The offseason swirl of NFL quarterback movement has been both real and rumored in the last month.
On Wednesday, Vikings GM Rick Spielman said Kirk Cousins' name falls into the latter category and that there is nothing to any reports that keep linking Cousins' name to a potential trade.
"Kirk Cousins is our quarterback," Spielman told reporters in a media session in advance of free agency starting in a couple of weeks. "I know there's a lot of rumors floating around out there, but Kirk Cousins is our quarterback. We felt that he played very well, probably the best that he's ever played down that stretch last year. Kirk is our quarterback going forward, and I look forward to him [having] another year in this system. I'm excited for him and what he's going to bring to our team next year."
That's fair and expected. It might even be the right thing in the context of where the Vikings currently stand.
But as I talked about on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast with Andrew Krammer, there is another part of the Vikings' offseason that is directly tied to Cousins.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Minnesota is pressed hard against the salary cap. The Vikings were likely going to face some tough decisions this year, but the pandemic has taken a bite out of the cap. It was $198.2 million last season.
In past years the cap has gone up by about $10 million each season, meaning the Vikings were probably planning a year ago at this time for it to be around $208 million in 2021. Instead, it's going to be roughly $180 million — nearly $30 million less than expected.
That will force the Vikings and other teams to make REALLY hard choices. The Vikings already cut Kyle Rudolph, saving $5 million in 2021 cap space. They almost certainly will say goodbye to proven players like linebacker Eric Wilson and safety Anthony Harris — among others — because they can no longer afford them.
Another way teams can create more room, though, is to restructure deals — essentially adding some future incentives to lower current cap hits. Maybe the Vikings will try to do that with someone like tackle Riley Reiff.
They could also try to do that with Cousins. His cap number in 2021 is $31 million; it's slated to be $45 million in 2022, the final season of the extension he signed a year ago at around this time. Adding another year or two to his deal again would perhaps bump this year's number down, giving the Vikings some breathing room — and pushing more punitive cap numbers into the future, where in a (hopefully) post-pandemic world the cap will go back up again.
Here's my plea: Don't do it.
As impractical as a Cousins trade is right now, given that he performed at an above-average level in 2020 and the Vikings just hired his QB coach (Klint Kubiak) as their new offensive coordinator, an extension would be even worse.
It would hamstring them in future seasons and tie them even longer to a quarterback who has yet to prove he can achieve anything but OK results in terms of wins and losses.
Make the tough decisions this year to get under the cap. See how Cousins plays. If there is a reason to do an extension this time next year, do it.
Otherwise, this time next year will really be the time to either explore a trade or just let him play out his deal while going a different direction in the future.
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