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INDIANAPOLIS – The 2024 season will be Kirk Cousins' 13th in the NFL, and in all likelihood his 10th as a starter since Washington drafted him in the fourth round to back up Robert Griffin III in 2012.

He has played 9,595 regular-season snaps (the seventh-most by any quarterback in that time), reached four Pro Bowls, started more games than any Vikings quarterback in the free agency era and thrown more touchdown passes than any Minnesota QB not named Fran Tarkenton. According to Over the Cap, Cousins has made $231.8 million in his career.

And yet, his longest contract remains the four-year rookie deal he signed on May 31, 2012.

Whether it's an innate predisposition, or he came by it through two decades of quarterbacking where he's rarely been anybody's first choice, Cousins' willingness to bet on himself has been a defining feature of his career. He played on franchise tags in back-to-back years in Washington after turning down extension offers he regarded as substandard, and made it clear during his 2018 free-agency tour he valued immediate cash over a long-term pact. Where some players relish knowing their next set of negotiations is years away, Cousins seems to be back at the bargaining table almost annually.

This March, it's more of the same. Even as the Vikings scouted draft-bound quarterbacks here, the clock was ticking loudly on their negotiations with the 35-year-old quarterback. Cousins, now four months into his recovery from an Achilles tear, will become a free agent on March 13 if he doesn't have a new contract.

As he sat on a bench overlooking TCO Stadium last August and recounted the discussions he'd had with bodywork specialist Chad Cook about Cook moving from Atlanta to Minnesota and spending the season apart from his family, Cousins recalled saying, "If you're not winning, too, I don't want to do this." There was certitude in his voice as he finished the story with a central plank of his deal-making philosophy. "I don't do anything in business unless it's a win-win," he said. "Football, contract negotiations, it's gotta be a win-win."

Cousins is days away from free agency because he could not reach a deal with the Vikings last March that both sides regarded as a win. Multiple sources have said Cousins wanted a contract with guaranteed money through 2025; the Vikings were only willing to offer guarantees through 2024. This ensured he would play out his sixth pro contract and would not sign his seventh until the eve of free agency in 2024.

And so, the state of the Vikings quarterback position entering the 2024 league year hinges on a pair of wagers: Cousins, coming off a major injury for the first time in his NFL career, is betting he has proved valuable enough to earn the guaranteed money that would keep him in the Vikings' plans. The Vikings, who have the 11th pick in the draft and spent much of their week at the NFL combine meeting with the players in an attractive quarterback class, are betting they will remain an attractive enough option to Cousins for him to return to Minnesota even as they scout possible successors.

After a series of conversations with Cousins that both General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell described this week as positive, the Vikings sounded hopeful Cousins will see the value in sticking around.

"He knows how the Minnesota Vikings feel about him. I believe Kirk wants to be a Viking, and we're going to work to try to make that the outcome," O'Connell said Tuesday. "... We're trying to do some things to help us sustain for the future. I feel like Kirk is smart. My communication is always strong with him — weekly dialogue — and I feel like we're heading toward a good place with Kirk."

Options outside Minnesota

Cousins likely stands atop the free-agent quarterback market in 2024, just as he did in 2018. Whether the quarterback finds a team with a contract offer and situation he likes better than what he would have in Minnesota, though, is another question.

Much of the chatter at the combine about possible destinations for Cousins outside of Minnesota has centered on the Falcons, who need a quarterback and run a similar scheme. Cousins spends time with his wife Julie's family in Atlanta each offseason, and he would join a team with recent first-round picks such as running back Bijan Robinson, tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Drake London. But the Falcons were believed to be exploring a trade for Bears quarterback Justin Fields, and the Atlanta native could be expendable if Chicago takes USC's Caleb Williams first overall.

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The other two teams picking in the top three — the Patriots and Commanders — could take quarterbacks in those spots, and the Broncos, who are expected to cut Russell Wilson and absorb $85 million of dead money, might not be a logical team to bring in another mid-30s QB for Sean Payton. It only takes one team to make a commitment, though, and the video Cousins posted on Monday of him dropping back and throwing seemed to be aimed at reassuring interested teams he would be ready in plenty of time for kickoff.

If the Vikings are to bring him back, it could be because he still deems their environment — with O'Connell calling plays, Justin Jefferson catching passes, Josh McCown on board to work with him and a familiar staff supporting him — to be better than anything he'll find elsewhere.

How Cousins negotiations could play out

Cousins talked in January about how the structure of his next deal was more important than the dollars, and the Vikings would need to carefully manage a contract structure that gives Cousins some security while leaving room for them to reap the financial advantages of a QB on a rookie deal in the not-too-distant future. The other teams that could sign him are the same ones pursuing quarterbacks in the draft, though, so he could find a similarly delicate situation anywhere he goes.

If Cousins isn't signed by the start of free agency on March 13, he is likely a goner; his contract voids on the final day of the league year, pushing $28.5 million of dead money onto the Vikings' 2024 cap, and there's almost no way the team could sign him in that scenario. If he's interested in visiting other teams when the market officially opens, in other words, there's likely no back door for him to return to Minnesota.

His relationship with O'Connell, by all accounts, seems as warm as ever, with the coach receptive to Cousins' input about how the Vikings can develop as an organization. The Vikings should have more than $39 million in salary cap space once they release Alexander Mattison. Their approach might be that a competitive offer to Cousins, combined with the factors that have made him say he wants to stay in Minnesota, could be enough to preclude a bidding war before other teams can officially talk to him on March 11.

Cousins was the eighth of 11 passers drafted in 2012. He's one of three, along with Wilson and Ryan Tannehill, that remains active from the class, despite never having signed a contract as long as his rookie deal. It's unlikely he'll do it at this point in his career, either. The negotiations, and the exposure to uncertainty, might be constants the rest of his career.

In this set of negotiations, the Vikings are betting that even as they scout quarterbacks, they can show Cousins there's a win-win for him, and them, in Minnesota. It's a fascinating set of circumstances, for a QB who's had plenty of them in his career and a team who's had no shortage of them at QB. The Vikings will know, in less than 10 days, how it all works out.