In the past decade, arguably no NFL contract has received more discussion than the one belonging to Kirk Cousins. After another underwhelming season with the Minnesota Vikings, what is the situation with Cousins’ contract? What is the impact of the deal on the Vikings’ salary cap, and what are the Vikings’ options with Cousins’ deal?
Kirk Cousins’ contract details and bonuses
In 2020, Kirk Cousins signed a two-year contract extension worth $66 million with the Minnesota Vikings. Cousins was entering the final year of his original three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings.
In the final year of his original deal, Cousins had $30 million in fully guaranteed salary. Therefore, the contract shapes up as a three-year, $96 million deal. Cousins converted that $30 million in salary into a signing bonus as part of the extension. $31 million in new money was guaranteed, and a further $35 million becomes guaranteed on the third day of the 2021 league year.
Cousins’ contract length is for another two years
When Cousins signed his two-year extension in 2020, he had one more year remaining on his original deal. Thus, Kirk Cousins’ contract is set to run through the 2022 season. Currently, none of his salary in 2022 is guaranteed. However, on the third day of the 2021 league year, all of that $35 million in salary will become guaranteed.
What impact does Cousins’ deal have on the Vikings’ salary cap?
The projected salary cap, according to Spotrac and Over The Cap for 2021, is $175 million. The Vikings are set to roll over $4.5 million from 2020, leaving them with a projected $179.5 million in 2021. As of February 1st, the Vikings are projected to be around $10-15 million over the cap in 2021.
Kirk Cousins’ contract is the biggest cap number on the Vikings’ books in 2021 at $31 million. Of that, $21 million is a fully guaranteed base salary, and $10 million is due to the proration of his $30 million signing bonus.
Can the Vikings move on from Cousins’ contract this offseason?
The Vikings are set to have some tough decisions in the coming weeks. They need to free up cap space, but they likely also believe they are on the verge of challenging if the ball breaks their way. They have a handful of players they could release, extend, or restructure. However, as it stands, their biggest stumbling block is Kirk Cousins’ contract.
Could the Minnesota Vikings cut Kirk Cousins and his contract?
Releasing Kirk Cousins is not a financially viable way for the Vikings to get out of his contract.
With Cousins receiving $30 million as a signing bonus, which prorated as $10 million per year in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Therefore, if the Vikings were to cut Cousins in 2021, the $10 million due to count in 2022 would accelerate onto the 2021 cap. That would leave $20 million in prorated bonus as dead money.
However, with Cousins $21 million in base salary guaranteed, that will also remain on the cap in 2021. In total, Cousins would leave $41 million in dead money on the Vikings’ 2021 salary cap if he was released.
Trading Kirk Cousins offers more flexibility when it comes to getting out of his contract
While releasing Cousins outright is not financially viable for the Vikings, a trade would be. As part of the trade, the team acquiring Cousins would take on his $21 million in guaranteed salary. Therefore, in the case of a trade, the Vikings would be left with $20 million in dead money on their cap — a saving of $11 million.
The team acquiring Cousins gets a reasonable deal in 2021, as Cousins will count just $21 million against their cap. However, in 2022, that cap hit skyrockets back up to $35 million. All of that $35 million will be fully guaranteed as of the third day of the 2021 league year.
Could the Vikings consider a restructure or an extension of Kirk Cousins’ contract?
The Vikings already fixed one issue regarding Kirk Cousins’ salary cap number with a contract extension. Doing so cost them an extra $66 million in cash and has pushed those cap concerns further down the line. However, with the salary cap expected to rise over the next two years, the Vikings may be willing to take the long-term pain. However, Cousins has all the leverage and has no reason to compromise on a contract extension.
A restructure is also an option, but Cousins’ cap number in 2022 does not make it easy. Moving any money from 2021 into 2022 will only inflate an already hefty $45 million cap number. That makes it tough for the Vikings to do anything with Cousins’ contract that does not involve adding more years.
One option would be to add contract length in the form of void years. Any signing bonus the Vikings were to give Cousins in 2021 would prorate across up to five years. Therefore, if the Vikings converted $15 million to a signing bonus, they could prorate that money at $3 million per year over the next five years. That would potentially reduce Cousins’ salary cap by as much as $12 million in 2021.
If the Vikings are going to stick with Cousins, adding void years is a short-term solution. They may need to do another restructure in 2022 to reduce what would be a $48 million cap hit in 2022. However, with as many as three void years, they can spread that cap hit into 2023, 2024, and 2025.
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