Instead of reaching a long-term deal with quarterback Kirk Cousins to reduce his salary cap number for 2023, the Vikings took the other option available to them.
The team converted part of Cousins' salary into a signing bonus, dropping his salary cap figure from $36.25 million to $20.25 million while adding two void years onto his current deal, according to a league source.
The move should help the Vikings get under the salary cap before the start of the league year Wednesday afternoon, but it also means the quarterback's future with the team beyond the 2023 season is unclear.
Cousins is scheduled to become a free agent after 2023; negotiations between the quarterback and team on a longer deal have so far proved unfruitful. He was set to earn a $20 million roster bonus if he was on the roster by Friday. Language in Cousins' current contract allows the Vikings to convert the roster bonus to a signing bonus, which can hit the salary cap over multiple years instead of all in 2023.
By adding void years for 2026 and 2027 onto the deal, which already had void years for 2024 and 2025, the Vikings can prorate the roster bonus over five years and count only $4 million of it against the 2023 cap.
The Vikings will likely need to clear more space to accommodate moves such as the additions of free agent defensive end Marcus Davenport and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. The Vikings are believed to be pursuing restructured deals with veterans such as safety Harrison Smith, and could make moves with players such as edge rusher Za'Darius Smith and running back Dalvin Cook before the start of the league year.
Cousins has said he wants to finish his career in Minnesota, and sources have said the 34-year-old has been pursuing a long-term deal that would allow him to do so. General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah essentially laid out the terms of the negotiation at the NFL scouting combine, when he said, "Obviously, from their side, they want it as certain as possible, and from our side, we want flexibility."
Converting a large portion of Cousins' deal to a signing bonus still gives the Vikings flexibility, but it means the quarterback would carry a $28.5 million cap number for 2024 if he were to depart after this season. The Vikings, though, could have nearly $100 million in cap space next year, with money from the NFL's new television contracts expected to push the salary cap higher.
While the Vikings still have time to negotiate a new deal with Cousins should they choose to do so, the fact that he is a year from free agency suggests the team could think about its future at the game's most important position in the upcoming draft.
Adofo-Mensah said at the combine the Vikings don't want a rookie QB to have to play right away. If Cousins becomes a free agent after this season, the Vikings would effectively have to add a young passer to learn behind the veteran this season before potentially succeeding him in 2024.