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Every year, NFL free agency sends a handful of quarterbacks to the open market. But few signal-callers have worked the offseason landscape to their benefit quite like Kirk Cousins.

First came the unexpected early-career breakout in Washington, which prompted the first back-to-back franchise tags for a quarterback in league history, earning Cousins more than $40 million in a span of two years. Then came the 2018 free-agency tour, when the Minnesota Vikings signed him to the highest-paying -- and first fully guaranteed -- contract in NFL history.

Two lucrative extensions later, Cousins enters 2024 with another chance to cash in, albeit amid some unique circumstances. Long debated as a pricey, consistent but ultimately unspectacular starter, the 36-year-old won over hordes of Vikings fans in his 2022-2023 efforts, posting career numbers in a contract year before suffering the first serious injury of his career.

Sidelined since late October with a torn Achilles, Cousins is by far the cream of the veteran quarterback crop this offseason. Despite his history of winter check-cashing, it's still rare for a passer of his caliber to become available. What he lacks in off-script athleticism and defining postseason victories, he offsets with year-to-year efficiency, routinely ranking among the NFL's most accurate pocket passers while maintaining an eye for deep-ball opportunities. Durability is a new concern, fresh off the Achilles tear, but in a league perpetually starved for trusty quarterback play, he still projects as top-10ish material.

A reunion with the Vikings makes sense. Both he and team brass have hinted at sticking together. But this is also a true fork in the road for both parties. After failing to secure Minnesota's long-term commitment prior to 2023, Cousins has a real chance to capitalize on other offers while potentially joining an equally playoff-ready lineup. The Vikings, meanwhile, have publicly toyed with the notion of eyeing a longer-term quarterback since general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's arrival in 2022. With the No. 11 overall pick in this April's draft, they could be primed to add their man of the future.

So what's next for Cousins? Here are our top logical landing spots, plus a prediction on his final contract:

Logical landing spots

Russell Wilson is all but a lock to be cut or traded after a falling-out with the Sean Payton regime. And one of Payton's chief issues with the Wilson-led offense appeared to be a lack of efficient communication and execution. Cousins, on the other hand, has thrived when playing within a system, and offers some of the same surgical qualities that Drew Brees gave Payton during his New Orleans Saints prime. The AFC West has some tough contenders, but Denver was reportedly on the short list of potential landing spots for Cousins back in 2018, and the club still has a solid line and defense. The biggest holdup might be money, with the Broncos projected to be over the inflated 2024 salary cap.

When Cousins first left Washington in 2018, it would've been relatively unthinkable to project a potential reunion. For years, the franchise had refused to meet his asking price on a long-term deal. But these are different times with the Commanders under new ownership, a new coach and new front office, headed by a general manager in Adam Peters who worked for the San Francisco 49ers when Kyle Shanahan tried luring Cousins to the Bay Area. Washington should have a clean shot at a top quarterback early in the 2024 NFL Draft, but it's possible new coach Dan Quinn could advocate for a quicker fix considering only three teams have more money to spend. From Cousins' perspective, he'd still have a No. 1 wideout in Terry McLaurin, plus a chance to rewrite the D.C. chapter of his career.

If there's one team primed to give the Vikings a literal run for their money, it's probably Atlanta. Two years after exploring a blockbuster Deshaun Watson trade, the Falcons are all in on upgrading the quarterback spot, which has basically been barren since Matt Ryan's last hurrah. Assistant GM Kyle Smith was a scout for Washington when Cousins was drafted back in 2012. New coach Raheem Morris' offensive coordinator, Zac Robinson, helped take Matthew Stafford to a new level in Los Angeles. Best of all, the Falcons have a competitive roster featuring a sturdy line, ascending weapons like Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts, and an underrated defense -- all in a wide-open NFC South. As a bonus, Cousins' wife, Julie, is from Atlanta.

The Raiders tried and failed a veteran quarterback swap in 2023, with Jimmy Garoppolo quickly losing the starting gig after Derek Carr's unceremonious exit. They may prefer to readdress the position through the draft, picking just outside the top 10. But new coach Antonio Pierce also has enough win-now pieces, including star wideout Davante Adams and elite edge rusher Maxx Crosby, to justify a spendy veteran swing. And new GM Tom Telesco prioritized the pocket-passing type with the Chargers. While Cousins' personality doesn't necessarily scream Las Vegas, the Raiders have some other intriguing assets to offer in world-class facilities and a Kyle Shanahan connection in quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But are things broken? The Vikings weren't foolish to let Cousins enter a contract year in 2023, wanting to keep the door open for a 2024 change after a solid, not special marriage. But now they're stuck in a tight spot, weighing two realities: 1.) Cousins fits Kevin O'Connell's system like a glove, showcasing elite chemistry with Justin Jefferson as a playoff-caliber leader; 2.) He's also going on 36, coming off a serious injury, set to cost a pretty penny without a clear successor in place. Ideally, the Vikings would have the best of both worlds, retaining their man while investing in a potential heir apparent, a la Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes with the Kansas City Chiefs. That's just far easier said than done.


It's this writer's opinion that at least a half-dozen teams will make inquiries if/when Cousins' negotiating window officially opens for free agency. The Pittsburgh Steelers may be one of them, quietly checking in without any serious intention of entering a bidding war as they tiptoe into a final Kenny Pickett audition. As for the others listed above, well, expect Cousins to be selective, not only in terms of money but personal fit. This is a man who's earned plenty over the years, but at 36, tasting the market as a coveted prize for perhaps the final time, he'll rightfully be careful in choosing his next home, and at what price.

The Commanders, though interesting from a career-arc perspective, don't register as a serious suitor as they build from the ground up. Denver is probably in too much of a transition between big-money commitments under center to match any of Cousins' best offers. Vegas is a potential sleeper, but the uncertainty of the young head coach and general messiness of their recent regime turnover is probably enough to turn Cousins away, even if the dollar amount is attractive. In the end, this really feels like a two-horse race between the Falcons and Vikings.

Cousins says -- and probably believes -- that familiarity is more important than compensation at this point in his NFL life. But, silly as it sounds, simply feeling wanted is often a factor in these multimillion-dollar decisions. The Vikings say they want him back. Their actions over the last two years tell a slightly different story, even if justified: They allowed him to enter 2023 without a contract into 2024, and now, with free agency approaching, they're set to let him enter the market, effectively asking the rest of the league to barter for his services. Again, that's not to say what the Vikings are doing is wrong. But it's reality.

Could Minnesota match any offers he gets? Sure. Could he consider a discount to stay put? Sure. But once another team -- say Atlanta -- comes in with the first swoop of genuine interest, promising a rich deal while selling every part of their franchise to Cousins and his family, it'll be hard for the quarterback to shake the notion that another city just might be calling his name. If everything reaches that point, and the Falcons make a play for him rather than another high-profile player like Justin Fields, the appeal of a fresh opportunity just may turn the tide.

Is it tough to envision Cousins happily bidding the purple adieu? You bet. But we've seen this dance play out before, so let's get bold: Our prediction is that Cousins signs a three-year, $135 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. He gets top-seven quarterback money in terms of per-year average ($45 million), the Falcons finally get a legitimate leader for their playoff-hungry offense, and the Vikings wish him well while rebuilding for the future.