The Denver Broncos could be eating $85 million in dead money from the Russell Wilson contract over the next couple of years, but there's a path to this team landing Kirk Cousins if both sides are motivated to make it happen.
Kirk Cousins is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he's been compensated appropriately. As soon as Cousins makes his next million or so, he will jump ahead of Eli Manning as the 10th-highest-paid player in NFL history in overall career earnings. That speaks both to the accomplishments of Cousins as an NFL quarterback and also to the times we live in. Cousins has made just under $232 million since he was drafted by the Washington Commanders in 2012, and as he put it, he's been very "blessed" financially.
Cousins is set to be one of the most decorated free agents in the NFL once again in 2024, and unlike in previous years, it feels like there is a decent chance that the Vikings will let him go this offseason. Why would they do that? Well, in order to keep some of the other primary pieces of that roster intact -- including superstar receiver Justin Jefferson -- the Vikings may need to reset at the QB position.
Even if it feels unlikely that Cousins will be available in free agency, that is a possibility that exists, and Denver Broncos general manager George Paton was with the Vikings' front office when Cousins signed his free agent deal back in 2018.
With Cousins going on record as saying that the cash isn't as important to him as the structure of the deal (what does that mean?), I have an idea to get him to Denver in 2024 and beyond.
Back in December, the biggest superstar in baseball -- Shohei Ohtani -- was also the league's most coveted free agent. Ohtani played his first six MLB seasons for the Los Angeles Angels, and set out on a course to become the highest-paid free agent in MLB history in 2023. But it wasn't just about becoming the richest player in MLB history for Ohtani, or signing the biggest contract in league history, or being the richest player on his new team.
Shohei Ohtani wanted to play for the Dodgers, and he wanted them to be a contender while he was there.
So what did he do? Ohtani structured his 10-year contract with the Dodgers -- worth a whopping $700 million in total money -- to include base salaries every year of "just" $2 million after he deferred $68 million each year. In 10 years, starting in 2034, the Dodgers will pay Ohtani $68 million per year through 2043.
To sum it up in layman's terms, the Dodgers were basically able to get Shohei Ohtani on "Afterpay" or "Klarna". They will pay the full price, but eventually. And Ohtani did that to help the team build, add other players while he's there, and not to cripple the organization.
Although the NFL does not work the exact same way as Major League Baseball in terms of the salary cap in the NFL and the luxury tax in baseball, is there not a similar way we could see Kirk Cousins structure a deal?
It would be one thing if it was unprecedented, but in reality, Sean Payton actually has experience with contracts like this. Taysom Hill has signed a couple of "funny money" deals with the New Orleans Saints to help the Saints maneuver the salary cap.
Let's say the Broncos move on from Russell Wilson, making him a post-June 1 salary cap cut this offseason. Russell Wilson could sign for the veteran minimum elsewhere and minimize the amount the Broncos could offset from his contract. So, in essence, Wilson could sign for $1.2 million in Atlanta or Minnesota, and the Broncos would be on the hook for $37.8 million in 2024.
They could then proceed knowing the salary cap budget in 2024 and 2025 would be substantially hindered by Wilson's dead money, and approach negotiations with someone like Kirk Cousins accordingly. Cousins would have to be very motivated to sign in Denver, a team that wanted him previously, in order to make this a realistic possibility at all.
But it's not out of the realm of realism.
If Cousins is truly not worried about "cash" but rather "structure", then this is something the Broncos could work with. You might be talking about making some lemonade out of lemons in the 2024 offseason. If the Broncos are going to a bridge player, then Kirk Cousins would be the best possible option. Realistic? Not if Cousins is getting a contract north of $40 million per season and the Broncos have to navigate that. But Cousins could take a deal where Denver pays him a massive deferred bonus over a long period of time, creating void years way into the future.
Is it ideal? No, nobody wants to have longstanding debt like that in pro sports. You don't want to be creating the NFL's version of the Bobby Bonilla deal. But if the Broncos and Cousins are motivated to make something like this happen, it's an interesting possibility and we may have Shohei Ohtani to thank.