GREEN BAY – Aside from pairing one of the NFL’s best defenses with a franchise quarterback, Kirk Cousins’ deal with the Minnesota Vikings could have a substantial influence on the Green Bay Packers' contract negotiations with Aaron Rodgers.
Cousins has signed a three-year, $84 million contract that is fully guaranteed. It ensures the Vikings will be legitimate contenders in the NFC North this fall, but just as interesting is how the precedent for a fully guaranteed contract could shift the landscape.
It’s unclear what parameters Rodgers will seek in what’s expected to be a record-breaking extension this offseason, but a lesser quarterback receiving a fully guaranteed deal leaves room for the Packers' two-time MVP to request the same, if he chooses.
Players around the league are sure to notice Cousins’ deal.
“Kirk Cousins is a hero for all the young players that will follow after him,” Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin Jr. tweeted Tuesday. “Now we need more players to bet on themselves until fully guaranteed contracts are the norm and not the exception.”
At the NFL scouting combine two weeks ago, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he expects to extend Rodgers’ contract this offseason. When later asked if he would consider an alternative contract structure – whether that be fully guaranteed money or a percentage tied to the team’s salary cap – he declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations.
Asked in general if he had any reservations about fully guaranteed contracts, Gutekunst did not sound inclined to embrace such a deal.
“The best way to answer that,” Gutekunst said, “is there haven’t been. So I would probably say yes (there would be reservations). I don’t know. But we’ll cross that bridge if it comes to that.”
Cousins’ contract is just the latest quarterback domino pushing the price on Rodgers’ next contract.
Indeed, while the Vikings are setting a precedent with Cousins’ fully guaranteed contract, his $28 million annual salary also made history. It’s the NFL’s richest contract in terms of average annual salary, another step toward the $30 million mark Rodgers could reach this offseason.
The market for franchise quarterbacks has foundationally changed in the past 18 months. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees became the first NFL player to average $25 million annually when he signed an extension at the start of the 2016 season. Cousins is the fourth quarterback to reach that benchmark since then, joining Oakland’s Derek Carr ($25.005 million average), Detroit’s Matthew Stafford ($27 million) and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo ($27.5 million).
Collectively, they made the five-year, $110 million extension Rodgers signed in 2013 outdated. Arguably the game’s best quarterback, Rodgers now ranks eighth in the NFL in annual average salary. Gutekunst certainly knows the hefty price tag required to extend Rodgers this offseason.
“When you have the best player in the National Football League,” he said, “it’s not going to be inexpensive, you know what I mean? Obviously, Aaron is a high priority. He’s a great player, and I think that should take care of itself at some point.”
The question isn’t whether Rodgers’ extension will set a record (it will), but how the structure will look. Even if Rodgers’ next contract isn’t fully guaranteed, it could further shift the landscape.
One possibility would be for the deal to include at least $100 million guaranteed. It would be the first contract in NFL history to hit that mark. Rodgers has two years remaining on his contract, so the Packers could add three years and restructure the deal so that it guarantees him $100 million over five years.
“We’ll work through it with him and his representation to make sure this gets done,” Gutekunst said. “What that entails, we’ll see. We’re not there yet, but I think both parties want the same thing. I wouldn’t expect this to be real complicated.”