Given that Jimmy Garoppolo, who has seven career starts to Cousins’s 57, just reset the quarterback market with a five-year, $137.5 million contract from the San Francisco 49ers, whatever it takes to land his Washington counterpart will be quite a bit. Some observers expect Cousins to get something on the order of $150 million over five years, making him the NFL’s highest-paid player, and the Jets are in position to make that happen.
According to overthecap.com, the Jets have the fourth-most salary cap space available, at $73.2 million. Of the three teams above them — the Cleveland Browns ($110.1 million), the Indianapolis Colts ($77.3 million) and the 49ers ($74.5 million) — only Cleveland has a need for a quarterback akin to that of New York, and with the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the draft, the Browns are perfectly positioned to grab an elite college prospect.
With the No. 6 pick, the Jets are in a much more precarious position if they hope to land the college quarterback of their choice, even with a well-regarded crop this year that includes Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. Instead of giving up valuable draft picks to move up from sixth to, say, third in the draft, why not just fork over a ton of the money they’re able to spend on more of a sure thing?
The real question may be whether the Jets, as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggested Saturday, would be willing to guarantee all $150 million or so of its presumed contract offer, which would blow away the NFL mark for guaranteed money. New York is “already is being pegged in league circles as having the willingness to do it,” Florio wrote, and that could give “other suitors for Cousins … no choice but to follow suit.”
Those suitors are expected to include the Browns, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, plus perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars if they can figure out how to divest themselves of Blake Bortles. Of that group, Minnesota likely would present the most appealing destination for Cousins, but with approximately $49 million in cap space and some in-house contracts to negotiate, the Vikings probably can’t match a gargantuan offer from the Jets (or, say, the Browns).
That would test Cousins’s stated position that he wants the best situation, not necessarily the most money possible. Having earned almost $44 million over the past two seasons, when he was twice placed under the franchise tag by the Redskins, Cousins can afford to give his preferred team a bit of a discount, but highly competitive people tend to enjoy beating their peers in the wallet as well as on the field.
The Vikings could drop out of the running by placing a franchise tag on Case Keenum, who led them to the NFC championship game, when NFL teams are able to use that designation, starting Tuesday. Or, if they’re sold on Keenum, the Vikes could sign him to a longer deal that would entail far less money than it would presumably take to land Cousins.
For that matter, the Redskins could throw a wrench into the proceedings by placing a franchise tag on Cousins for the third straight year. That seems very unlikely, as it would put the team, which just acquired Alex Smith and agreed to a four-year contract extension, on the hook to pay Cousins $34.5 million this year, and the latter has indicated he would file a grievance with the NFL if Washington attempts that maneuver with an eye toward making a trade.
So assuming again that Cousins hits the open market next month, he will have some choices. It makes sense that the Jets, whose 2017 quarterback depth chart included Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, would want to go all-out for Cousins, but would he have a reciprocal interest if there were other compelling options?
Earlier this month, CBS Sports’s Jason La Canfora described the Jets and Broncos as being the teams most likely to wind up as finalists in the Cousins sweepstakes. Of that pair, he thought New York would be more appealing to the quarterback, citing front-office stability and roster flexibility, lower expectations (and thus less pressure) and a sense that the Broncos are “a descending team” while the Jets are “more of a blank slate prepared right now to build around a capable quarterback.”
For the Jets, it may ultimately be less about a blank slate than the blank check they reportedly are dying to hand Cousins. If they are as zeroed-in on him as some analysts have suggested, he might be able to choose the number of zeros in his contract.