Kirk Cousins Trade Juice Must Be Worth Squeeze

Photo: Stephen Maturen - Getty Images

Minnesota Vikings ownership is currently busy addressing the first of many decisions they have to make this offseason. Zygi and Mark Wilf plan to hire a new general manager before deciding on a head coach to replace Mike Zimmer, though they’re already holding interviews for both. After the dust settles on their GM and HC decisions, attention will turn to quarterback Kirk Cousins and what to do with the final year of his current contract, which holds a ballooned cap hit of $45 million.

There are a few different routes available. New front office leaders could see Kirk Cousins as the team’s best option going forward. If so, an extension to drastically reduce his cap hit for 2022-23 would be the obvious move. It would also mean another multi-year commitment to Kirk.

If the future Vikings decide that Cousins is their best short-term option but not the long-term solution they’re looking for, they could keep him on for the final year of his deal and fill in around Kirk the best they can. His $45 million hit would take up 20% of the salary cap so fielding a good team around him could get difficult. It would mean keeping their offense mostly intact for one more season, however.

Option 3: Trade Kirk

That brings us to option #3, trading Kirk Cousins. Traveling this route wouldn’t completely lift the Vikings of Kirk’s cap responsibility. They’d still have to pay a $10 million cap penalty. His new team would then be on the hook for the other $35 million owed to him in 2022-23.

Should new Vikings leadership decide to start over at the QB position, this seems the most logical route, especially if the new GM could get legitimate draft capital in return. But what is Kirk Cousins worth on the trade market? Well according to Chad Graff of The Athletic, the Vikings will struggle finding a suitor who’s willing to give up a 1st round pick in exchange for Cousins. In fact, he sees day 3 draft capital coming back unless Minnesota is willing to eat more of Cousins’ salary.

Because of that, the number of teams capable of making a trade for Cousins without the Vikings taking on additional money is slim. The top options for a Cousins trade seem to be the Broncos, Steelers and Panthers, with a couple of other teams perhaps marginally interested. The Panthers wouldn’t have enough cap space to incur an additional $35 million. The Broncos and Steelers barely would, but that’s without factoring in free agents or a rookie draft class.

Because of that, it seems fair to think Cousins’ trade value without the Vikings incurring any more of his salary cap would be two Day 3 picks — just a little bit less than what Smith was traded for.

Chad Graff – The Athletic

Then what…?

According to Graff, the Vikings will have to eat an additional $15 million of next year’s cap hit if they want to have any chance at garnering a 1st round pick in return. That would mean paying $25 million of your cap space for 2022-23 to Kirk Cousins for him to play elsewhere, leaving his new team to pay just $20 million of next season’s salary.

That would make such a decision much more difficult. Instead of saving $35 million with a trade, the Minnesota Vikings would save just $20 million of the $45 million they currently owe him. So at what point is a trade no longer worth it? Do you give him up for pennies on the dollar, in terms of return draft capital (day-3 picks) just to save a buck? That’s the decision the Wilf family and their new front office management could be faced with.

Could Graff Be Wrong?

Before this article was posted at The Athletic on Monday morning, I laughed at those who thought Kirk Cousins couldn’t be traded straight up for a 1st round pick. Good quarterbacks are difficult to come by and there are a multitude of front offices around the NFL who see Kirk as a top-10 option.

Sure, other teams have cap problems too and fitting $35 million in for Cousins won’t be easy. But, that number only ranks 8th among NFL QB’s for next season. That’s fair value if you believe Kirk is a top-10 option at that position. And if another team does, then why would they balk at paying him top-10 money?

That’s before we even discuss the likely choice pursuing teams would make to extend Cousins and cement their future with him while simultaneously reducing that $35 million cap hit for 2022-23. And if you can’t get better than day-3 value without eating $25 million in cap space next season then don’t trade him at all. Make other teams well aware that you’re willing to pay the full $45 million this season if you can’t take value back in a trade.

When another team gets QB desperate, thinking they’re Kirk Cousins away from a Super Bowl run, they’ll pay up.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan