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Skins Stats Playing GM: Making Kirk Cousins the Highest Paid Player in the NFL

What a record-breaking deal for Kirk Cousins might look like

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A little over a week ago, I gave you ten reasons that Kirk Cousins is worth the money.  The numbers we looked at made it clear that Cousins is the best option for the Washington Redskins at quarterback.  However, what is not entirely clear is just how much it will take to keep Cousins in a Redskins uniform for the foreseeable future, and how the contract needs to be structured.  That's the question that is currently staring the Redskins brass dead in the face.

The short answer is that they likely need to make Kirk Cousins the highest paid player in the NFL.

Don't believe me?  That's fine.  I'll admit that I'm much more comfortable with numbers related to on-field performance than I am with contract metrics. I'm not a capologist, but former agents Joel Corry and Joe Banner and Over the Cap proprietor Jason Fitzgerald are; and they have all recently stated that Kirk Cousins could easily receive the biggest contract in the NFL.

And frankly, they are probably right.

But you shouldn't believe them just because they are experts; you should believe them because of the nature of the game and the current landscape of the NFL.  Quarterback is the most important position in football and in a league where the salary cap is constantly rising and where demand for even a competent signal caller far outweighs the supply of such players, needing to give Captain Kirk the richest contract in NFL history is the reality of the situation, whether we like it or not.

So with all that in mind, I wanted to explore what exactly this record-breaking deal might look like for Cousins and the Redskins.  In order to do that, I looked at the top-5 records in the following five aspects of NFL contracts: average per year, total contract value, total guaranteed money, signing bonus and true guaranteed money.  This should give us a better idea of what it will take for the Redskins to sign Kirk Cousins to the long-term deal that most fans have been clamoring for.


Before we get started, I want to give a major tip of the hat to fellow Hogs Haven member and writer Bill Horgan (Bill-in-Bangkok).  He gave me tons of feedback and support in my effort to write this, and I doubt that I could have done it without his help.

Bill has recently written some great articles about NFL contracts and Kirk Cousins' potential long-term deal specifically.  I strongly suggest that you check them out if you haven't already or that you re-read them because of their relevance to this piece and the Redskins' current situation.

Kirk Cousins: the Redskins $150,000,000 man?

Playing GM: A primer on salary cap management

Playing GM: Mock Free Agency - How will Scot McCloughan and Eric Schaffer manage the Redskins roster and salary cap between now and the draft?

Paying the franchise quarterback: how much is enough?


1. Many fans and journalists are expecting to see Kirk Cousins get a 5-year contract; however, what many fans don't realize is that a great number of NFL quarterbacks are playing on 6 or 7-year deals.  This is at least partially because quarterbacks often get extensions and not entirely new contracts.  So, for example, a quarterback with a year remaining on his current contract, who extends for 5 years, is now - for all practical purposes - on a 6-year deal.

The number of years that are typically reported by the media and listed on sites like Over the Cap and Spotrac are the "new" or "extension" years; but, in actuality, the remaining years from the original contract are still included in these deals.  The salaries in the remaining years of original contracts typically change, but remaining guaranteed money from the original contract is part of the new extended deal.

Most smart teams never let their franchise quarterback hit free agency; they extend them before they even step foot on the field in the final year of their contracts.  And because of that and the way that these extensions are reported, the deal lengths for quarterbacks often may seem shorter than they really are.  The fact is, most franchise quarterbacks are on 6-year or 7-year deals once their extensions are signed.

It's very likely that a new contract between Cousins and the Redskins would be for more than 5 years.

For a more in-depth discussion on this subject, check out the latest from Bill-in-Bangkok:

Playing GM: Why contract extensions make it hard to compare NFL player contracts in a meaningful way

2. In another one of his articles, Bill explained my next point better than I could, so I'll leave this one to him.

"People keep talking about a 5-year, $100m deal. The Redskins front office might want to sign a longer deal. Counter-intuitively, the longer deal lowers the risk that the franchise takes in signing Kirk, as long as the latter years of the contract are not guaranteed. A 6-year contract leaves the Redskins in control of his contract for an extra year, but without any guaranteed money, it provides flexibility to get out of the contract in 2019 or 2020 if it isn’t really working out — much like the Bears can exit the Cutler contract now if they want to.

Why would Cousins’ agent agree? Well, signing a 6th (non-guaranteed year) adds a lot of money to the total value of the contract and can be used to increase the average per year — the two headline numbers that get reported on Twitter. It’s a PR win, and if Cousins plays well enough for the team to want to keep him, then he will actually get the money."

For these reasons, this article will consider what Cousins' numbers might look like in a 5, 6 and 7-year contract.  This will show all of the realistic outcomes in terms of contract length that we might see, and illustrate how those different terms would help the team and affect their ability to make a record-breaking deal.


We'll kick things off by taking a look at some of the top average per year (APY) contract numbers around the league.  These figures are often the most publicized aspects of multi-year NFL deals.

Player Average Per Year
Andrew Luck $24,594,000
Joe Flacco $22,133,333
Aaron Rodgers $22,000,000
Russell Wilson $21,900,000
Ben Roethlisberger $21,850,000
Average $22,495,467

As you can see, Andrew Luck currently sits at the top of the mountain with an average annual cost of $24.59m to the Indianapolis Colts.

Former agent Joel Corry was recently on ESPN 980's Cooley and Kevin Show, where he suggested that it would take an APY of $25m per year to keep Cousins in the fold.

As I explained, the goal of this exercise is to give you an idea of what a record-breaking contract for Cousins might look like, so we'll go with Corry's suggestion and let the smashing of records commence right off the bat.

The only variation is in our hypothetical 5-year contract, where Kirk's APY is slightly higher, at $25.4m.  You'll see why in the upcoming section.

Average Per Year (APY) for Kirk Cousins Contracts
5-Years 6 Years 7 Years
APY $25,400,000 $25,000,000 $25,000,000


The reason that we used the $25.4m figure for the 5-year contract was so that Cousins' new deal would total $127m and break Jay Cutler's record of $126.7m.

Player Total Contract Value
Jay Cutler $126,700,000
Andrew Luck $122,970,000
Von Miller $114,500,000
Ndamukong Suh $114,375,000
Colin Kaepernick $114,000,000
Average $118,509,000

Total value is a rather meaningless aspect of contracts, because if the money isn't guaranteed then the team isn't actually on the hook for it.  You could give a player a 10-year, $500m contract, but if only $10m of that deal is guaranteed, then the team can easily part ways with the player.

Bill-in-Bangkok discussed this point in regards to Cutlers' contract in one of his salary cap articles.

"For example, Jay Cutler signed a $126m contract with the Bears a few years ago that runs through 2020. Many analysts expect the Bears to part ways with Cutler this off-season. If they do, they’ll save $72.7 million in cash. The $126m contract will end up paying Cutler only around $53m — far less than half of its value!!"

While total contract value is, in reality, not that meaningful in and of itself, it does make for the kind of headline-grabbing news that the Cousins camp is looking for.

Total Contract Value for Kirk Cousins Contracts
5-Years 6 Years 7 Years
Total Value $127,000,000 $150,000,000 $175,000,000

For a more detailed explanation of how APY and total contract value are calculated, read Bill-in-Bangkok newest article:

Playing GM: Calculating Total Contract Value, APY and Total Guarantee for an NFL contract


Now we're starting to get into some of the more relevant aspects of contracts.  In the NFL -- as is true with most professional sports leagues -- if the money isn't guaranteed, it really doesn't matter.

Let's look first at some of the headline numbers that appear on Twitter regarding guaranteed money.  We'll consider "True Guaranteed Money" later in the article:

Player Total Guaranteed
Andrew Luck $87,000,000
Von Miller $70,000,000
Eli Manning $65,000,000
Philip Rivers $65,000,000
Fletcher Cox $63,299,000
Average $70,059,800

Well, we can presume right off of the bat that Cousins is not going to take less than any defensive player in this department, so we're looking at over $70m here.

However, $87m is quite a jump up from $70m and from what was given to the next quarterback on this list (Eli Manning at $65m).

During his aforementioned appearance on the Cooley and Kevin Show, Joel Corry stated that he believed that it would take over $80M in total guarantees to secure a long-term deal with Kirk Cousins.

For the 5 and 6-year deals we will use $80m.  That would not be a record, but it's a nice round number that falls in between first and second on this list, so we'll go with it.  It would also mean that over 50% of the contract was guaranteed, which is a more than respectable mark to hit.  In the 7-year pact, we'll up the stakes to a record-setting $90m to keep above 50% of the total contract value and also make it another "win" for Kirk and his agent, Mike McCartney.

Total Guaranteed Money for Kirk Cousins Contracts
5-Years 6 Years 7 Years
Guaranteed $80,000,000 $80,000,000 $90,000,000
% of Total Value 63.0% 53.3% 51.4%


The catch with total guaranteed money is that, usually, not all of it is truly guaranteed.

Signing bonuses, however, are fully guaranteed, and they are paid out to the player immediately (or close enough to immediately that it makes no practical difference).  The entirety of that money does not hit the cap right away though -- signing bonus money is allocated evenly across the life of a contract.

For example, if a player gets a $20m signing bonus and a 5-year contract, although the player gets the full $20m up front, for salary cap purposes, it is charged off evenly at $4m per year.

If a player is released before the end of his contract then the signing bonus money will still count against the cap in the form of "dead cap".  The dead cap is made up of two components: (i) any signing bonus paid that hasn't yet been charged to the cap; and (ii) any unpaid guaranteed money remaining on the contract.

One other very important thing to note is that signing bonuses are amortized over a maximum period of 5 years, so one feature of a 6 or a 7-year contract is that they have no dead cap in Years 6 and 7.  This is a significant tool to be used by ‘capologists', and it helps manage the team's exposure to dead cap in the latter years of contracts, when there is most likely to be an issue of declining performance.  In other words, it enhances the team's flexibility and protects the franchise against being forced to retain an aging player with a dwindling skillset because of a contract signed a half-decade earlier.

Signing bonuses are obviously a key component of any major contract.

Let's look at the players that received the five highest signing bonuses in the league.

Player Signing Bonus
Joe Flacco $40,000,000
Aaron Rodgers $33,250,000
Andrew Luck $32,000,000
Ben Roethlisberger $31,000,000
Eli Manning $31,000,000
Russell Wilson $31,000,000
Average $33,041,667

Now, one could argue that Kirk Cousins should go easy on the Redskins since he just received $19.95M from his franchise tag designation in 2016, but all indications are that this is not going to be the case.

We'll aim for the middle here and give Captain Kirk $32m up front.  That would tie Andrew Luck for the third biggest signing bonus ever.  For the 7-year contract, the ante will be upped to $35m to keep the signing bonus percentage of the total guaranteed money close to 40%.

Signing Bonus for Kirk Cousins Contracts
5-Years 6 Years 7 Years
Signing Bonus $32,000,000 $32,000,000 $35,000,000
% of Total G'teed 40.0% 40.0% 38.9%


True Guaranteed money is the most important part of any contract.  This is the only part of the total guaranteed money that is, in fact, fully guaranteed.  The number is typically calculated by adding the signing bonus to any other fully guaranteed money due at signing.

You might be wondering what kind of guaranteed money isn't fully guaranteed. There are several types of guarantees that are excluded from the calculation of "True Guaranteed Money".

a.       Injury guarantees are limited guarantees.  They protect the player against injury, but don't protect him against poor performance, or being cut for other reasons, like salary cap or attitude issues.

b.      Workout bonuses are built into some contracts, and can be significant. They are designed to encourage a player to participate in the voluntary team activities.

c.       Performance bonuses or escalators can be added to contracts for meeting a wide range of performance metrics.  Performance bonuses might be paid for things like a high number of sacks or interceptions for defensive players, or leading the team in tackles.  For offensive players, bonuses might be paid for hitting milestones in completions, receptions, carries, yards or touchdowns.  Other things that can trigger bonuses are: being active on game day, playing a certain number of snaps or being named to the pro bowl.

Agents often strike deals that inflate the total contract value, APY or total guarantee, but -€ again -€ the real, and most important number in an NFL contract is the "True Guaranteed Money".

Below you'll see some of the richest NFL contracts in terms of "True Guaranteed Money".  One thing that jumps off the page is the dramatic difference between Andrew Luck's widely-reported guarantee of $87m and the True Guarantee of $47m, which is much more in line with other top NFL contracts.

Player True Guaranteed $
Ndamukong Suh $59,955,000
Eli Manning $54,000,000
Aaron Rodgers $54,000,000
Andrew Luck $47,000,000
Joe Flacco $44,000,000
Average $51,791,000

Before deciding how much True Guaranteed money Kirk Cousins should get in his contract, let's take a quick look at his situation and Washington's options.

The Redskins essentially have three choices right now:

The last option would pay Cousins a combined total of around $53m over two years (2017 and 2018).  Thus there is little reason for Cousins to sign any long-term deal that wouldn't fully guarantee at least that amount.

That makes matching Manning and Rodgers' $54m in True Guaranteed money a no-brainer for this exercise.

True Guaranteed Money for Kirk Cousins Contracts
5-Years 6 Years 7 Years
True G'teed $ $54,000,000 $54,000,000 $54,000,000
% of Total G'teed 67.5% 67.5% 60.0%


A key element that we have yet to discuss is the percentage of the salary cap that is allocated to a player's cap hit on a yearly basis.  An ever-increasing cap makes this one of the most relevant measures of how much a team has invested in a player.

This information is not made available on Over the Cap and Spotrac, so instead of looking at the top five in this category, I came up with my own list.

I calculated the average yearly percentage allocated to every active starting QB in the league that has either won a Super Bowl, won the MVP award or led the league in passing yards.  Andrew Luck was also included because he is the record holder in a number of contract metrics.

Only the current deals of these players were used in these calculations, and percentages for future years are based on the cap continuing to grow by about 8% per year.

Player Average % of Cap
Joe Flacco 13.38%
Ben Roethlisberger 12.59%
Matt Ryan 12.65%
Eli Manning 12.30%
Andrew Luck 12.25%
Aaron Rodgers 11.73%
Cam Newton 11.22%
Drew Brees 11.21%
Russell Wilson 10.37%
Tom Brady 10.14%
Average 11.78%

Looking at these percentages should give us a better idea of whether or not our models for a new Kirk Cousins contract would deal a nearly crippling blow to the Redskins' ability to sign new players and extend contracts for their home-grown talent.


Now that we have the parameters of our history making 5, 6 and 7-year contracts for Kirk Cousins we can actually look at the full makeup of these deals.

My goal for these models was to create as team friendly and realistic of a deal as possible, while also operating inside of the confines of the APY, total value, total guaranteed, signing bonus and true guaranteed marks that we established.

Click on the tables to get a full-screen view of the contracts.

Five-Year Contract

  • This would allow the Redskins to rather easily part with Kirk Cousins after three years, saving $16m, while only incurring a dead cap of about $13m at that time.
  • The roster bonuses in years 3 and 4 would not become guaranteed until the fifth day of the league year in each case.
  • It includes a steady, yet minimal, upward stream of cap hits to the team and cash paid out to Cousins.
  • The cap hit would never exceed 14% in any one year and would average under 13% over the life of the contract.
Six-Year Contract

  • Because signing bonus money is amortized over a 5-year period, the team could release Cousins after five years of this proposed 6-year pact without any dead money still left on the cap.
  • The percentage of this deal that is charged to the cap would never hit the 13% mark that would be topped three times in our 5-year version.  This is the case because the money is spread over more years, and the team benefits from a higher projected salary cap in each successive season.
Seven-Year Contract

  • This contract would allow the team to have control over Cousins all the way up until his age-35 season, if they chose to do so.
  • The $11m cap hit and 6.5% of the cap used in 2017 are both the lowest figures in those categories in the three models.  With his massive $35m signing bonus in hand, Cousins would still be doing more than alright for himself in 2017.
  • The average cap percentage used would actually be lower than the average cap hit of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and league MVPs that I listed in the previous section.


Some of you may be suffering from a case of sticker shock from these numbers, but let's wrap things up by considering why a contract similar to ones that we've looked at today wouldn't be so bad for the Redskins.

Just as I did when we discussed the importance of re-signing Kirk Cousins from a statistical standpoint, I'll sum things up with ten reasons why the Redskins shouldn't be afraid to pull the trigger on a record-breaking deal.

1. Kirk Cousins is good at football.

2. Many people believe that the front office disrespected Cousins last offseason with a low-ball offer, and they're going to need to show him some love and make him feel like he's wanted in order to retain his services.

3. According to multiple contract and salary cap experts, it's going to take a historic deal to get Cousins to sign a LTD instead of playing yet another season on the franchise tag.

4. The team was willing to give him $19.95m last year, they appear ready to hand him $23.94m with a second tag, and if they continue this game with the transition tag next year it will cost them north of $28.5m.

5. The contracts that we looked at today would pay Cousins  only about $1m more than he would be set to earn on the tag this upcoming season, and the team would save more than $3m when compared to what he'd make the following year on the transition tag.

6. The sports contract site, Spotrac, provides calculated market values for players, and they have Kirk Cousins with a market value APY of $23.7m, which is only roughly $1.5m per year less than what has been proposed here.

7. Here is a list of Redskins players not on their rookie contracts scheduled to have a cap hit between $1m and $1.5m this upcoming season: Derek Carrier, Nick Sundberg, Will Blackmon and Tress Way.  You'll find a list of players just as bad worse on the vast majority of other clubs.  In other words, this amount of money typically isn't going to buy you much on the veteran free agent market, anyway.

8. Even if Kirk Cousins does receive the biggest contract in league history, he won't be sitting at the top of the mountain for long.  Derek Carr, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are all expected to receive larger deals over the course of the next year.  If still unsigned to a LTD, Cousins market value will go up each time one of those three QBs gets a new deal.

9. Cousins' cap hits would average less than 13% of the cap in every one of the scenarios that we laid out.  These numbers are high relative to some of the other top quarterbacks in the league, but are by no means obscene.  As noted, the seven-year deal would actually result in a lower-than-average percentage of cap by the same comparison.

10. Each of these deals would allow the Redskins to move on from Cousins and his contract relatively unscathed after three years.

One thing seems certain: the clock is ticking.  And the longer that it does, the higher Kirk Cousins' price tag will get, and the lower the odds that he remains with the Washington Redskins become.  If the front office wants Cousins here they need to prove it to him with what could be the richest contract in NFL history.  The time to act is now.

*All statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, NFL Contract Metrics, Over the Cap and Spotrac*