Cousins contract could ripple
Guaranteed pacts likely
The idea began to percolate about 21/2 years ago, in discussions between Kirk Cousins and agent Mike McCartney about his status with the Washington Redskins and his future in the NFL.
The goal was to get a fully guaranteed contract, the security players in this league of high turnover and short shelf lives have sought for decades, unlike their peers in professional baseball, basketball and hockey who are accustomed to guaranteed money.
This week, when Cousins finally reached free agency after two consecutive seasons playing on the franchise tag, the Minnesota Vikings made that once-unrealistic aspiration happen with an $84 million, three-year deal.
“It took a great player to come to the market, and it’s not easy to get to the market with great players,” McCartney said. “It’s just the way it turned out. It’s been an exciting several weeks in anticipation.
“We researched all fall, the different teams and potential options. At one point, we never thought that the Vikings would need a quarterback and yet still did our research and homework on them. As we got closer to free agency, I had a feeling we were going to have an opportunity.”
As a low draft pick who was forced to work his way up the depth chart and has never won a postseason game, Cousins represented an unlikely candidate to set the precedent. The market always flows toward the demand, though, and because Washington was lukewarm on his long-term potential, Cousins was able to make about $44 million over the last two years and still hit free agency in his prime with no history of significant injury. The Redskins declined to use the franchise tag a third time and acquired Alex Smith in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs instead.
That allowed a player who topped 4,000 passing yards in three straight seasons to cash in on the volume of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, where there’s perpetually a short supply of true superstars at the most challenging of all positions.
“It would be great if this would be a game changer and started a trend. Hopefully, there are some high-profile guys who can build on this and go beyond Kirk’s money but still have a fully guaranteed contract,” McCartney said, adding: “It’s time for it to happen.”
The Vikings were the other critical part of this equation, of course. They drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round in 2014 with the expectation he’d become their franchise quarterback, but he wrecked his knee right before the 2016 season and has yet to start a game since then.
His replacement, Sam Bradford, became a free agent. So did his super sub, Case Keenum.
With a roster on the cusp of a Super Bowl, having lost to the eventual champion Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game, the Vikings were more than willing to be as aggressive as they needed to acquire the quarterback they believed was the best available free agent.
“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “But I know when a player of this caliber gets out there on the market and he’s been franchised two years in a row, and it’s the quarterback position, you’re going to have to do what you have to do. If we didn’t, I know a lot of other teams out there would have.”