million in 2021. And looming in the distance: A $45 million cap hit in 2022 ($35 million base, $10 million signing bonus) that is fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year.
As Ben Goessling and I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast, that is no longer a point in the distant future. As of 3 p.m. Friday, Cousins' 2022 deal is guaranteed at $45 million. If he plays out the deal to the end, he would essentially have had five years for $150 million ($30 million per season) guaranteed with the Vikings.
Now, in some ways this milestone doesn't matter all that much. Barring a trade — which never seemed that likely — this moment was going to arrive. It was just a matter of time, even if Friday officially makes it the Vikings' problem.
And it's not like a trade, however remote that possibility is at least this year, couldn't still happen. Any team that wanted Cousins would likely just restructure his deal and give him an extension.
But as Goessling and I talked about, both sides have to want to restructure a deal to make it work. And the way Cousins' deal is structured gives him a TON of leverage. With $35 million in base salary guaranteed in 2022 as part of a $45 million overall cap number, Cousins will be in a position this time next year for another hefty extension.
None of that changed Friday — except that it became official and offered a reminder of where we stand. This time next year, a big decision will need to be made: Trade Cousins to a team that wants him long-term; extend Cousins as the Vikings' long-term QB; or let him play out his final year at a huge number that would make it even harder to add key pieces around him.
One would imagine the result of the 2021 season will create a certain amount of clarity around that future decision. The fact that this is a season with reduced cap against which Cousins will count $31 million — 17% of the whole thing — will make it challenging to add the necessary offensive line pieces around him to help the offense thrive, which could influence any long-term thinking on Cousins.
Friday was a good reminder of what looms ahead — and how all of this is seemingly headed toward one big Catch-2022.