Former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is ready to get paid this offseason. The Redskins acquired Alex Smith this offseason — thus signalling the end of Cousins’ tenure in Washington. As such, an ample amount of squads are squarely in the hunt for his services. Among the top suitors are the Broncos, Cardinals, Jets, and Vikings. Each potential team provides Cousins with unique advantages and disadvantages. Based on several factors (roster talent, financial flexibility, scheme fit), we ranked each of the four teams in order of which would suit Cousins best.
4. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona and new head coach Steve Wilks are in desperate need of a quarterback following Carson Palmer’s retirement announcement. In the rugged NFC West, Arizona ended last year 7-9 (without the services of injured All-Pro back David Johnson). Their talented defensive group returns, and the ageless Larry Fitzgerald enters Season 15 looking for a fourth-consecutive year of 100-plus receptions. Nestled in the indoor sanctuary of University of Phoenix Stadium, Cousins could create fireworks with the Cardinals.
However, the logistics would be difficult in facilitating a deal. Of all four bidding teams, the Cardinals presently possess the least amount of available cap space. It would take some finagling with contracts to get a deal done. Legitimate defensive studs Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Bucannon could end up being casualties to the money saving process.
Additionally, the Cardinals don’t have much in the way of threats outside the numbers. Johnson is a gifted pass catcher that does his work out of the backfield, while Fitzgerald primarily lines up in the slot. John Brown and J.J. Nelson have speed, but aren’t on the same level as Demaryius Thomas or Stefon Diggs.
3. Denver Broncos
Speaking of Demaryius Thomas, how fun would it be to see him and Emmanuel Sanders playing pitch-and-catch with Cousins in the Mile High? The Broncos appear to be a quarterback away from returning to the NFL Playoffs, and Cousins could be the guy to take them there.
The pairing makes sense on multiple fronts. The Broncos have a bevy of offensive weapons coupled with one of the best defenses in the league (despite what last year’s numbers might say). Starting linebacker Brandon Marshall has already expressed interest in bringing Cousins on board. It also doesn’t hurt that Denver’s general manager (John Elway) is one of the most decorated quarterbacks of all-time.
Again, inking a name like Cousins will be tough given Denver’s current financial positioning. Cutting enigmatic corner Aqib Talib will help free up the requisite funds this season, but Denver’s cap problems extend past 2018. Thomas, Sanders and former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller will account for 37-percent of the team’s cap in 2019. Cutting Sanders is an option, but that’s to the detriment of Cousins’ receiving corps.
From a narrative standpoint, the Broncos make the utmost sense, but the finances involved make this too tricky of a move.
2. Minnesota Vikings
The team that was just one game away from playing Super Bowl LII in their home stadium might feel Cousins puts them over the edge. He’s a more accomplished passer than any of the other three QB’s Minnesota employed last season. He has a better arm than Case Keenum, is more accurate than Teddy Bridgewater, and is sturdier than Sam Bradford.
It’s rare for a team to return virtually its entire roster a year after featuring in the conference title game. That’s exactly what the Vikings will be doing in 2018, as nearly every contributor remains under contract through next season. That means Cousins will have the trio of Diggs, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook at his disposal. On defense, Minnesota is stacked at nearly every level.
A young 13-3 team that returns everybody and gets a significant upgrade at quarterback? How in the world would the Vikings not enter this season as Super Bowl favorites?
As deadly as the Vikings would look on paper, this decision — much like the previous two — is a bit tougher than it seems. The Vikings have ample space to sign Cousins to a $30 million-plus deal right now, but with each passing season, their cap flexibility gets murkier. In 2019, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Sharrif Floyd, Danielle Hunter, and Diggs will be up for free agency. For those counting at home, that’s nearly half of their starting defense along with the team’s No. 1 receiver. Players like Barr and Kendricks have shaped the Vikings’ identity, and will be looking for big paydays as each player is firmly in enthralled in the prime of their careers.
It simply makes more financial sense for Minnesota to re-sign one of their current quarterbacks. It’s not the sexy move, but any of the three will come at a cheaper price than Cousins, and won’t sabotage future plans.
1. New York Jets
It seems as if the Jets have been in perpetual disarray for the past decade. In 2017, they couldn’t even tank correctly…and ended up with five wins. They’re in prime position to select one of this year’s quarterback prospects, but youth might not be the answer.
A common theme in opting against Cousins going to the three previously mentioned teams was each club’s lack of cap room — a problem not shared by the Jets. With the cap set around $177 million this upcoming season, the Jets project to have $89 million in space to work with (second most to the Browns). In 2019, that number balloons to a projected $143 million after 20 additional players come off the books.
Of course, the massive amount of New York cap room goes hand-and-hand with the Jets’ lack of legitimate stars on the roster. If they had any elite players, they’d probably be under contract for a few more years. However, the Jets’ current talent resides in their youth. Recent draft picks Jamal Adams, Darron Lee and Leonard Williams will be on board for at least two more years. They’ve also unearthed a few lesser known names like ArDarius Stewart and Elijah McGuire (who are under cheap deals and contribute). The Jets’ current model allows them to make big plays in acquiring players down the road. If they sign Cousins this offseason, there’s no telling what other types of moves they could make in 2019 to help bolster their roster.
If the two sides reach an agreement, Cousins will be playing under the bright lights of New York City. He’ll be afforded the chance to become one of the all-time greats in the Jets’ franchise. With an aging Tom Brady in New England, the AFC East will be completely up for grabs sooner rather than later.
Cousins has the chance to shake up the NFL landscape with his decision. The Vikings seem like an obvious pick, but any number of teams could benefit greatly from his services.
Sources: Cap figures from OvertheCap.com, Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports