Was the Kirk Cousins contract extension a mistake?

Two months ago the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a two-year contract extension that at the time made sense, but now raises a lot of questions

An unfortunate set of circumstances

The issue for the Vikings is they were somewhat stuck back on March 16th and had to make a decision. They had limited cap space and free agency was due to start. However, at the same time, sports leagues around the globe were suspending operations, plunging the sports world into doubt.

That left the Vikings in a tough situation – extend Cousins and risk a big cap hit during a time of financial uncertainty, or do nothing and hamper their chances to bring in much-needed talent that could help them win in 2020. In the end, they chose to extend Cousins and the ramifications could be long-lasting for the franchise.

This contract more so than any other highlights the dangers of the NFL plowing on with their offseason during these uncertain times. Teams have had to make financial decisions while facing uncertainty as to their future finances both as a franchise and as a league. Ultimately, the Vikings had to choose between riding out Cousins last year and hampering their ability to add players, or trusting what they had seen on the field from Cousins in 2019 as a sign of growth with the potential of further development.

Cousins play on the field

Lost in all of the talk of contracts is often the positives of Cousins’ performances on the field. Circumstances have led to Cousins being paid as one of the best in the league, and now onlookers demand he perform accordingly. That leads to every negative moment being highlighted, while the good moments are simply waved away.

However, there has been a lot to like on the field since Cousins joined the Vikings, which likely made their tough decision to extend him one that made a lot of sense on March 16th, even if it looks a lot worse exactly two months down the road.

On the surface, 2018 looked a down year for Cousins. For the first time in five years, he did not top 4,000 yards and his touchdowns were the second-lowest of that period at 26, a situation not helped by sitting out the final game of the regular season. Meanwhile, he threw the lowest number of passes in his career as a starter by nearly 100, suggesting the Vikings were marginalizing his role.

Improvement in 2019?

However, what Cousins did in 2019 was improve his efficiency. He averaged over 8 yards per attempt for just the second time in the past five years while hitting his highest touchdown rate in that timespan, 5.9%. He was one of just three quarterbacks to average over 8 yards per attempt and complete more than two-thirds of his passing attempts, with Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill the others.

Then we come to the interceptions. Cousins’ biggest problem at Washington was arguably his mistakes. In his first three years, in limited game time, he had an interception rate of 5%, which dropped closer to 2% in his final three years. 2018 saw more progress as the rate dropped to 1.7% before throwing just six interceptions at a rate of 1.4% in 2019. Some of that is luck, as he also saw his bad throw rate climb to 15.5% in 2019, as well as a scheme designed to mitigate risk, as evidenced by his 25th ranking when it comes to intended air yards in 2019.

That scheme revolves around a strong running game, and Cousins can thank some of his success in 2019 to that running game. Cousins was extremely good throwing out of play-action last season. 14 of his 26 touchdowns came on play-action passes, with a completion percentage above 70%and 9.1 yards per attempt. Those numbers put him among the top-five in the league off play-action and make him an ideal quarterback for the Vikings offensive system right now. Kevin Stefanski may have been the offensive coordinator last year, but that offense looked like a Gary Kubiak design, and Kubiak is now in charge in 2020 and possibly beyond.

Does all of this make Cousins contract a good value? Realistically, no. He is a quarterback helped by a simple scheme and potentially due to see some regression in his interception numbers if he continues to make bad throws. However, what Cousins does offer the Vikings is a chance to win. He runs their scheme well and he could be set to improve in a second year with Kubiak. The problem for Cousins is that if he cannot take the Vikings to a Super Bowl, his initial contract and subsequent extension may very well be viewed as a colossal overpay of a good but not elite quarterback.

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