The Vikings have long been considered the favorite to land Cousins, the top free agent quarterback on the market, but the New York Jets had also expressed interest in the former Washington signal-caller.
Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney, told ESPN Tuesday that “no final decisions have been made. The plan is to visit Minnesota first. That’s all we can say right now.”
Cousins’s decision to visit and likely sign with Minnesota was the third significant move in the NFL’s quarterback market this offseason. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, outgoing Vikings starter Case Keenum lined up an agreement to sign with the Denver Broncos. He had a breakthrough 2017 season with the Vikings in which he threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, playing at a near-league-MVP level and helping Minnesota to reach the NFC title game.
Later Tuesday morning New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract to remain with the Saints.
After Cousins’s intentions to join Minnesota became public, free agent quarterback Sam Bradford, who began the 2017 season as the Vikings’ starter before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, also secured an agreement on a new contract. Bradford will sign with the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year contract worth $20 million, with an option for a second season at $20 million.
With the NFL’s free agent signing period opening Wednesday, the Jets remain the NFL’s lone team without a clear starter at quarterback. Another former Vikings starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, remained uncommitted as of Tuesday afternoon.
Cousins’s pending deal with the Vikings is said to be worth a little more than $28 million per season. That would surpass the current NFL record for the highest average annual value of $27.5 million set by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s recent five-year, $137.5 million contract to re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers. But Cousins’s record probably won’t last long, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers working on a new contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Having the deal be fully or almost fully guaranteed would be a significant step, given that some observers have been critical of the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL. That puts players at the mercy of teams, critics say, who can release those players in the middle of contracts without having to pay the generally non-guaranteed annual salaries for future seasons.
“Kirk Cousins is a hero for all the young players that will follow after him,” Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception.”
The NFL Players Association, at which some of that criticism has been aimed, has said there is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to prevent agents and players from pushing for guaranteed contracts if that’s important to them. Some within the sport have argued over the years that guaranteed contracts are not necessarily good for all players, given that teams could end up paying money to players who haven’t met expectations at the expense of players with better on-field results.
It’s unclear what the long-term effects of a guaranteed contract given to Cousins would be. Few players have his leverage, as a productive quarterback who maneuvered his way into hitting the open market in his prime. Cousins did not sign a long-term deal with the Redskins and twice played under the franchise-player tag in Washington. Tagging Cousins a third straight time this year would have cost the Redskins an unwieldy $34.5 million on a one-year deal. So the Redskins moved on at quarterback, trading for Alex Smith, and Cousins became an unrestricted free agent on the heels of three straight 4,000-yard passing seasons for the Redskins.
He will face the expectations that come with that contract in Minnesota, along with the expectation that he will be the final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle for the Vikings. They reached the NFC title game last season with Keenum at quarterback.
If Cousins makes the entire $85 million or so in Minnesota, it would push his career earnings in the NFL above an estimated $130 million. He’s now 29 and would be eligible for free agency again at age 32, with another chance for a lucrative contract.
The Broncos, Jets and Cardinals once were thought to be among the teams lined up to bid for Cousins. But by the recent NFL scouting combine, some within the sport had become convinced Cousins would end up in Minnesota. It appears they are being proven right.
The contract figures to provide the conclusion to a self-produced documentary Cousins is making on his free agent decision-making process. Cousins and his family are being followed by a video crew, chronicling his decision-making process on where to sign next. The video, according to ESPN, will also give a behind-the-scenes peek at Cousins “living with his in-laws, working out, fatherhood and his life in general.” The series figures to be similar to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s “Tom vs. Time” Facebook series, but with a free agency focus.
Cousins has taken a novel approach to dealing with the media since his season ended. Rather than addressing the media at Redskins Park on the day after Washington’s final game, Cousins held a two-hour off-site session with fans to raise money for charity later that week. And flanked by an assortment of handlers during Super Bowl week, including his publicist, Cousins repeatedly declined media requests, save for interviews prearranged through a sponsorship.
“We are opening up our home to allow a behind-the-scenes look into what really transpires before the contract number scrolls across the bottom line of ESPN,” Cousins told ESPN about the documentary.
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