Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is on the books for a salary-cap number of $31 million for 2021 and $45 million for 2022. With that in mind, one wonders what might happen when he becomes a free agent in 2023.
“You’re looking at $50 million after 2022,” NFL analyst and former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann said Monday. “I mean, it borders on absurd.”
That’s why the Vikings selected Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond last Friday with the No. 66 pick in the third round of the NFL draft. Cousins will be 33 in August, which is not that old for a quarterback, but his contract hangs over the Vikings like a dark cloud.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman stressed after Mond was selected that “Kirk’s our starting quarterback.” But Mond is in line to be the backup in 2021 and eventually could replace Cousins as the starter, especially if the team doesn’t want to keep throwing huge dollars at Cousins.
“Kirk is going to be the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, barring an unforeseen situation, for the next two years, which really gives Kellen a chance to work his way in,” said Theismann, who played with Washington from 1974-85 and led the team to a Super Bowl win in January 1983.
If the Vikings make a deep playoff run with Cousins in 2021 or 2022, that could put them in a quandary about what to do with him in the future. On the other hand, if Cousins were to falter in 2021 and the Vikings get anxious about wanting to turn to Mond, they could really be stuck with Cousins’ contract in 2022.
“That’s why they might have to eat some salary-cap room,” said former Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer.
Cousins signed a three-year, $84 million contract with Minnesota in 2018 after playing for Washington from 2012-17, then he signed a two-year, $66 million extension in 2020. His base salary of $21 million for 2021 became guaranteed when he signed the extension, and his base salary of $35 million for 2022 became guaranteed in March.
For now, it remains to be seen what Cousins’ thoughts are on the Vikings drafting his possible future replacement. His only public reference to the Mond pick has been a tweet Friday when he wrote he was “excited to get to work fellas” and added the Twitter handles of four players drafted that night by Minnesota, including Mond.
Longtime NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III speculated on how Cousins felt after the pick, saying on a Bleacher Report podcast that “No. 8 in Minnesota is probably not real happy now.” Griffin added that “Cousins has been collecting checks there in Minnesota for a long time, taking them to 8-8, 9-7 seasons.” Minnesota’s actual records during Cousins’ three season have been 8-7-1, 10-6 and 7-9.
Griffin, though, might have an axe to grind. He played for Washington from 2012-15, and was replaced as the starter by Cousins.
So might Cousins not be happy now?
“How could he not be happy at $31 million and $45 million (per year)?” said Theismann, who knows Cousins well from his time in Washington but hasn’t communicated with him since Mond was drafted. “Kirk’s a competitor. He’s not afraid of competition, and he’s making a lot of money.”
Theismann knows about being a young quarterback brought in to unseat a veteran. He joined Washington in 1974, when the team had Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. Jurgensen retired after the 1974 season but Kilmer stuck around through 1978, a few years after Theismann had mostly unseated him as the starter.
“Billy hated me,” Theismann remembered.
However, Theismann believes Cousins will work amicably with Mond. So does Kramer, who also knows about taking over for a veteran.
Kramer was selected in the first round of the 1977 draft with the thought he eventually would replace Fran Tarkenton, then 37. The future hall of famer ended up playing two more seasons before Kramer took over.
“People said all of this stuff that, ‘Tarkenton’s not going to help Kramer. He’s not going to do anything,’ ” said Kramer, who played with the Vikings through 1989. “But he was just the opposite. The media wanted to blow up the whole thing. He helped me whenever I asked him a question.”
Kramer, 66, likes the Vikings’ selection of Mond, 21. The two are both natives of San Antonio, and Kramer has known about Mond since he first became a star at Reagan High School.
“I’m glad they got him,” said Kramer, who attended Lee High School in San Antonio. “He’s a good quarterback. He can move and he reads well, and he’s pretty accurate, too.”
For the immediate future, Mond will report to the Vikings on May 12 and take part in a rookie minicamp later that week. He is expected to compete for the backup job with Jake Browning, who has spent the past two years on the practice squad after going undrafted in 2019, and Nate Stanley, who spent last year on the practice squad after being a seventh-round pick in 2020.
None of the backup candidates has taken an NFL regular-season snap. That’s in contrast to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’ previous preference of having a veteran as the backup, and having the likes of Shaun Hill, Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian and Sean Mannion in the role.
“We’re going to see how all three evolve,” Spielman said. “I think the most exciting thing is to actually see them in preseason games this year. … The roster is never set, but we’re excited about the three young quarterbacks we have on our roster right now.”
As for Mond, he is in line to sign a four-year, $5.22 million contract that includes a $1.16 million signing bonus. His expected initial cap numbers will be $949,712 in 2021 and $1.187 million in 2021, when his cap number will be roughly $44 million less than Cousins’.