The Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins stunned the NFL Tuesday with news of a fully guaranteed $84 million contract for the free agent quarterback — an unprecedented player-friendly deal for a league in which teams routinely pull the plug early on players and contracts deemed cost-ineffective.
Cousins plans to sign a three-year, $84 million deal Thursday with the Vikings, according to multiple reports.
The contract would not only make Cousins the highest-paid player in the NFL, but also the first to sign a top-tier, multiyear deal fully guaranteed. Other contracts, like those given to Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, have had higher guarantees, but for injury only. The first 19 players taken in the NFL draft also have full guarantees, though their contracts are much cheaper.
Cousins, who has played each of the last two seasons on a one-year deal, said in January that guarantees would be an important part of his next contract, and his agent, Mike McCartney, followed through in securing them. The deal is just short enough that by the end of his contract, Cousins will be 32 and have a chance to hit the market again.
In many ways, the contract and the fit on the field make Minnesota a perfect destination for Cousins, who said he was looking for a place to “feel at peace.”
The Vikings check all the boxes Cousins ticked off publicly: guarantees, stability and the ability to win.
“That’s something I’m going to look for in this decision-making process, where do I feel at peace?” Cousins said in January. “Last summer, I didn’t feel at peace about committing past the season.”
Cousins’ tenure in Washington ends after six seasons, the last three as the starter. Under coach Jay Gruden, the 2012 fourth-rounder blossomed as a player and became a top 10-15 quarterback in the league. He threw for more than 4,000 yards per season, and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2015.
But after Cousins and the team couldn’t agree to a long-term extension during his breakout 2015 season, negotiations became increasingly strained. That offseason, the Redskins gave the quarterback the franchise tag, locking him into a one-year contract unless they could negotiate an extension by July 2016. They didn’t, with Washington wanted Cousins to prove his 2015 campaign wasn’t a fluke.
Cousins was impressive again in 2016, though the team failed to reach the playoffs. When the offseason rolled around, Cousins was tagged again — and this time, it was Cousins who had reservations. His camp didn’t formally counter an offer that included $72 million guaranteed for injury only. Instead, Cousins decided to see how the 2017 season played out for the Redskins, who had allowed two of his favorite targets, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, to leave via free agency.
Cousins still managed put together another 4,000-yard season, and, interested in testing the market for his services, wanted to wait until March before discussing any long-term contract with the Redskins.
The Redskins decided to end the drama by trading for Alex Smith in January.
“It’s very important for us to move forward and let Kirk move on if Washington is not a place he wanted to be,” Gruden said at the scouting combine. “It’s time for us to move on and get some continuity there at quarterback.”
Cousins won’t face the Redskins in 2018, unless Washington and Minnesota meet in the playoffs.
With the Vikings, Cousins will be joining a team fresh off an NFC Championship appearance and loaded with talent. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs might be the best pair of wide receivers in the NFL, and the Vikings are stacked on defense. They also have a respectable offensive line and running game.
Increasingly, the Vikings were seen as the front-runners to land Cousins. The New York Jets, Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals were also the teams often linked, but the Vikings made the most sense.
They also needed a quarterback as all three quarterbacks on their roster — Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater — were free agents. Minnesota preferred Cousins over Keenum, who filled in ably last year for an injured Bradford after Week 1 and held onto the starting role.
Keenum didn’t wait for Minnesota or Cousins to make a decision, agreeing to sign with the Denver Broncos on early Tuesday. Bradford, ESPN reported, plans to sign with the Arizona Cardinals. The New York Jets will reportedly shift their attention to Bridgewater.
Cousins’ new deal significantly surpasses the multiyear offer the Redskins made him last summer. Redskins president Bruce Allen was criticized by others for only offering a guaranteed $53 million at signing, which would have been only an additional $29 million after factoring in Cousins’ franchise tag of $24 million.
On Twitter, Cousins was praised around the NFL for landing a fully guaranteed contract.
“Kirk Cousins is a hero for all the young players that will follow after him,” Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception.”
Added former NFL executive Joe Banner: “Cousins has had $114M guaranteed in his last two contracts covering only four years. Massive jump in market for all going forward.”
Patience paid off for Cousins.
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