If Vikings break bank for Kirk Cousins, can they keep rest of team intact?

From ESPN - March 12, 2018

Can the Minnesota Vikings have it all? That's the (multi-)million-dollar question they will attempt to answer this week during free agency.

Minnesota appears to be leading the pack in the race to sign Kirk Cousins. Whether the Vikings can afford the steep price tag for the free-agent quarterback and whether Cousins is worth the money he's going to command are two separate, yet equally important questions.

Coach Mike Zimmer cautioned about overpaying for a quarterback two weeks ago at the NFL combine. A franchise putting all of its eggs in one basket might limit what it's able to do with other players. With 13 unrestricted free agents and three restricted free agents, the Vikings will first need to flush out figures for Cousins before making decisions elsewhere.

Speculation of a three-year deal worth upwards of $90 million in guaranteed money began to surface last week. But the likelihood of Cousins becoming the first veteran player with a fully guaranteed muti-year deal might be a stretch, according to former sports agent and salary-cap expert Joel Corry.

In 2017, Matthew Stafford's then-recording setting deal worth $135 million over five years set records for the biggest signing bonus ($50 million), the most money fully guaranteed at signing ($60.5 million) and a three-year cash flow of $87 million.

Cousins' situation is unique, as a potential franchise quarterback not yet 30 hitting the open market. But is that enough to jump the bar nearly 50 percent?

"NFL teams dont make huge jumps like that in money for the most part, even in free agency," Corry said. "Their standard does not go from A to P overnight. Maybe it will be the first two years fully guaranteed and part of the third fully guaranteed at signing and the rest conditionally guaranteed, but not fully guaranteed at signing. That would be a stretch to me."

The precedent the Vikings or any other team in the Cousins sweepstakes would be setting by offering a fully guaranteed short-term deal would be something never seen before. A deal of that size could open the door for Aaron Rodgers -- whose contract is expected to catapult him to the top of the quarterback pyramid -- to land a fully guaranteed deal. The same goes for Atlanta's Matt Ryan, according to Corry.

Perhaps the biggest issue, though, deals with an archaic rule in the collective bargaining agreement that forces owners to put the amount of money they are fully guaranteeing for future years in escrow.

"So, you are talking $60 million in escrow the Vikings owners would need to set aside to make sure the guarantee would be there," Corry said. "Nobody wants to put $60 million in escrow and not have use of the money. I am skeptical of that one."

Historically speaking, most quarterback deals are longer, somewhere around the five to six-year mark. If Cousins wants a short-term deal of three years that would allow him to hit free agency again when he's 32, it's not entirely out of the question. A more conventional deal, according to Corry, would have Cousins earning $30 million a year for five years with $100 million in overall guarantees with $65 to $70 million guaranteed at signing.

Why the extra years if Cousins wants a short-term deal? Well, the Vikings do not want to tip their hand entirely in his favor. This would allow Minnesota a team option, essentially, once Cousins' guarantees are up.

"Why would not the team want the extra years?" Corry said. "It's just whether (Cousins' agent Mike) McCartney has enough interest from teams where if he wants to go the shorter-term route, he can. It goes back to the money he wants because theoretically you'd be taking a slight break with a shorter-term deal. That's probably what a team would position it as."

Therefore, the Vikings (or Jets, Broncos or Cardinals) would not have to set the market as high for a short-term deal because those contracts usually bring a lower average salary per year.

The leverage the Vikings would seem to have over Cousins' other suitors is that the team is ready to contend for a Super Bowl now.


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