Cousins is in the middle of an implosion game that comes 6 games into what looks like an implosion season and I am getting a number of questions about how the Vikings can escape his contract. So I’ll put together here a brief explanation as to how Cousins contract works and what they would need to do to move on from him.
The Vikings in need for some salary cap relief surprisingly extended Cousins this past March rather than seeing how things would play out this year and then offering an extension. The new contract gave Cousins a $10 million raise in 2020 and guaranteed him $21 million for 2021. He was paid a $30 million signing bonus this year as well. Those numbers right now are set in stone.
Things get trickier next year. If they were to cut Cousins they will have to cut him a check for $21 million, basically meaning they paid an extra $31 million for whatever performance you are getting on the field this year. In my mind that kind of mistake puts you as a GM on the chopping block with ownership no matter what your track record is. However if they do not cut him by the 3rd day of the league year then his 2022 salary will become fully guaranteed. That salary is worth $35 million.
The cost to cut Cousins on the salary cap in 2021 is $41 million, $10 million higher than Cousins $31 million salary cap figure. The Vikings already project to be about $14 million over the cap after futures signings so that would push them to $24 million over. No salary figures would be left for Cousins in 2022 if cut this way.
A trade is a more viable option. In a trade the guarantee travels from Minnesota to the acquiring team so the dead money is just $20 million. Cousins $21 million salary in 2021 would be acceptable to a team trading for him if they believe they can rehab him as $20 million is low end money for a starting veteran. The 2022 guarantee for $35 million could be problematic and would require a team to be pretty bullish on Cousins. There is also the possibility of reworking the contract to make it easier for another team.
The only type of team to be willing to trade for Cousins would be a team that envisions itself as a good football team with no avenue to obtain a starting QB. Those teams would include teams like the Colts and possibly the Bears and 49ers. Perhaps the Broncos would at least throw a feeler out there as well.
If those routes do not exist then the next out would be to force themselves to part with a high draft pick in return for someone taking on the salary. The Jets, Jaguars, and perhaps the Patriots would be the teams that would be in a position to do it next year. The Vikings, who would also be leaving themselves without a QB in such a trade, may be able to get the Jets or Jaguars young QBs as part of a trade if either of those teams winds up with the 1st pick in the draft. Given the guarantee at play I would think it would require including a 1st round pick.
If a trade is not an option and they decide they want to eat the cost and move on there is probably only one path. What the Vikings would have to do in that case is designate Cousins a post June 1 cut at the start of free agency. That would allow them to keep Cousins on the books at $31 million for the entire 2021 season and defer $10 million to 2022.
There are some ways to potentially change that split a bit more with a restructure but that would have to occur before the end of this season. The Vikings lack of cap room this year make this much harder to do but it may not be a bad decision if they are willing to eat salary in a trade anyway.
Barring a big turnaround over the next 10 games this extension with Cousins is probably going to be one of the bigger stories of this year and next offseason.