Kirk Cousins got paid and altered the NFL offseason in one massive deal

Once again, Kirk Cousins won the checkbook Super Bowl. And once again, the victory will ripple across the NFL and into a multitude of different franchises, impacting the landscape of contract extensions, trades and the forthcoming draft.

The subtext of Cousins’ four-year, $180 million pact with the Atlanta Falcons, includes $100 million in hard guarantees that will boost his earnings to at least $321 million over the course of his career. It’s another win in a long line of victories for the quarterback and his agent, Mike McCartney of VaynerSports, who have carved out a staggering string of 11 consecutive years of fully guaranteed salary. In the process of that span, Cousins will have boosted both the top-end of quarterback salaries — via his 2018 deal with the Minnesota Vikings, which at the time made him the highest-paid player in the NFL — and also a robust run of second-tier quarterback contracts with fully guaranteed money.

All of this despite only one playoff win under his belt, which has ultimately mattered less at the negotiating table than Cousins’ willingness to play out his deals and choose his next destination in free agency. He did it with Washington and found a home with a Vikings franchise that was desperate for a quality starter. Then he did it again this week, quenching the Falcons’ thirst for a definitive resolution to an ongoing problem at the position.

This latest deal wasn’t simply about securing another bag. Atlanta is actually an enticing fit for the veteran, who turns 36 in August and now finds himself in the middle of a stacked offense, running the same Sean McVay scheme that he learned under Kevin O’Connell in Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 31: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on from the sidelines before the game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 31, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 31: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on from the sidelines before the game against the Green Bay Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 31, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Kirk Cousins added to his lucrative legend this week. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

This was a deal that made sense for the player and the team. Moreso than the alternatives for each party, which would have unfolded with Cousins taking less guaranteed money to stick with the Vikings, and put the Falcons into the position of either dealing for Justin Fields (who is at a very problematic point in his rookie contract) or settling for a second-tier rookie quarterback who isn’t among the draft’s “big three” of USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and UNC’s Drake Maye.

Now the Falcons have a veteran answer at the position and Cousins has another two years of guaranteed money and a wealth of talent around him on offense.

While the Falcons and Cousins both come out of Monday as winners, there will be a host of other teams and players impacted, too. Among them …

If the swath of general managers who spoke to Yahoo Sports in December were to be believed, the trade market for the Bears quarterback was always soft. At best, the ceiling was viewed as a second-round draft pick, with the caveat that Fields needed to have a strong finish to the 2023 season. But the majority of GMs saw his value as some kind of third-round compensation or possibly less, assuming enough teams were interested in creating a market. Instead, the opposite happened, with a robust rookie quarterback class available, as well as three other veteran quarterbacks — Cousins, Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson — all potentially on the market. Wilson’s intended signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mayfield getting an extension done with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers effectively removed two potential trade suitors from the mix.

But it was Cousins’ move to Atlanta that proved most damaging to Fields. Not only did it cross off a franchise that had interest in him, the benefit of opening another starting QB spot in Minnesota is ultimately negated by the Vikings and Bears being in the same division. While it’s not unprecedented to deal a starting quarterback inside the division, it’s rare and fraught with potential disaster for the Bears if Fields were to develop into a quality starter in Minnesota.

Given that reality, it leaves a dwindling handful of potential destinations if Fields wants to be traded to a team that is looking for a starter. There’s the Las Vegas Raiders, who will reportedly sign Gardner Minshew on Monday and could still be in play for a rookie QB in Round 1. And there’s the Denver Broncos, who could also be in play for a first-round rookie.

Given the fifth-year option decision hanging over Fields’ current contract — which is unlikely to be triggered and essentially leaves him with one year left on his deal — it makes both of those destinations less likely.

The ‘second tier’ draft quarterbacks and the Vikings, Broncos and Raiders

Right now, the rookie quarterback class is shaped into an elite top tier — comprised of Williams, Daniels and Maye — followed by a second tier of Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. Any member of that trio could have been in play at the Falcons’ No. 8 overall pick in the draft. Now it appears there’s a chance none of them go inside the top 10, unless the New York Giants make a surprise pick at No. 6 overall. Of course, that’s barring a trade up from one of the teams at No. 11 (the Vikings), 12 (Broncos) or 13 (Raiders). Within that trio, only the Raiders have a veteran in Minshew who has shown capability as a bridge starter. All three of those teams may be looking for their pick in the second tier, which could entail moving up into the top 10 if one QB surfaces as the best option after the big three.

The Detroit Lions and Jared Goff (plus every other future QB extension)

Cousins’ deal with the Falcons is going to weigh on the Goff extension talks. Not only is Goff younger (29), he has achieved considerably more in the postseason than Cousins. And what once looked like it could be a $50 million per year price tag for the Lions quarterback is now essentially assured of it.

Players like Dak Prescott and Trevor Lawrence are less likely to be impacted because both of their extensions could very well be a record. But Goff — as of now — had not been considered to be in that company.

Detroit’s NFC title game run in the playoffs could have already changed his salary floor. Cousins’ deal definitely puts a floor in.

Two prominent agents with a history of doing quarterback deals said Monday night that given Cousins’ deal, Goff’s floor should start inside the top-five quarterback deals. If Lawrence and Prescott get their deals done first and reset the market, that would put Goff’s average salary floor in the range of $52 million… if he doesn’t give the Lions some kind of discount.

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