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Culture Philanthropy

Kirk Cousins Has View of the Endgame

NFL quarterback saves and gives so he can be generous well beyond his prime football years

Kirk Cousins’ normal day at the “office” entails game plans, touchdowns, and packed stadiums (pre-pandemic). As the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Cousins makes more in a year than many people make in a lifetime. But NFL careers have an expiration date.  In fact, an old joke is that NFL stands for “not for long.”  So Cousins is committed to giving and saving in a way that will enable his family to continue giving generously for the rest of his life.

Raised as a pastor’s kid, the concepts of faithful giving and stewardship were ingrained in him from an early age, modeled by his dad and others around them.  Cousins remembers a wealthy man who asked his dad for help setting up a foundation. “My dad asked, ‘What is your intent with the foundation?’ Without pausing, he said, ‘I want to put the generosity of God on display for all to see.’”

It’s a mission that stuck with Cousins, and one he adopted as his own as he entered the professional world.

Back in 2005, when he was in high school, Cousins heard International Justice Mission’s Gary Haugen speak at his church. It was the first he’d heard of IJM, and their work fighting human trafficking and slavery—things Cousins thought had been eradicated. The stories of IJM partners rescuing girls, saving lives, and bringing people to justice moved him.

Instead of traveling with the organization or joining the staff, he had in his mind that he wanted to support IJM financially. “Gary has the people, the knowledge, he’s a top lawyer. What he needs is the resources to grow faster and more efficiently,” Cousins said. “I walked out of the service that night and prayed, God give me more to steward, give me an opportunity to help that man some day.”

That didn’t happen immediately. First, through his college years, Cousins benefited from the generosity of others. He played football at Michigan State and participated in Athletes in Action, a discipleship ministry for student athletes. The campus director for AIA was also his football team’s chaplain. “I saw him nearly every day. He discipled me through my five years there,” Cousins said. Yes, it took five years, he said.

The chaplain had to raise his own support. “I realized every day as we met or talked, or after practice walked back to the locker room and prayed together, that he’s not able to be here if not for a generous giver making this happen,” Cousins said. “And that giver may have no idea the impact he’s having for the starting quarterback on the football team.” He was grateful for the man who discipled him—but he was also grateful for the givers who made that possible.

After college, Cousins was drafted to the Washington Redskins in 2012 as a backup quarterback, signing a $2.5 million four-year rookie contract. That’s also when he met his now-wife Julie (they married in 2014). Together, they began to work through what generosity looked like for them as professionals.

“I do believe that generosity begins at home,” Cousins said. “It’s hard to be a generous person with finances or time outside the home if you’re not being generous with your finances and your time inside the home.”

Cousins devoured books on biblical stewardship and financial management. While he focused on giving well, mentors within and outside the NFL stressed the need to also save well. That became his goal—to be a good giver and a good saver. “To do that, I would need to live not within my means but below my means,” he said. “And give generously but live frugally.”

Stories circulated of Cousins driving a 2000 conversion van he bought from his grandmother. And of he and Julie living in an apartment for a couple years before moving to a small townhouse. “Those are 100 percent true,” he confirmed. Though as they’ve gotten older, Cousins says they have “learned it’s okay to spend money from time to time.”

He says they started by tithing on the gross amount of their income. Then they made a goal to increase their giving each year. Cousins challenged himself: “Can I give more every year in such a way that I never stop doing that until the day I die?” It was important to him that he never have to move backward.

That’s where the saving part comes in. “I don’t know if you know anything about professional athletes, but there aren’t many starting quarterbacks who are 50 or 60 years old,” he quipped. “At some point, unfortunately, what I’m doing ends—earlier than I’d like—and the income stream gets cut off.” With that in mind, Cousins is learning to save so that even after he is no longer playing professional football, he can increase his giving percentage each year.

Cousins played as a backup for the Redskins his first three years. In his fourth year—the “prove yourself year”—the team promoted him to starting quarterback, and he did well. He was franchise tagged, and signed a one-year $20 million deal. “I’m glad I’d read those books before that,” he said. “My response was to read more books.”

When his contract expired, the Redskins signed him for another year for $24 million. “I stayed healthy, played well, and franchise tagged again.” Going into his 7th year in the NFL, Cousins and the team weren’t able to agree on a long-term deal, and he signed a three-year fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.

Even still, Cousins said he and Julie, who have two young sons, are constantly wrestling with how much to save, how much to give, and how much to spend. They struggle with how to give to family and how to raise their sons knowing that their friends will be able to Google Cousins’ football salary in any given year, and how to give sacrificially in a way that still requires faith and trust.

“Struggling and wrestling—the two words I’d use to describe where we are on our journey.”

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.