Kirk Cousins almost surely not returning to Vikings based on one key detail

Quarterback Kirk Cousins has led the Minnesota Vikings for the past six years, but the language in his contract makes it unlikely for him to return.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings
Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages

The Minnesota Vikings are on the clock. Teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents on Monday, March 11. That leaves the Vikings with roughly five more days of exclusive negotiating rights with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is an impending free agent.

Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell has made it abundantly clear that the team wants Cousins back in Minnesota, but the probability of that happening is slimming with each passing day. Most offseason mysteries can be answered by looking at the money, and the money suggests that Cousins' time in Minnesota is over after six seasons.

Minnesota Vikings unlikely to sign Kirk Cousins due to contract detail

Cousins failed to land a long-term deal last spring and instead settled for a renegotiated contract that voids on the first day of free agency on Wednesday, March 13. If the Vikings are going to re-sign Cousins, the language in the contract mandates them to do so prior to that date. Signing Cousins after that date would result in a $28.5 million dead cap charge in addition to his salary cap number in 2024.

Some teams allow their unrestricted free agents to test the waters of free agency, then attempt to match any offer the player receives. For Minnesota, that isn't a feasible option. If Cousins hits the open market, he's as good as gone.

"Hopefully ... we figure out a way to keep him a Minnesota Viking," O'Connell said. "My expectation is that we aren't going to be the only ones that want Kirk Cousins to be the quarterback of our team in 2024."

Recent reports have suggested that Cousins is expecting to sign with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. The Falcons have been in dire straits since the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, but there is hope of a turnaround under Atlanta's new regime.

Cousins would be a perfect fit for Falcons offensive coordinator Zac Robinson. Like O'Connell, Robinson's offensive philosophies are derived from their time under Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay. The Falcons offense is also loaded with an arsenal of young, talented weapons, including running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London, and tight end Kyle Pitts.

If general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decides to move on from Cousins, it would free the Vikings of the massive salary cap strain that would come with signing Cousins. The veteran quarterback will be 36 years old next year, and he is currently recovering from a torn Achilles injury he suffered in Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season. Cousins would command an annual salary of roughly $40 million, and the savvy quarterback has mastered the art of maximizing his value.

While the Vikings don't have a succession plan in place, they hold the No. 11 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which features a particularly strong class of quarterbacks.

With the free agency period rapidly approaching, the Vikings' decision on Cousins may have already been made.

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