The 2022 season will be Kirk Cousins’ fifth as the Vikings’ quarterback. He’s got a new contract that could keep him around for a sixth season, too.
For the second time in three years, the Vikings agreed to a new deal with Cousins to lower the quarterback’s salary cap figure while giving him a raise. The Vikings and Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney announced the deal is a one-year extension, which puts the quarterback under contract with the Vikings through the 2023 season.
“Kirk was one of the first players I called when I joined the Vikings [in January]and it was immediately clear how much he cares about this organization and about winning,” general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. “High-level quarterback play is a prerequisite to building a championship team, and we are confident Kirk will continue along that path.”
The move, which came some 70 hours before the start of free agency Wednesday, resolves what might have been the Vikings’ biggest question in the first season of Adofo-Mensah and new coach Kevin O’Connell’s leadership.
According to a league source, Cousins will get a $25 million signing bonus and a total of $35 million in new money, all of which is guaranteed. He again has a no-trade clause — as he did when he signed his first deal with the Vikings in 2018 — and will make $40 million in cash this year.
The new deal helped the Vikings achieve some of their priorities.
The team needed to clear more than $15 million to get under the salary cap by Wednesday. The Vikings added two void years to the deal to spread out the impact of Cousins’ signing bonus, dropping his 2022 salary cap number by almost $14 million, from $45.166 million to $31.466 million.
Cousins should count for $36.25 million against the Vikings’ salary cap in 2023, when he turns 35 years old. If he is not on the roster in 2024, he will carry a $12.5 million cap charge, when a pair of $6.25 million signing bonus prorations from Cousins’ two void years hit the cap. With the salary cap expected to spike in coming years thanks to the league’s new TV deals, though, the dead money represents a relatively tiny charge, especially if the Vikings find a young quarterback on a rookie deal to succeed Cousins.
Cousins and McCartney have opted for short-term deals in Minnesota, prioritizing guaranteed money over long-term security since the quarterback became the first player in league history to play on the franchise tag for two consecutive years in Washington. By the time Cousins finishes his third contract with the Vikings, he will have made $228.89 million in the nine seasons since his first franchise tag, with $185 million of it coming from the Vikings in seven seasons.
O’Connell was Cousins’ quarterback coach during his final year with the Commanders in 2017, and a warm relationship with the new coach seemed to bode well for the quarterback, after a year where he played in his third career Pro Bowl while throwing 33 touchdowns assists against seven interceptions.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity to play for Kevin and could not be more excited about the direction of our team,” Cousins said in a statement. “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.”
Adofo-Mensah said at the NFL scouting combine that “everything is in play” with the Vikings’ roster, stirring up intrigue over the possibility the team could look to deal Cousins while pursuing either a younger quarterback or another veteran. But the general manager had dinner with McCartney at the combine, and the Vikings worked through the weekend on a new deal that would douse any sense of uncertainty about Cousins’ immediate future in Minnesota.
Now, the Vikings will bet on their new coach’s ability to optimize the offense around Cousins after O’Connell won a Super Bowl as the Rams offensive coordinator with quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had an 0-3 playoff record before this season.
For Cousins to mimic Stafford’s path, the Vikings will need to rejuvenate a defense that has ranked near the bottom of the league the past two seasons, while solving long-running issues on the offensive line. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents at 11 am Monday.
O’Connell, though, has seemed to suggest the Vikings have enough talent on their current roster to win with some minor adjustments. The team’s new regime will test that theory over the next two years by banking on Cousins — owner of a 59-59-2 regular-season record as a starter — to thrive in a scheme and culture built for his benefit.