Kirk Cousins is one of the most coveted free agents in recent memory. Players have already started courting him in hopes of bringing him to their team, and there are a reported four favorites in the race — even if you can’t rule any team out just yet.
Each team’s situation is different. Some have a better roster while others can offer more money, though Cousins has mentioned it’s not all about the money for him. But of course, time will tell how much both things weighed into his decision.
For now, we get to play a guessing game. We’re going to give our predictions as to where he’ll land, and why.
There’s no way for me to know this, but I don’t think Kirk Cousins is worried about becoming the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback right now. Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager reported that Cousins will be looking for a shorter contract with guarantees so he can hit the free agent market again in as short as three years. He’d be 32 by then, and the price of top quarterback talent will continue to rise.
Also, Cousins has made it clear he wants to win. If the Vikings give him a few years on a guaranteed deal, they’re going to win games with the roster constructed as it is now. They have the most talented roster of teams that could realistically sign him, he could possibly win a Super Bowl, and go finish his career by getting the rest of his money elsewhere — like with the Jets. At least, that would be the perfect scenario for him.
How confident I am with the prediction: Assuming the Vikings are in win-now mode, a solid 8/10 — Harry Lyles Jr.
No team will have an easier time selling its plug-and-play winning strategy to Cousins than Denver, who would make him the league’s closest analog to Peyton Manning by signing him.
Manning — even a diminished Manning in his final season in the pros — was able to guide a team with a dominant defense and a handful of explosive receiving targets to four straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title.
In 2018, Cousins will have the opportunity to take over a Broncos team with a dominant defense (one that struggled with injuries in 2017 but still ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed) and a handful of still-dangerous wideouts — including Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who are each starving for competent QB play after suffering through the Osweiler-Siemian-Lynch triumvirate of sadness last season.
If there’s little difference between the big-money offers that roll in, that environment is going to be the No. 1 factor in Cousins’ choice. The hyper-competitive passer won’t skip out on a chance to be the next Peyton Manning.
How confident I am with the prediction: The Vikings can make a solid and similar case, all while playing in a less-difficult division. That knocks a home-run pitch down to a 7/10 probability. — Christian D’Andrea
New York Jets
Cousins’ camp has intimated that money won’t be the be-all, end-all factor in his decision. But we all know that money talks, and the Jets have more of it to spend than almost anyone else in the league right now.
The Jets are reportedly already running scared because they fear Cousins would rather go to a team that’s more of a sure thing for this season, like the Vikings. Sure, they made it to the NFC Championship last year with Case Keenum and they’ve got a dominant defense. The run game should be among the league’s best, too, with Latavius Murray and then Dalvin Cook returning from injury.
But can the Vikings give Cousins a deal that carries a $60 million cap hit this season? No. That’s the edge the Jets have, and if they want Cousins, they’ll have to use it. The Jets are in the best position of any of his suitors to make Cousins an offer he can’t refuse.
How confident I am with the prediction: Cousins has made a boatload of money playing under the tag over the past two seasons with Washington. It’s possible that he does want to win now and would prioritize that above a ludicrously rich contract. But an obscene amount of guaranteed money is a powerful motivator, so I’m going 8/10. — Jeanna Thomas
If Cousins is serious about chasing a Super Bowl, this is the perfect landing spot. It’s the only 2017 playoff team hunting for a starting quarterback and it made Case Keenum look like a star last year.
Maybe Keenum turned a corner, but it certainly helped to play for a team that finished the year with more than 500 rushing attempts — something only the Vikings and Jaguars can say. Keenum also benefitted from Pro Bowlers Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. There was also Stefon Diggs, who had 849 yards, eight touchdowns and a miracle in 2017.
In Minnesota, Cousins would have a real chance at finally doing damage in the postseason.
Other teams might be able to put together a bigger offer, but taxes in Minnesota mean Cousins would be able to collect a bigger amount of his check if he signs with the Vikings. It’s as close to a perfect situation as it gets.
How confident I am with the prediction: Logically, I feel good about this choice. But the NFL is silly and unpredictable, and Cousins hasn’t tipped his hand at all. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if something weird happens. I’m just going 6/10 on this. — Adam Stites
Of Cousins’ four likely finalists, the Cardinals are the ones with the least buzz. The Jets have the money, the Vikings have the roster in place, and the Broncos have proven they can win a Super Bowl in the last 50 years.
Sure, the Cardinals have a young, versatile running back (David Johnson) and one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play (Larry Fitzgerald). Fitz clearly has formed a strong bond with Cousins, too. But is that enough for Cousins to pick the team with a questionable offensive line and that doesn’t have the cap space to offer as much money as he can command?
Let’s think about it from a different angle. At a certain point — we can all assume, anyway — a lot of money is still a lot of money. Cousins could accept the highest bid, or he could accept simply a high bid and give a rose to whichever team offers him the most comfort, from a lifestyle standpoint.
Kirk Cousins is arguably the Most Dad of all the players in the NFL right now. The Phoenix area (or Scottsdale or Chandler, where he’d probably live) is a Very Dad city. For most of the year, he can golf, sip Arnold Palmers, wear a tucked-in polo with khaki shorts, hang out at Cabela’s or Dave & Busters, and talk about, I dunno, taxes and the latest David McCullough book. During the gross-hot summer months, he can pull a reverse snowbird and head north to live in his house on Lake Michigan, where he probably has a boat named Captain Kirk.
This might not make the most sense for Free Agent Quarterback Kirk Cousins. But it makes the most sense for Corny Dad Kirk Cousins.
How confident I am with the prediction: To be perfectly frank: not very much. This match has the worst odds of happening. But, like Cousins, I’m not ready to count anyone out, especially if he’s motivated by more than money. We’re also less than a week away from free agency and no clear favorite has emerged, so this is a real Ellie Goulding situation. Let’s put this at 2/10. — Sarah Hardy