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Kirk Cousins holds all the contractual cards in Minnesota

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins joins the show to talk about Justin Jefferson's stellar rookie season, what he learned from Max Scherzer and how Minnesota can turn things around in 2021.

Kirk Cousins has plenty of leverage now. He’ll have even more later -- and that’s when he apparently intends to use it.

In a recent visit to PFT PM, Cousins made two things clear about his future with the Vikings. First, he wants to finish his career in Minnesota. Second, he’s content to play out the two remaining years of his contract. That necessarily makes his status beyond 2022 with the Vikings uncertain.

“I want to be with the Vikings for as long as they’ll have me and as long as I can play football,” Cousins said. “As far as how long I play, it’s so year to year. We’ve seen so much change happen in this league when you just look back a year ago to now. I’m sure a year from now will be no different. Tom Brady, Drew Brees have set the bar so high playing into their early 40s. I don’t know that I want to play that long, but I do think that to be able to play into your late 30s and to play long enough for my two young boys -- I’ve got two boys, Cooper and Turner. They’re only three and almost two. I’d like to play long enough where they can come to practice, watch me play, and really remember it and appreciate it. I got a few more years to be able to do that.”

Still, Cousins currently has only two years under contract. Given that a $35 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed on March 19, it could make sense to extend the contract now. It makes much more sense next year. Cousins sounds like he’s not willing to do a new deal in either offseason.

“Honestly, I just signed the extension last offseason and it really doesn’t kick in ‘til this coming year,” Cousins said. “It’s a two-year deal. Those two years begin with 2021. . . . I think it’s more about going out there next season and the year after that and playing at a high enough level that would justify being able to do another deal beyond that. That’s really where my focus is. As I said earlier, would like to be a Viking for the remainder of my career. I’ve got to play well enough to make that happen.”

Cousins’ current deal doesn’t have a no-tag clause. But he doesn’t need one. With a cap number of $45 million in 2022 and with the franchise-tag rule guaranteeing him a 44-percent bump for 2023 (the two applications of the franchise tag by Washington carry over for the purposes of triggering the ultra-expensive third franchise tag), it would cost the Vikings $64.8 million to apply the franchise tag after his contract expires.

In other words, Cousins -- who maximized his leverage by playing on a year-to-year basis in 2015, 2016, and 2017 in Washington -- sounds willing to make $56 million over the next two years and then hit the open market, or to negotiate his next contract with the Vikings knowing that he has a guaranteed path to the open market if the Vikings don’t offer him what he wants.

This mindset gives the Vikings even more reason to consider trading him, frankly. However, coach Mike Zimmer needs Cousins, because without Cousins the Vikings would likely take the kind of step backward that would increase the likelihood that Zimmer won’t last beyond 2021.