The Vikings Screwed Themselves By Extending Kirk Cousins Last Year

Liam McKeone
Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins / Abbie Parr/Getty Images
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Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings had a pretty good season in 2019. It ended at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, which is obviously a disappointment because no team plans to end their season before the Super Bowl. But the Vikings went 10-6, won a playoff game in New Orleans, and Cousins threw for 3,603 yards with 26 TDs and only six picks. All in all, a successful season for one that did not culminate in a ring.

Thus, the Vikings decided to reward Cousins with a new contract during the offseason. He inked a two-year extension worth $66 million back in March. This season was supposed to be the final year of the deal he signed in 2017 worth $84 million fully guaranteed. This tied Minnesota to Cousins for at least the next two seasons; his dead cap hit is $62 million and $41 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with his new deal.

So far, it seems like it was an error of epic proportions. The Vikings are currently 1-5. Cousins has somehow already thrown a league-leading 10 interceptions to match 11 touchdowns. His yards per completion is actually the best in the NFL (13.1) but he's averaging only 245 yards per game with a QBR of 49.5. Only Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, and Dwayne Haskins are worse in that category.

It's hard to pinpoint precisely why, too. Offensive line troubles are yet again plaguing Minnesota; Cousins has been sacked on 7.4 percent of his dropbacks so far, which would be the highest rate he's been taken down during his time as a Viking if it holds. But he was sacked at a similar rate in 2017 and still managed to play decently, throwing 26 touchdowns to 13 interceptions that season. Maybe the departure of Stefon Diggs has impacted his view of the field more than we know, but first-round pick Justin Jefferson has stepped into the void left by the star wideout quite nicely.

Does Cousins just... stink now? It's certainly within the realm of possibility. He has often been plagued with bouts of inconsistent play throughout his career. He could turn around and play four outstanding weeks of football to even everything out. But the opening six weeks have been bad enough that the alarm bells should be ringing in the facilities.

If the Vikings had not extended Cousins, he would be a free agent this offseason, and that would be that. No cap considerations, no trade needed, nothing. He would just be gone if Minnesota didn't want him back. Instead, they aggressively tied themselves to Cousins in a way they can't maneuver around. Trading him or even outright cutting him would invoke the aforementioned sky-high dead cap penalties.

This all could be for naught, because there was no point last year that indicated Cousins was nearing a cliff he might fall off in terms of his play. But Minnesota gave themselves no flexibility with this contract. Be optimistic that Cousins is going to bring the team to the promised land, sure, but nothing about his level of performance as a Viking gives justification for tying the organization to his peaks and valleys in the way they've done. Instead of looking at their short and long-term options, the front office just has to cross their fingers and hope Cousins can bounce back this year. Because if he can't, the situation looks dire for the next two years.

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