As the dust settles on the record-breaking Jimmy Garoppolo contract in San Francisco, eyes start to turn to the next man up to take on the mantle of the NFL’s highest paid player, Kirk Cousins. The Garoppolo trade and long-term signing may have removed one of the potential landing spots for Cousins in Free Agency, but I’ve had a look at six other teams and why each move would be the best move for Cousins.
The best for… the biggest payday: Cleveland Browns
With over $110m of cap space heading into free agency, the Browns could write Cousins a blank check to make him both the highest paid player on both a per year salary basis and the highest guaranteed money the NFL has ever seen. There’s just one issue with this picture, it’s the Cleveland Browns and whether Cousins has the ego to think he can turn around a 1-31 franchise over the last two years, with a history of mismanaging quarterbacks.
Why it will happen: Money, pure and simple. The Browns would also need to give some pretty hefty guarantees that they will take a big run at free agency and the draft and put weapons around him. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that their hall of fame left tackle is actively recruiting him either.
I hear Cleveland is nice this time of year, that is, if you’d like to have a statue someday... https://t.co/Geo5CzvI5J— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) February 15, 2018
Why it won’t happen: It’s the Browns and they are the least attractive location for free agents in the NFL. Also with picks 1 and 4 in the 2018 draft, it makes more sense for the Browns to invest in a young quarterback on a rookie contract as they look to build a roster for the future, especially with them holding five picks in the first two rounds this year.
Fantasy Outlook: Strong
With Josh Gordon coming back at the end of 2017 and showing flashes of his incredible potential, Cousins would have a ready-made number one receiver with Hall of Fame ability. Gordon is a restricted free agent in 2018, so depending on the tender applied and if any team out there is willing to take a punt on the troubled receiver (unlikely), Gordon will have a ‘prove-it’ year in 2018 to earn a big deal next off-season. After Gordon, there is little depth at receiver, but the Browns do have a pair of decent tight ends in Seth DeValve and sophomore David Njoku, plus their 2017 leading receiver in running back Duke Johnson. Johnson had more than twice the receptions of any other Cleveland player last season and was 4th amongst all running backs in receptions as the RB22 in fantasy (standard scoring).
The best for... winning a championship: Jacksonville Jaguars
Joining the Jags would mean slotting in the missing piece on a team that was 10 minutes from reaching the Super Bowl last month. At present the Jaguars remain the best team in the AFC South, with the league’s top defense returning pretty much every starter.
Why it will happen: The Jaguars know they are that close to winning a title and with that defense set to dominate again, upgrading from a league average Blake Bortles to a top-10 quarterback in Cousins could be the missing piece that puts them over the top in 2018.
Why it won’t happen: Money. After consecutive free agency binges on defense that gave the Jags the formidable defense we know today, they simply don’t have the cap space to take on the cash that Cousins will be wanting, unless they cut Bortles before his $19m salary is guaranteed on the first day of the 2018 season. It seems more likely Bortles will be on a restructured deal in 2018, with the Jags drafting competition for the top job.
Fantasy Outlook: Average
The Jaguars top receiver, Allen Robinson, is an upcoming free agent, coming off an ACL tear and the receiving corps behind him were a mish mash of no name players, with only Marqise Lee (56) catching over 50 balls. With little contribution at the tight end position and an average group of pass catching backs, Cousins would struggle to be a relevant fantasy starter in 2018 as the Jags continue to lean on their successful formula of being a run-first offense in 2018.
The best for... fantasy production: Minnesota Vikings
An intriguing proposition as a landing spot for Cousins, as none of the current quarterbacks on the Vikings is currently under contract for 2018. The Vikings also have some money to spend, with the 8th most current cap space ($49m), and the best man-for-man roster of the teams I’ve listed here.
Why it will happen: They have the cap space to pay Cousins, and have a new offensive coaching staff not entrenched with the current quarterbacks on the roster. As a free agent looking to win as well, the Vikings roster would appeal to anyone, with top tier skill position players at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Why it won’t happen: With three quarterbacks already on the roster, it’s a murky situation and shelling out top dollar for Cousins when they have cheaper options on a roster that took them to the NFC title game this year, and a defense that’s as loaded as any in the entire league.
Fantasy Outlook: Sensational
The Vikings have two top tier receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, an elite fantasy tight end in Kyle Rudolph (the only team on this list with one of those) and a dynamic young running back in Dalvin Cook (assuming he comes back healthy). They also have a pair of top-25 backup running backs behind Cook who can catch the ball as well.
The best for... being the man: Arizona Cardinals
A team in desperate need of a new quarterback since the retirement of Carson Palmer, Cousins has the opportunity to step into Palmer’s shoes and be the top dog in the desert. With Larry Fitzgerald returning for one more rodeo and one of the league’s premier running backs in David Johnson returning from injury, Cousins has weapons to compliment a top-10 defense.
Why it will happen: The Cardinals need a quarterback and have some pieces in place to help Cousins thrive. With Palmer’s salary off the books in 2018 they have enough cap space to pay Cousins, and hey, the weather is pretty sweet down there too.
Why it won’t happen: Though cap space is not a major issue, the Cardinals don’t have the financial firepower of some of the other heavy hitters in free agency. Plus there are questions about the size of the market and whether Arizona offers the exposure that he could find elsewhere.
Fantasy Outlook: Average
With a returning Larry Fitzgerald, who is showing no signs of slowing down into his mid-thirties and has the second place all-time spot in terms of receiving yards and receptions in his sights in 2018. David Johnson’s return as an elite fantasy back and essentially a top receiver adds weight to Cousins’ fantasy potential. There’s not a lot beyond that with John Brown hitting free agency and no quality tight end on the roster, so Cousins’ fantasy potential would be questionable in 2018 if he lands with the Cardinals.
The best for... marketing: New York Jets
The Jets are still looking for that savior under center and if 2017 told us anything, its that they have some interesting talent on their roster, that outplayed their forecasted level last year.
Why it will happen: The Jets have the 4th most cap space at present, with $73m available to pay Cousins the top dollar he’s chasing. The New York market, though challenging, would give Cousins the chance to further enhance his brand. With Josh McCown hitting free agency, there is no competition in New York to worry about either.
Why it won’t happen: The Jets are likely more than a year away from competing and in a division with the Patriots and Tom Brady, does Cousins fancy his chances of being the guy to lead the Jets to their first division title since 2002.
Fantasy Outlook: Good
Josh McCown showed last year that the talent on the Jets offense is better than projected. Robby Anderson finished as a top-15 wide receiver in 2017, and Jermiane Kearse came in had a solid season as well. We also saw a solid year from Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, who caught 50 balls and three touchdowns, with Bilal Powell likely to see more work in the passing game with Matt Forte likely to be a cap-casualty.
The best for... being an instant hero: Denver Broncos
After three years of quarterback purgatory in Denver (I’m including Peyton’s Manning’s abysmal last season, despite the Super Bowl win), the Broncos look set to solve their problems under centre and Cousins is a strong favorite to land the job. Paxton Lynch is on the verge of being labelled a bust, Trevor Siemian has shown he is a limited passer and has been injury prone since gaining the starting job and Brock Osweiler is, well, Brock Osweiler. The Broncos still boast a top-10 defense, which would support the transition of Cousins into the team.
Why it will happen: Never underestimate the power of John Elway. He persuaded Peyton Manning, who led the Broncos to two Super Bowls and could work his magic again. The Broncos have a decent amount of cap space and will go all out to make Cousins their man.
Why it won’t happen: The money the Broncos have available is below the level of the Jets and Browns, so all the sweet talking in the world will not convince a player to come when there’s more money on the table elsewhere.
Fantasy outlook: Average
The top two receivers (Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders) have decent fantasy potential, though Thomas has not performed at the level of his pay over the past two seasons, but could have been held back by the guys throwing him the ball. Beyond them, the Broncos are extremely limited, and their top running back, CJ Anderson could be a cap casualty this year as he is due $4.5m in 2018.
What would I like to see happen? Cousins on the Vikings with all the offensive talent around him. What do I think will happen? I can see Cousins in New Jersey playing for the Jets as they have the cash to burn and are a slightly better prospect than the Browns.
Where do you want to see Kirk Cousins play?
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