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Which NFL Teams Can Afford to Sign Kirk Cousins: Almost No One

Who can afford Kirk Cousins?

Almost no one. Someone at ProFootballRumors.com suggested Arizona would be a great landing spot for Cousins:

Cousins belongs in Arizona. He could be a big part of putting that team in a position to compete deep into the playoffs. Him, Fitz and David Johnson along with that defense would be tough. Cousins would make the other speedy receivers better. It’s a perfect fit.

Indeed Kirk Cousins would be a good football fit in Arizona with a ready made team who is strong defensively and who have been playing well despite dreadful quarterback play. There is not too much pressure on him as Arizona is used to not doing very well historically. Sadly Arizona does not have the cap space to pay Cousins. There’s only $22 million there and if you go over the roster, cutting some of the high cap players would actually result in increased cap charges. Some of the players who would have to go to sign Cousins, along with the cap savings by cutting them now:

  • Patrick Peterson CB $10m
  • Antoine Bethea S $3.5m
  • Tyrann Mathieu S $5m
  • Josh Mauro DE $2.8m
  • Deone Bucannon IL $8.7m

On offense you have:

  • Jared Veldheer RT $7m
  • Mike Lupati LG $6m

So to sign Cousins Arizona would either have to destroy its championship defence or cripple its offensive line. The only one of those players without millions in dead cap space if you cut them is Deone Bucannon. The only palatable choice on the table would be to start trading away those top players with contracts which match their performance for draft picks. Good luck getting value when the other GM’s know how desperate you are to unload high paid stars.

Having $6 million in dead cap to a departed quarterback (Carson Palmer) doesn’t help.

If Cousins were more interested in winning than being the highest paid player in NFL football (without the resumé to merit it), Arizona would be a more realistic option. Tyrod Taylor is a more realistic option and could do very well in Arizona.

Who can afford Kirk Cousins then

There are very few teams with a quarterback need and realistic free cap space to sign Cousins. I put the starting point north of $50m in free cap space, as teams have other needs than just quarterback including signing their own free agents. I count just six.

In available cap order:

  • Cleveland Browns: $101m. I’m far from convinced Cleveland’s number one need is quarterback as I respect Kizer even if GM Dorsey doesn’t. Cleveland is so far away from being a playoff team, spending this kind of money on a pocket passer seems silly. Cleveland still needs a mobile quarterback who can extend plays. With all those draft picks, Cleveland could just draft one and pick up a veteran to coach the young guys. I’m not sure who the best coaching backup quarterback in the NFL is now, but Cleveland should hire him. Veteran Kaepernick would be a nice temporary fit in Cleveland to coach the young quarterbacks but many of Cleveland’s blue collar fans might not agree with me.
  • Indianapolis Colts: $74m. QB Andrew Luck is coming off of a season away and a chronic shoulder injury. Replacement QB Jacoby Brissett rarely looked promising in 2017. If Andrew Luck won’t be healthy this year, Cousins offers a ready made big pocket passer to replace Luck. The two could substitute in and out interchangeably. Luck is already expensive though and having two of the top paid quarterbacks on the same roster would be very strange. The Colts know a lot more about Luck’s shoulder than we do though and they have the cap space. Perhaps another season of rest (which could include working as the number two quarterback) would be better for Luck, leaving the Colts to trade away either Luck or Cousins in a year.
  • New York Jets: $73m. Lots of money and a clear need. Still if the NYJ want to spend funny money on a quarterback ($30m) Drew Brees is on the market. The Jets are far from ready for a playoff run and could still draft a top QB at number 6. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson would be a much more exciting option than Kirk Cousins. If Jackson crumples under NFL tackling, the losses on an NFL rookie contract aren’t terribly high. On the other hand, a Cousins contract could cripple your wealthy franchise. There are so many better ways to spend all that money. Jets management has no plans to overspend on Cousins.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $78m. Tampa Bay might be able to get some decent trade value for starting QB Jameis Winston. Winston isn’t responsible for last year’s 5-11 but based on the last three seasons appears to be a small step down from Cousins. Bringing Cousins to Tampa Bay would reunite Cousins with DeSean Jackson. I see Cousins more as a southern QB so Tampa Bay would be a good fit. Winston is fighting ongoing shoulder issues and apparently doesn’t get on well with head coach Dirk Koetter. Like Luck, Jameis Winston could use a season of rest. Winston is relatively inexpensive still on his rookie contract at $8m so there would be room for Cousins’s payslip if Winston is prepared to rest a year. Winston is an alpha dog (“there’s not room on this team for the two of us” type guy) so a trade would be more likely. Buccaneer fans more attached to the former number one overall pick than Koetter so Tampa Bay would be a long shot. Cousins delights in showing up number one overall draft picks (RGIII) so he’d feel right at home in Tampa Bay.
  • Houston Texans: $64m. If Houston are still worried about Deshaun Watson’s ACL surgery, Cousins could be a great insurance policy. Cousins is a big step down from a healthy Deshaun Watson though and not the same kind of quarterback. Houston would be much better to hire Colin Kaepernick as their backup/occasional starter while Watson heals. Or alternatively look at pulling Tyrod Taylor away from the Buffalo Bills. Mobile QB’s like Kaepernick and Taylor would both substitute adequately in an offence built around Watson’s incredible skills to extend plays.
  • Chicago Bears: $51m. Number one draft pick Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t looked ready yet and would probably do better with two more years to hone his skills behind a true number one quarterback who is not Mike Glennon. The Bears could drop $10m of cap space by cutting Glennon. There’s no real upside for Cousins in coming to Chicago though. The team is still rebuilding and already has a future number one QB on the roster.
  • Minnesota Vikings: $49m. Minnesota has three starting quarterbacks on the roster, none of them healthy or in form outside of Case Keenum. While gifted when healthy, Sam Bradford is made of porcelain. Teddy Bridgewater has not played seriously in years and has not shown that he is or is not a first tier QB yet. They are all free agents. Either Keenum or Bridgewater would be a good expensive backup. Having two starter quality QB on the roster paid big dividends for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 when league MVP quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury and former pro bowler Nick Foles could step in and perform as Super Bowl MVP.

Neither Denver nor Jacksonville can afford Kirk Cousins

No one else, including the Jacksonville Jaguars or Cincinatti Bengals, can afford Kirk Cousins. They either have very expensive quarterbacks on guaranteed contracts (Bortles, Dalton respectively) or just don’t have enough cap space. Denver Broncos could just swing Cousins if they get rid of Aqib Talib (CB $11m) and Demaryius Thomas (WR $7.5m) or Chris Harris (CB $6.5m), Menelik Watson (RT $5m). In the Broncos favour, they don’t have any high priced QB’s riding their bench (tip of the hat to the Texans). The Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins also fall into the category of teams who couldn’t afford to pick up a Kirk Cousins contract even if they wanted to.

What does Cousins say?

Kirk Cousins is interested in going to Denver. Cousins would like to go to a winning team with a strong defence and win some playoff games. Cousins has a rap to beat as a loser QB with garbage time stats. Of course that’s what Kirk Cousins says. Cousins is also certain he should be the highest paid QB in the league. As Scottie would tell Captain Kirk:

Take your pick, Captain… The engines can’t take it any more, either go to warp speed and accept less money or turn on your phasers and prepare to defend your ship.

I.e. more money with less pass protection and a weaker defence.

An Accountant with a Good Throwing Arm

So far Kirk Cousins’ approach to team play suggest he’s an accountant with an excellent throwing arm and not a team leader. It’s the intangibles which matter at the highest level in the NFL and so far Kirk Cousins hasn’t shown those.

Given that the only sure winner in the Cousins’ approach to date is his bank account, we can expect to see Cousins in Minnesota. Minnesota is the only place to both win and get paid. Cousins better hope that Case Keenum is very difficult in salary negotiations.

If Minnesota decides Keenum and Bridgewater suit them better, the only big payday out there for Cousins are the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns. Neither of those destinations include much winning at least in the short term. If Cousins is really serious about winning and finding a place he fits, he has to scale down his salary demands and go to Denver.

Ironically enough, one talented team with enough cap space (about $50m) who would have made this until they traded for veteran Alex Smith and signed him to a long term contract is the Washington Redskins. Cousins fit into the Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins offence as well as anywhere in the league, had he chosen to lead his team instead of holding a grudge.

This year Kirk Cousins is truly a free agent so it’s up to him to choose: money or glory. My bet is Cousins chooses money. I’d be delighted to see him surprise us.


Kirk Cousins previewed as New York Jet. Photo credit Matt Radick/The State News

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