By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Pro Football Writer
The leverage of free agency in his prime brought Kirk Cousins the market-setting contract with Minnesota.
Now the Vikings have their latest franchise quarterback to try to secure that elusive first Super Bowl victory with.
The Vikings wrapped up their welcome party with an $84 million, three-year contract for Cousins on Thursday afternoon, banking big time on the late-blooming former Washington Redskins prospect to finally stabilize a critical position that's been infamously problematic.
"He was a guy that always had to prove himself," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's a lot like a lot of people on our football team."
The money for Cousins is fully guaranteed, according to a person with knowledge of the deal speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce the terms. That gives him the largest guarantee in NFL history, at least until the next mega quarterback contract comes along, according to figures tracked by the pro sports financial website spotrac.com . His annual average of $28 million is also, for now, the biggest in the league.
Team owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf didn't hesitate to give their approval.
"If anybody in this city or this state has a question about their commitment, I think this contract shows that they're all in," Cousins said. "It's a tremendous amount of belief in me as a person and as a player, and I'm humbled and honored to get the OK on that, that the decision-makers brought to them believed that way."
The guarantee of the full value of the deal is unprecedented in the NFL, where a variety of complex factors have kept players from receiving sure-thing contracts like their professional baseball, basketball and hockey peers.
Other football stars have received similar amounts over a three-year span, but those deals have typically been longer than that to allow teams to spread out the salary cap hit. His agent, Mike McCartney, began talking to Cousins about the possibility of the groundbreaking deal more than two years ago, forecasting an eventual arrival at free agency.
"There's nothing I can pave unless people come after me," Cousins said at his introductory news conference at the team's sparkling and still-under construction suburban headquarters. "I guess history will probably write that."
After arriving in Minnesota via private plane on Wednesday evening with his wife and infant son, Cousins dined at a downtown Minneapolis restaurant with Zimmer, general manager Rick Spielman, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph among others.
For Thielen and Rudolph, Cousins will represent the fourth primary quarterback in as many seasons. As long as he stays healthy throughout the summer, Cousins will also represent the eighth starting quarterback for a season opener in the past nine years.
Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Case Keenum all became free agents this week and signed with other teams, so the Vikings didn't have much of a backup plan if Cousins balked at their offer.
But as a team with a star-laden defense and plenty of dynamic skill-position players on offense that reached the NFC championship game last season, the Vikings also represented quite the destination for Cousins.
"I came here because of the chance to win," he said. "I felt like it was probably the best chance."
Cousins started 57 games over his six seasons with Washington, which drafted him in the fourth round in 2012 behind second overall draft pick Robert Griffin III. RG3's star faded quickly, though, and Cousins, who was lightly recruited out of Holland Christian High School before landing at Michigan State, worked his way up the depth chart. He topped 4,000 passing yards over each of the past three years, though the Redskins appeared in only one postseason game and his career record as a starter is just 26-30-1.
Rarely does a rising quarterback reach free agency before turning 30, though, so after playing for about $20 million in 2016 and about $24 million in 2017 on consecutive franchise tags with Washington, Cousins reached his opportunity to truly cash in after the Redskins acquired Alex Smith in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Realizing the lukewarm interest from his original team, Cousins was already scouring the Twin Cities area while in town for promotional appearances the week of the Super Bowl. Just two days into his visit, the Smith deal went down. He gave a glowing scouting report to his wife, Julie, upon phoning home.
"This is a lifetime deal. That's the goal," Cousins said. "Yes, it's a three-year deal, but the expectation from both sides is that we raise our kids here and if everything goes as planned, we're here for a long time."
The Vikings began the day about $50 million under their salary cap , according to NFL Players Association data, and the deal with Cousins will take up almost half of that with the prospect of expensive extensions looming in the coming year for young players such as linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. But they still have space to make more improvements this month, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was already at the new facility on Thursday for a visit.
Richardson, a first-round pick by the New York Jets in the 2013 draft, was traded to the Seattle Seahawks prior to last season.
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