Was Kirk Cousins Really the Highest-Paid NFL Player Over the Last Year?

Will Ragatz

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was the highest-paid player in the NFL over the last calendar year, according to Forbes. Not only that, but he ranks No. 9 on the list of the highest-paid athletes in the world during that time span, right behind Kevin Durant and Tiger Woods.

From June 1, 2019, to June 1, 2020, Forbes estimates that Cousins made $60.5 million. Almost all of that comes from his on-field salary; Cousins made $58 million in salary with just $2.5 million in off-field endorsements. Each of the eight athletes above him on the list made at least $25 million in endorsements, with Roger Federer topping the list at $100 million.

Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 4.49.26 AM
via @Sportscenter, @Forbes

The contract extension that Cousins signed with the Vikings this offseason is the reason he's on this list. Last season, he made $28 million in the second year of the fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract he signed in 2018. Cousins then signed a two-year, $66 million extension that keeps him with the Vikings through the 2022 season. That deal came with a $30 million signing bonus.

So that's where Forbes gets the number for Cousins' $58 million in salary over the last 12 months: the $28 million he made last season plus a $30 million signing bonus. But I'm not sure it makes sense to count all of that signing bonus as money he earned this year. NFL signing bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract, and Cousins' deal is no different. He's set to receive $10 million of that signing bonus over each of the next three years.

If you only count the $10 million of the bonus that Cousins gets this year, he's down to $38 million total (plus the estimated $2.5 million in endorsements). $40.5 million would place Cousins 27th on Forbes' ranking, and sixth among NFL players – as opposed to first.

The Vikings heavily back-loaded Cousins' contract, and having almost half of the extension come in the form of a signing bonus allowed them to do so. His cap hit of $21 million for 2020 ranks just 15th among NFL quarterbacks. However, Cousins' cap hit goes up to $31 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022.

Cousins is coming off of a career-best season in which he threw for 3,606 yards and 26 touchdowns in 15 games. He finished fourth in the NFL in passer rating and sixth among QBs in Pro Football Focus grading, and led the Vikings to an appearance in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Related: NFC North QB Rankings: Cousins, Rodgers, or Stafford at No. 1?

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