It was reported recently that the New York Jets were contemplating making Kirk Cousins an offer than included $60 million in guarantees in the first year alone.
No, not $60 million over the life of the contract. Cousins would make it all in year one before getting paid a more modest $20 million or so each year after that.
Reckless? Ill-conceived? Just another example of how absolutely nuts contracts have gotten in the last few years in the NFL and NBA? Well, maybe that last part. But from both Cousins’ and the Jets’ perspectives, it makes a lot of sense, and I’m rooting for both sides to get it done.
Cousins, like most other professional athletes, wants to win and get paid, and going to the Jets on this unusual deal would accomplish both ends. Despite being in the bottom half of the league last year, the Jets beat nearly everyone’s expectations and aren’t actually that far away from contention in the AFC. If Cousins takes over the starting role under center, they’ll certainly add to their five wins from last year. And with Brady aging and the Patriots’ front office apparently in turmoil, the AFC East will likely be up for grabs soon enough; it’s not crazy to imagine the Jets making the playoffs a few years down the road.
Cousins could instead opt to go to Minnesota, but there he’d be playing in the same division as Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Mitchell Trubisky, who looks primed for growth heading into his second season. If Cousins goes to Jacksonville, he’ll be forced to compete with Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota. Arizona doesn’t make much sense either; the NFC West is stacked with young talent in Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff. As for Cleveland? It’s a barren wasteland where NFL dreams go to die (I’d hate to offend Browns fans, but I think most of them have accepted this to be true by now).
If Cousins wants to win, New York isn’t a bad option: once Brady retires, Cousins will likely be the best quarterback in a weak division, and the playoffs would be attainable each and every year.
Financially, it’s the best option as well. Nobody on the planet would turn down a guaranteed $60 million with real potential for tens of millions more down the road. Given that the Jets are a good fit on the field, Cousins would have to be insane to decline that kind of money. If New York makes an offer, he will take it.
Which brings me to my next point: despite the gargantuan amount of money they’d have to pay Cousins in the first year of the deal, it makes a lot of sense for New York to pursue this route. They’re expected to have around $100 million in cap space in 2018, and they desperately need a quarterback. Paying Cousins $60 million next season entices him to come without sacrificing financial flexibility; they’ll still have more than enough money to chase other free agents, and with the sixth pick in the draft they’ll be able to add high-quality talent at a cheap cost.
And it’s not like they’ll be paying him $60 million every year: Moving forward, his salary would come down to much more reasonable levels. Still, paying that kind of massive money up front gets him in the door, which is all the Jets need. They’ve got a crazy amount of money to spend this offseason, and they’d have to be stupid not to use it to attract talent at the quarterback position, even if it means making an unconventional offer.
Cousins is a good quarterback, and after the way Washington has treated him over the last year, it’d be nice to see him get a fat payday from a team who appreciates what he can bring to the table. It’s an unusual proposition, that’s for sure. But it’s a good one for both sides. Whether you’re a fan of Kirk, the Jets or just a casual observer, let’s all root for them to get it done.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu.