Kirk Cousins Contract: What $35 Million Gamble Means for the Vikings in Free Agency

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a disappointing 8-9 season. Now, with a new head coach and general manager, the team is hoping to reverse its fortune in 2022. Minnesota entered the offseason with several questions needing answers, including the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings front office just proved their commitment to Cousins for the upcoming season, rewarding him with a massive one-year contract extension. The veteran signal-caller and his agent made out by securing the huge payday. The deal could also set the tone for how the team approaches free agency.

Minnesota is gambling on Cousins and now must build around him to protect the investment.

Kirk Cousins signed a 1-year, $35 million contract extension

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins looks on during game against the Bears
Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings walks the sideline during game against the Chicago Bears | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Say what you will about Kirk Cousins, but he hired a savvy, all-time great agent. The 33-year-old quarterback has won only one playoff game, but he’s raked in over $230 million throughout his NFL career.

According to NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings agreed to a one-year contract extension.

The deal includes $35 million guaranteed money. Cousins now gets a raise for the 2022 season, as he’ll make $40 million and $30 million in 2023. All of that is guaranteed money for the fourth-rounder out of Michigan State, making this contract the third of its kind since Cousins joined the Vikings.

Cousins has spent the last four seasons in Minnesota after playing six years in Washington. He’s thrown for 16,387 yards, 124 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions during that span.

Now that Cousins’ status with the team is secure, he’s ready to get to work.

“I am thrilled for the opportunity to play for Kevin and could not be more excited about the direction of our team,” he said per ESPN‘s Kevin Seifert. “As soon as we return to TCO Performance Center next month, we will begin working toward our collective goal of bringing a championship to Vikings fans.”

How does the deal affect the Vikings’ free agency plans?

The Kirk Cousins contract extension could directly impact how the Vikings handle the rest of the offseason. By locking up the three-time Pro Bowler, Minnesota settled the quarterback position (at least for the upcoming season). Rumors swirled about Cousins’ future with the team, but the big-time payday puts the discussions to bed.

While $35 million for one season is a massive undertaking, the new contract actually helped the front office. Under the most previous contract, Cousins would’ve counted $45 million against the cap for 2022. Minnesota extended the deal to 2023 and added two void years in 2024 and 2025, which lowered his cap hit for the upcoming season to $31.25 million.

Lowering Cousins’ cap number put a significant dent in the $17 million in space the Vikings need to clear before the new league year. So, where does that leave the front office heading into free agency?

Minnesota needs to upgrade several positions to improve in 2022, most notably at edge rusher, cornerback, and the interior of the offensive line.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah won’t have much money to work with once free agency opens on Mar. 16th. However, the front office might be able to swing a couple of cagey moves that won’t require breaking the bank.

The Vikings have a few key players hitting the free-agent market, including Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, and Mackensie Alexander. It will be interesting to see who the team retains, as it could limit what other moves Minnesota makes.

Can Minnesota win a Super Bowl with Cousins under center?

Kirk Cousins’ future with the franchise was seemingly hanging in the balance. However, the lucrative contract extension just took some weight off his shoulders. He still has to play up to the contract, though. He’s on record saying that the goal is to win a Super Bowl. However, does he have what it takes to get the job done?

For starters, the Vikings must improve in multiple areas before we even get to Cousins.

Minnesota ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in 2021, allowing 383.6 yards and 25 points per game. The unit struggled against both the run and the pass. The front office needs to upgrade the defense through free agency and the draft.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings have plenty of weapons, most notably Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen. The offensive line needs some work, though. Inconsistent interior play by that group held the unit back.

As for Cousins, he’s been better than he usually gets credit for. The numbers look really good on paper. However, questions surround whether he can elevate his play in big games and moments.

Kirk Cousins certainly doesn’t scream Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Still, it’s difficult to hoist a Lombardi Trophy if the team as a whole isn’t good enough.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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