The Redskins made an early jump on the offseason, agreeing to acquire QB Alex Smith from the Chiefs, and signing him to a subsequent 4 year, $94M extension in doing so. In light of this, it appears certain that Kirk Cousins will now hit the open market as a viable QB1 at 29 years of age, something the league just isn’t used to seeing.
Kirk Cousins will draw plenty of interest from plenty of teams on the open free agent market - some of which will need to make financial and roster space to acquire him. We’ll take a quick look at the top contenders, including their current financial situation, and any potential moves to be made.
How Much is Kirk Cousins Worth?
This loaded question comes with a pretty easy answer: However much a team wants to spend. How much does he value at is a different story. At season's end, Cousins held a calculalted market value of nearly $26M, nearly $6M more than his value stood at 2 years ago. But free agents at ANY position always reel in more than value based on the nature of supply/demand. To have a viable, experienced QB1 available on the open market is rare, and won't come with any discounts, especially as Cousins has maxed out his salaries in each of the past two seasons.
Over the past few seasons, top QB contracts have reflected a little over 16% of the league cap (Stafford, $27M/$167M). Using this math, and assuming a $178M league cap, Kirk Cousins’ contract should fall in around $28.6M per year. But the salary cap space for the teams listed below comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Why does this matter?
Teams like the Browns and Jets can offer heavily front-loaded contracts to Cousins, including big boy signing bonuses, roster bonuses in the first two seasons, and escalated base salaries to go with them. The highest Year 1 payment for any player is Matthew Stafford's $51M in 2017, who is set to reel in $67M through 2018, and $87M through 2019 - to go along with $92M in total guarantees. All of these numbers should be considered in-play when talking about Kirk Cousins next contract.
The Browns stroll into 2018 with more than $110M in projected cap space at their disposal. They also hold the #1 & #4 selections in the upcoming draft thanks to a trade and an 0-16 season. The re-emergence of Josh Gordon paired with Corey Coleman plus a stout offensive line, and an improving defense adds plenty of hope to the Browns short-term future. Installing Cousins’ would allow Cleveland to immediately fill other needs and/or trade for more future assets as well. They’ll need to ramp up their guaranteed money offer - and front load the heck out of the deal to woo Cousins their way, but it’s doable.
New York Jets
The Jets hold around $80M in cap space, plenty to lock in Cousins’ and continue to build out their team elsewhere. But unlike the Browns, the Jets still seem to be breaking apart their pieces rather than build back up. Granted their defense played much better than many expected, and Josh McCown held a sinking ship together well - all things considered. Cousins has connections to the Jets’ staff, and a move to NYC would certainly be good for his brand, but this seems like a tough match.
After 5 straight winning seasons, the Broncos took a major step backwards in 2017, and appear poised to blowup their current QB arsenal (Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian). Unfortunately, moving on from Lynch would actually COST the Broncos almost $2M in cap. Denver holds about $29M in space, but should add $11M to that if/when they move on from CB Aqib Talib. Add in the fact that top WRs Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders are on the roster bubble, and the Broncos aren’t exactly a great look for Cousins at the moment.
Carson Palmer’s retirement appears to have been a surprise to nobody - except the Cardinals, who had plenty of opportunities to acquire and slowly groom their next QB1, but have failed to do so. They have zero QBs on their roster in 2018, and having missed out on Alex Smith, may be poised to use the #15 pick to find their next franchise leader. No team needs a “quick-fix” that Kirk Cousins can be more than the Cardinals, who have an elite running game, a hall of fame WR (whom they’re trying to keep from retirement), & a strong defense to boot. With around $27M in cap space, Arizona would need to get creative, and wouldn’t be able to front-load this contract in ways Cleveland or the Jets would.
The Bills shocked plenty when they won 9 games & snuck into the postseason this season, which did little to help their draft assets in 2018. Buffalo holds the #21, #22, #53, & #56 picks this April, and are likely to move on from the up/down Tyrod Taylor in early March - a move that would clear $9.44M in cap. Without Taylor in the fold, Buffalo will have around $40M to play with come free agency, and don’t have a ton of in-house players that need re-signing. The Bills could throw all of their financial eggs into Cousins - or all of their draft eggs into a run up the draft board for one of the top available QBs. Either way they’re a team to watch next month.
The NFC runner-ups will have little time to enjoy their successes, as the offseason brings plenty of headaches for the franchise, none bigger than the expiring contracts of all three of their QBs.
Case Keenum seems the most likely option to keep - but his career year statistically could award him a $20M/year contract, especially if he’s allowed to test the market. Sam Bradford is still the most talented QB in the fold, but his inability to stay on the field will likely keep many teams away, unless he’s willing to accept a 1 or 2 year, incentive-based “show me” deal. Teddy Bridgewater is a complete outlier. He was trending into an above average QB before his nasty injury, and still might have the tallest ceiling of this group, but it’s tough to imagine him finding a starting role anywhere in 2018 with the list of options.
Cousins is the same age as Keenum, but offers more talent, upside, and production - at a much higher price. Luckily, Minnesota has north of $56M in projected cap space to work with, and could make a legitimate run at Cousins next month if they so desired.
Like the Bills, Jacksonville overachieved in 2017, led by (at times) very strong QB play from Blake Bortles. His inconsistencies remain though, and the Jags have a $19M decision to make before March 14th, when his 2018 salary fully guarantees. Moving on from Bortles would give Jacksonville around $44M in cap space to work with, again similar to Buffalo. The AFC runner-ups appear ready to win now, and injecting Cousins into this lineup should be an immediate improvement. Our gut says Bortles plays out his final year and Cousins winds up elsewhere.
New York Giants
It’s no secret that the Giants underperformed in 2017, and now hold the #2 pick in this year’s draft because of it. While tensions with Eli Manning appear to have been ironed out per the new staff, it would still be good business for New York to at least consider trading their long-time QB this offseason. Eli represents a way for teams with not-so-much cap to “win now” (i.e. Arizona, Denver, even Jacksonville). He’d carry cap hits of $16M & $17M to his new team, leaving $12.4M in dead cap behind to the Giants ($9.8M savings). The move would raise New York’s cap space to around $30M, which puts them in the same boat as Denver in terms of structuring a contract for Cousins.