Kirk Cousins' fully guaranteed deal complicates Aaron Rodgers negotiations

Michael Cohen
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is congratulated by Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins after their NFC wild-card round playoff game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., in January of 2016.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Prior to March 15, the largest impediment to the Green Bay Packers’ efforts to reach a contract extension with franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the uncertain future of Kirk Cousins. It was widely speculated that Cousins, an unrestricted free agent, would break the bank with a deal that made him the highest-paid player in the league, but the structure was always going to matter much more than the dollars and cents.

The end result was a three-year, $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings, who guaranteed every one of those dollars — a remarkable precedent in a sport where contracts are usually quite different than they appear.

When Cousins signed the deal March 15, the biggest hurdle between the Packers and Rodgers drifted into the rearview mirror. But the contract’s structure made the remaining challenges even more difficult to traverse.

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“Ah, it’s obviously very different for the league,” president Mark Murphy said Sunday at the annual league meeting. “I think you’ve seen in recent years an increase in the amount of guaranteed money in contracts, and I think this is probably the first — at least that I’m aware of — that’s guaranteed to that percentage. The other thing, obviously, it’s only a three-year (deal). So it’s fairly short and typically contracts like that have probably been more often five years rather than three years. But as I said before, I have confidence in Russ and also Dave Dunn, Aaron’s agent. I’m confident we’ll be able to work things out.”

Murphy and the Packers still believe a contract extension will be accomplished this offseason, even as the complexities of the negotiations have become more pronounced. At the moment, Rodgers has two years remaining on the five-year, $110 million extension he signed in 2013, a deal that now ranks ninth among quarterbacks in per-year average.

As colleague Tom Silverstein wrote in a recent column, the Packers must find a way to ensure Rodgers’ new deal makes him the highest-paid player in the National Football League. More importantly, they need to find a way to ensure Rodgers stays atop that pedestal for more than just a few months, at which point players like Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers will be seeking extensions of their own.

To accomplish that goal, one potential structure includes an increasing salary that is tied to a percentage of the salary cap rather than yearly values agreed upon in advance. In other words, Rodgers’ annual haul would increase as the salary cap continues to rise.

Murphy doesn’t believe teams are likely to agree to such a provision, which would set yet another precedent for the sport.

“I foresee agents trying to get that but I do not anticipate that that will happen,” Murphy said of the percentage-based contract. “But as I said before, I’m confident we’ll be able to work around it. At the end of the day, we want to create — we want Aaron to be a Packer for the rest of his career. He wants to play till he’s 40, and I think it just makes sense for both sides to figure out a way to get it done.”

The busy nature of free agency and the league meetings have slowed discussions between the Packers and Rodgers’ camp, according to Murphy, but talks should resume within the next few weeks. Rodgers’ last extension was signed in late April of 2013.

“I’m still very optimistic that we’ll get a deal done,” Murphy said.

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