Kirk Cousins was probably just aiming for the best contract and landing spot possible this March. But the three-year contract he signed with the Minnesota Vikings may be a watershed moment in NFL history.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Cousins signed a three-year deal worth $84 million which tops the $27.5-million average Jimmy Garoppolo received in February.
But here’s the kicker: It’s fully guaranteed.
No matter how Cousins performs in Minnesota, he’ll make all of that $84 million. There will be no talk about the potential cap savings in the 2020 offseason or workout bonuses or team options. It’ll be $84 million — plus a little extra if he hits incentives — and then time for a new contract in 2021 when he’s 32 years old.
It’s an unprecedented blockbuster deal and immediately drew Cousins rave reviews, including one from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin:
Kirk Cousins is a hero for all the young players that will follow after him. Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception.— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) March 13, 2018
The question is whether or not Cousins’ contract will affect the NFL for years to come:
Fully guaranteed is unprecedented but not that new
The NFL’s blockbuster deals of the past have typically included plenty of guarantees. So an $84-million commitment isn’t something brand new.
In August, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions received a five-year, $135 million extension from the Detroit Lions that included $92 million guaranteed.
With huge cap hits early and none late, it essentially translates to a deal for Stafford that is fully guaranteed for the first few years but left up to the team to decide whether or not to keep near the end of the contract.
The major difference is that Cousins will be free to go after a new contract in 2021 — from the Vikings or the free agency market — no matter how he plays.
That could be a disappointing market for Cousins if he doesn’t perform well in Minnesota, but if he finds success he could get even more. Especially because a new collective bargaining agreement negotiation is coming in 2021 that could hypothetically shift more money in players’ favor:
Lots of agents want 3-year deals. One reason, of course, is to get young guys another bite of the financial apple. Here's another: If you do a 3-year deal now, you'll be a free agent in the first offseason of the next CBA.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2018
Stafford will only become a free agent before the end of his deal if he hasn’t lived up to the price tag. If the Lions opt to keep him and pay him $10 million roster bonuses in 2021 and 2022, it’ll likely be because Stafford has played well and is therefore stuck in a below market deal at that point.
The pay difference in a fully guaranteed deal is mostly cosmetic at this point, but the shift in freedom near the end of the contract is a win for players moving forward and could affect future negotiations.
Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, others should ask for similar structures
In the NFC North — and really, close to the entire NFL — Rodgers has been the golden standard for quarterback play. But now he’s the third-highest paid player in his division behind Cousins and Stafford.
A new contract from the Green Bay Packers is likely on the way this offseason and there’s no reason for Rodgers to ask for anything less than what Cousins just received.
The same can be said for Matt Ryan, who’s entering the final season of his contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
Cousins is a quarterback who doesn’t have nearly the career accomplishments of Rodgers or Ryan. With the new Vikings’ signing setting a new standard, contract negotiations could become much less muddy if the top-tier quarterbacks refuse to settle for anything less than a fully guaranteed deal.
It may still be years before there’s a fully guaranteed deal that spans more than just two or three seasons. And it may be even longer before similar contracts trickle down to positions other than quarterback. But if it eventually happens, the day Cousins signed with the Vikings could be remembered as the moment that changed it all.