The soon-to-be-former Washington Redskins quarterback was the main topic of conversation at the NFL combine, prompting ESPN Insiders to rank the list of possible destinations based on multiple talks with those around the league and close to the situation.
The legal tampering period from March 12 to 14 will help provide a clear favorite. Teams can fly players into their respective cities but can’t make contact until after free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET March 14. But if Cousins wanted to, he could purchase his own ticket and start the visit a few hours earlier.
Here are the final four teams in the running for Cousins based on voting by ESPN Insiders. Each Insider ranked the top four from 1-4, with 1 being Cousins’ most likely landing spot, and 4 being his least likely landing spot. Here’s how the Insiders see it:
The case for: They’re the best team on this list and are built to win now and for several years. They’ve proven they can build through the draft, and they have an owner, Zygi Wilf, willing to spend. If winning is the goal — and becoming the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL, as Cousins once said he wants — then this is a no-brainer. Another factor: the reciprocity tax, which means workers in Minnesota who are Michigan residents can pay their income tax to Michigan. Cousins owns a home in Michigan, which means instead of paying an income tax of 9.85 percent to Minnesota he’d only be on the hook for 4.25 percent. By the way, New Jersey’s income tax rate is 8.97 percent. Just sayin’. Finally, while the NFC North also includes quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, their respective teams need more help. The Vikings are in a three-year Super Bowl window, and that would match the length of Cousins’ contract.
The case against: There really isn’t one, other than another team topping their offer and the Vikings pulling out. They need to know sooner rather than later so they don’t lose out on re-signing Case Keenum. Cousins would be a substantial investment for Minnesota, but the Vikings still have some cap flexibility in future seasons; they have a projected $78 million available in 2019, for example, when a handful of players’ deals end. They can plan ahead and extend a year earlier. See? It’s all positive for Minnesota.
2. New York Jets (four No. 2 votes, one No. 3 vote)
The case for: Nobody offers the cap space New York has now and for several seasons to come. Players want to win, but it’s also a business. The Jets may make an offer that makes it difficult to say no. Cousins has always talked about wanting to help other quarterbacks’ contracts increase. Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, also represents quarterback Josh McCown, who started for the Jets last season and certainly could provide insight. A prevailing opinion out of New York is the atmosphere around the Jets changed in a good way under new owner Chris Johnson. . That connection also provided information for Cousins; the word he got back was that the atmosphere around the Jets changed in a good way under new owner Chris Johnson. That matters. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ system is from the Mike Shanahan tree, which would appeal to Cousins.
The case against: The Jets can afford to sign Cousins and other players while also having cap flexibility in the future. But they haven’t proven they can build a winner, and they need a lot of pieces, including a running back and stronger receivers. They’re 10-22 the past two seasons combined — and McCown played well for them when healthy. They need more than a good quarterback. Their defense ranked 22nd in points and 25th in yards allowed last season.
3. Denver Broncos (two No. 3 votes, two No. 4 votes, one No. 2 vote)
The case for: They have a strong history of success and a defense that still rates among the best. Denver’s defense has ranked in the top five in yards allowed for four straight seasons and in points allowed for three of the past four (it was 22nd last season). They own the fifth pick and, if he’s there, could pick running back Saquon Barkley.
The case against: They’ll struggle to come close to how other teams on this list can structure the deal. Read: They can’t afford him. Denver only has approximately $23 million in cap space and would need to create a lot more room to sign Cousins. They don’t have a lot of space in 2019, either, but could create some via cuts. Their recent drafts haven’t been productive, and it’s reflected at quarterback, where multiple mistakes have been made. Cousins wants confidence in an organization’s ability to build, but the Broncos have headed south since their Super Bowl win three years ago. Add to that the fact that coach Vance Joseph ended his first season with many questions about his job. Cousins wants stability and the Broncos offer less of it than the other teams on this list. And they might have to cut a valuable offensive piece or two in order to sign him.
4. Arizona Cardinals (three No. 4 votes, two No. 3 votes)
The case for: The Cardinals will make him feel wanted, especially receiver Larry Fitzgerald. They bumped into each other at an airport last week and Fitzgerald was aggressive recruiting Cousins. Arizona plays half its games indoors, so conditions typically won’t be a factor. They have had just one losing season in the past five. They lost their starting quarterback and still finished 8-8 last season. Another factor: Cousins’ sister works in the Phoenix area; family clearly matters to Cousins.
The case against: The Cardinals really shouldn’t be far behind the Jets on this list. But with approximately $22 million available, they don’t have the cap space like New York, nor do they have the same level of talent as Minnesota. Arizona has a new head coach (Steve Wilks), so it remains to be seen how he fares. Also, Cousins would be reluctant to play in a division in which two of his former coaches are head coaches — the Rams’ Sean McVay and the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan. Both have good, young quarterbacks. Seattle also looms, so the division will be difficult. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s a consideration. As good as Fitzgerald is, and as much as he’ll pitch Cousins, the reality is he’s 34 years old, in the last year of his contract and close to retirement. Nick Foles could be the fallback option for Arizona.