The year is 2018, and Kirk Cousins might have just changed the NFL’s financial landscape as we know it.
Not Tom Brady. Not Aaron Rodgers. Kirk. Cousins.
The free agent quarterback reportedly plans to sign with the Minnesota Vikings on a three-year contract worth $28 million annually. Most importantly, the entirety of Cousins’ $84 million deal is guaranteed, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That might seem like a trivial detail, but in NFL circles, it’s the clear headliner. Why? Until now, the NFL was the only “Big Four” professional sports league not to offer its players guaranteed contracts. Most Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL players can expect a full paycheck as soon as the ink is dry, but while NFL players occasionally receive some guaranteed money, they often can get left out in the cold.
Donovan McNabb is the classic example: The quarterback signed a massive five-year, $78 million contract with the Washington Redskins in 2010 — and only saw $8 million of it after being traded to the Vikings and released in December 2011.
There’s an obvious reason why NFL general managers don’t like doling out guaranteed contracts: Football has a much higher injury rate than the other major pro sports. Further dissuading front offices is a clause in the league’s collective bargaining agreement which forces teams to put future guaranteed money in escrow, essentially tying their hands should a player get hurt or retire.
Enter Cousins, who appears to have wrangled the NFL’s first multiyear, fully guaranteed contract for a quarterback. And now that the lid is off, you’d best believe other marquee free agents will ask for similar guarantees.
As the MMQB’s Albert Breer points out, Cousins helped shift some negotiating power to the players. He likely had several offers on the table this winter, but by holding out for guaranteed money, he might have helped set a blueprint for other NFL players to follow. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin Jr. certainly hopes so.
There’s still a lot of pressure on Cousins, of course. If he falls flat in Minnesota, he’ll further confirm to NFL owners and GMs that fully guaranteed contracts are a bad idea. If he plays to his worth, though, he could significantly alter how billion-dollar entities spend their money going forward.
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