So, Kirk Cousins.
In one of the craziest 24 hour periods of free agency that I can remember, the Minnesota Vikings reportedly agreed to terms with the former Redskin QB. The deal is supposedly $28 million per year over 3 years and 100% guaranteed. With the Broncos seeing the writing on the wall and signing Case Keenum early Tuesday morning, Arizona giving out a surprisingly large 1 year deal with a team option to Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater signing for pennies with the Jets to backup/compete with Josh freaking McCown, Tuesday was an absolute silly season for Vikings fans. In the midst of all of that craziness, here are
100 6 things I took away.
1. The Kirk Cousins negotiation was a draw. With basically every report all offseason including a $30 million per year average for Cousins, the Vikings must be relatively happy to get him for $28 million. However this came at a price with Cousins opting for a short contract, hoping to double dip in his early 30s with another big deal. This means there’s not a whole lot of upside in terms of Minnesota keeping control of him long enough for the market to increase to the point where Kirk’s salary is a bargain. Cousins also got his deal 100% guaranteed, which sounds like a big deal but leads me to my next point….
2. A three year contract that is fully guaranteed isn’t a big deal, especially with an average below your reported market value. If Cousins had taken a typical 5 year $28 million per year deal, he likely wouldn’t have much for guarantees in year 4 or 5 anyway. It is totally plausible that he could also get the first 3 years fully guaranteed. The real story is no team control after the 3rd year, although the Vikings may set the contract up to make a franchise tag a little easier. There really wasn’t any plausible scenario where Cousins was cuttable before year three of his deal, so for me the 100% guarantee is mostly good press for his agent.
3. Teddy Bridgewater was not only cheap, he was practically free. Agreeing to a $5 million deal with only an extra $1 million in incentives makes him just about as cheap as any backup QB in the league who has hit free agency. In the QB free agency game of musical chairs, Teddy was left standing when the music stopped thanks to things like the Jets preferring to offer their starting position to Josh McCown, the Cardinals spending $20 million on Sam Bradford, and the Jaguars deciding to invest more guaranteed money into Blake Bortles.
As the worlds biggest Teddy Bridgewater homer, it hurts to watch a QB I think has franchise QB potential go to another team for basically nothing. When Teddy was healthy, he had an awful supporting cast on offense, especially at offensive line, and when those things finally came together he was injured horrendously. Teddy’s injury ended up costing Minnesota over $100 million in QB contracts along with a 1st and a 4th round pick. It will probably go down as the worst and most unlucky thing that ever happens to a sports team I follow, which is saying something as I root for Iowa State football and basketball. That being said…
4. I get why the Vikings staff chose Cousins. He may not be a bargain, he may only return exactly what you spent on him, but he’s certainly the best bet for Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman to keep their jobs and keep the Vikings competitive. If the Vikings could have signed Bridgewater for a few years for under $10 million, that may have been the best value available and the best chance to max out the team with good QB play and the ability to sign impact free agents. But in the NFL, value can only get you so far.
Spielman and company decided to eschew their efficient, measured, game theory riddled strategy from years past that saw them with more than two times as much cap space as the next highest playoff team while still finishing in the top 4 in last year’s playoffs. They chose to go for the expensive and seemingly safe option with Cousins. It’s hard to see Cousins playing so poorly that the Vikings miss the playoffs next year, or that Minnesota would ever want out of his contract over the life of the deal. However, if Cousins doesn’t live up to the hype it could end up being disastrous, setting the franchise back significantly. They are locked into this plan for three years, and their once league best flexibility has now evaporated.
5. Minnesota is done with major deals in free agency for a few years. Without cutting their own players, splash free agent signings are going to be a thing of the past for the Vikings. They will be brought close to their salary cap ceiling just re-signing their own core players in 2018, and their strategy must now be to build and replace departing contributors with draft picks on rookie contracts. This means the margin of error for these picks has never been narrower. No more Cordarelle Pattersons, no more Laquon Treadwells, and no more Trae Waynes situations. They won’t be able to afford sitting rookies for multiple years before they contribute because they won’t have the cap space to sign impact vets or retain non-core players who have earned larger deals. This will be a large departure from the past 5 years, but I think Rick Spielman is as prepared as anyone for the job.
6. Expectations are at an all time high. Minnesota will enter 2018 with arguably the league’s best defense, a presumptive franchise QB heading up an offense that was one of the league’s top scoring offenses last year, and a bitter taste in the fans’ mouths after a drubbing in the NFC Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles. By going all in on Cousins, the Vikings are saying they intend to contend for a Super Bowl again and to be honest anything less than last year’s performance should be met with criticism. After shoring up the offensive line in the draft along with some depth at a few spots, Minnesota’s roster should be as good as anyone’s in the league.