Connecting Points Why Kirk Cousins ​​is likely leaving the Vikings

Connecting Points: Why Kirk Cousins ​​is likely leaving the Vikings

  • Connecting Points Why Kirk Cousins ​​is likely leaving the Vikings.png&h=80&w=80&scale=crop

    Kevin Seifert, ESPN Staff Writer March 5, 2024, 10:35 a.m. ET


      Kevin Seifert is a staff writer who covers the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL for ESPN. Kevin has been covering the NFL for over 20 years and joined ESPN in 2008. He was previously a beat reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Washington Times. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @SeifertESPN.

If history is any reliable guide, Kirk Cousins' final days as quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings are upon us.

At this point, it's not hard to connect the dots of conventional wisdom, and the only realistic factor working against it is the possibility – however remote – that Cousins ​​will make a decision that he has never met before.

The first point is in the renegotiated contract that Cousins ​​​​signed last spring, which expires on March 13th. The details of the contract basically mean that if the Vikings want to re-sign him for 2024, they will have to do so before the transfer deadline. The brokerage market opens next Wednesday. If they tried to sign him after that point, his 2024 salary cap hit would include a dead money overlay of $28.5 million.

Signing Cousins ​​before March 13 might have been a possibility if there weren't any obvious suitors around the league. But the second point came up last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. According to ESPN's Dan Graziano and many others, the Atlanta Falcons have made Cousins ​​their top target when he hits the open market. Of course, the Falcons can't officially sign him until his contract expires.

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This brings us to the third connection point. At every step of his career, Cousins ​​has made the decision to maximize — or come close to maximizing — his contractual return. His single-minded pursuit has earned him $230 million in earnings since becoming the full-time starting quarterback in 2015. During that time, he played in three playoff games and compiled a 1-3 postseason record.

No matter what the Vikings could offer him before March 13, would it be enough to convince him not to explore the Falcons' option or to listen to another team that might be interested?

Not even Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell believes that will be the case. In a revealing interview this past weekend on NFL Network, O'Connell made it clear that Cousins ​​will have suitors and that he will almost certainly entertain them.

“The merger has just given everyone else an opportunity to maybe have some conversations, whether that's part of it or not,” O'Connell said. “But I’ve had the dialogue that you have with a player like Kirk Cousins; the relationship we have built over a long period of time. I know Kirk and I know where he is in this whole process. He's earned the right to be a free agent. He played really good football. I think that's him [17-8] since I arrived in Minnesota and trained him. I had a lot of fun coaching him on how well he fits into the offense where we ran our version of the offense with guys like Jordan [Addison] and Justin [Jefferson] and TJ [Hockenson].

“I know Kirk will go through a full trial. He is a process person. Hopefully we will continue to play a strong role in this process and find a way to keep him as a Minnesota Viking. I expect us not to do that.” “We will be the only ones who want Kirk Cousins ​​to be our team's quarterback in 2024.”

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​tore his Achilles tendon in late October and will turn 36 before the start of next season. Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

O'Connell's response acknowledged a realistic assessment of how Cousins ​​is likely to approach the next few weeks, but also revealed the selling point he had almost certainly already made to Cousins ​​himself: The Vikings could very well be his best chance for success in the Season Represent In the coming years, he will be equipped with a coaching staff he is in touch with and a dynamic array of weapons.

Would cousins ​​see it the same way? He reiterated in January that he hoped to finish his career in Minnesota, even going so far as to say, “At this stage in my career, it's really not about the money anymore.”

However, he indicated that he wanted an offer consistent with his desire to end his career; He turns 36 in August and hopes to play for a few more years. While the dollars may not be “what it’s about,” he said, “it’s about what the dollars represent.”

The cleanest way for the Vikings to express their commitment to Cousins ​​is to fully guarantee his offer for several years. And this is where the fourth point comes into play.

Like O'Connell, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has also stated that he wants Cousins ​​back for 2024. But Adofo-Mensah has been more nuanced about how that might happen, as might be expected from a general manager who has to put forward a long-term vision.

“We have our interests,” Adofo-Mensah said. “He has his own. We will sit down at the table to see if we can find a creative solution and meet in the middle. That's what every contract negotiation is all about. And so it will be with him.”

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It would be perfectly fine for a general manager to shy away from giving multiple guaranteed years to a quarterback who turns 36 next season and is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, especially at a time when the floor for established quarterbacks is at a premium Quarterbacks is at $40 million annually. But it gives Cousins ​​a clear path to look for better deals. Should the Vikings attempt to sign him after he hits the market, they would have to overlay the dead money figure of $28.5 million on his new contract, creating a seemingly prohibitive 2024 cap hit.

There could be a strong argument for moving on from an aging quarterback recovering from the first serious injury of his career. Farewell to Cousins ​​would free the Vikings from the six-year burden of having his deal on their books, but it would also expose the lack of succession planning and raise the very real possibility that he will be replaced by someone who performs worse than he will be in Atlanta or elsewhere in the coming seasons.

The timing of Cousins' departure would coincide with a strong draft class of quarterbacks, but with the No. 11 overall pick, the Vikings would almost certainly need a trade up — and sacrifice future draft picks — to get one major league selections from Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye. That would leave them fighting for the next division, which includes Michigan's JJ McCarthy, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon's Bo Nix. A free agent bridge starter like Sam Darnold could also come into play. Longer-term possibilities could include Justin Fields, Russell Wilson or Ryan Tannehill.

Once hypothetical, these options now seem like the most likely path for the Vikings. Unless Cousins ​​makes an uncharacteristic decision, they will soon have no choice but to move on to Plan B.