|(Kirk is playing on the tag for 2016 and yes, I Like That!)|
So the deadline for the Redskins and Kirk Cousins to agree to a long term contract has come and gone and now Cousins will play 2016 on a 20 million dollar franchise tag.
Beyond typical fan panic and some drama generated, as possible theories as to why a long term deal didn't happen, by some in the sports media, this shouldn't be much of a surprise. It seems that early on in the negotiations between the Redskins FO and Cousins' agent that neither side was close to a number that would lead to a long term deal. Both sides seemed quite happy with the franchise tag and that's where it has stood.
So why didn't a long term deal get done and why do I think this is a good situation that benefits both the team and Cousins? I think it comes down to how both sides value Cousins at this point in his career and what they're willing to spend/take based on history vs. potential.
So before I write about the current situation, let's look at Kirk's tenure with the team so far.
Role: #2 QB
Games: Played in 4, Started 1
Results: Filled in for RGIII (injuries) against Falcons, Ravens and Seahawks. Of those three games, his best was against the Ravens. In that game, he lead the Redskins to a comeback victory. Cousins had mixed results against the Falcons in the team's loss and was a non-factor (3/10 and a fumble) in the playoff loss against Seattle.
Cousins lone start against the Browns started rough with an INT, but he rebounded with 2 TDs and a 104 QB rating in a critical victory that kept the Redskins playoff hopes alive.
Role: #2 QB/ Named starter week 15
Games: Played in 5, Started 3
Results: Much like most of the 2013 Redskins, this was a horrible season for Cousins. His best game was against the Falcons where he had the lone game of throwing more TDs than INTs (3 to 2). Most games were mop up duty in losses against KC and Denver. Had a miserable 2 INT game against the Giants (a trend that would carry into 2014 season). To be fair, by the time Cousins was named starter for a benched RGIII, it had appeared that the entire team had given up on the season including head coach Mike Shanahan.
Role: #2 QB/Interim QB (Week 2)/ Benched- #3 QB (Week 7)
Games: Played in 6, Started 5
Results: Came off the bench and became an interim starter for an injured RGIII vs. Jaguars and dominated with a 22/33, 250 yard and 2 TD performance. Had a great game in a heartbreaking loss to the Eagles with a 3 TD game. However things started to go downhill after the Eagles loss. Cousins had a horrible 4 INT game in a loss to the Giants. He rebounded against the Seahawks but the yardage and scores seemed to come in garbage time. Cousins had another mediocre game against the Cardinals with a 2 TD/3 INT performance. In week 7, Cousins was benched after a mediocre start against the Titans. He would not play again in 2014 despite injuries to Colt McCoy and shaky performances by RGIII.
2014 is clearly the year that many have defined most of Cousins' career until his week 7 performance in 2015 against Tampa Bay. Cousins earned the reputation of being a bit of a turnover machine and struggled with dealing with his mistakes (leading him to press to be perfect and just making the situation worse).
Role: Starter (named starter right before week 1)
Games: Started all 17 games played by Redskins
Results: In his first 6 games, Cousins would struggle throwing for 1 TD/2 INT in four of the games (the Redskins would lose all four of those games). Cousins would lead the team to two victories with two 1 TD/0 INT games.
Week 7 is where Cousins broke out of his mold of being a INT throwing QB. He had a 3 TD performance (33/40 for 317 yards and a rushing TD as well) in the "You Like That!" game against the Buccaneers. This victory most likely saved the Redskins season and eventual division title. In the remaining 10 games (week 7-17), Cousins would throw for 23 TDs with only 3 INTs and would have QB ratings over 100 for all games, except two (Panthers, Patriots). Cousins grew into a leader that took command of the team and did what he needed to do to win. Not really going to say much about the playoff game. He threw for a TD but fumbled 3 times.
Were The Redskins Right To Be Cautious?
Looking at Cousins career and not just the last 10 regular season games, you darned right they should be cautious. That's not saying that Cousins won't succeed. I actually think he'll be a very dominate QB in Jay Gruden's scheme much like Drew Brees is in Sean Payton's scheme. But, if I'm Scot McCloughan, I want to see much more before I start paying Cousins the type of money that you see being paid to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Cousins still has some things to prove to fans and the team. First, can beat tougher competition? I hate this stat but it is a true one: Cousins has yet to win a game as starter against a team with a winning record. That's an ugly stat. Cousins also has to show that he can be the guy who has cut down the turnovers and not the guy who throws as many INTs as he does TDs in a game.
I also wanted to address the "low balled" comments that fans and media alike has thrown at the Redskins about their offer. According to Mike Garofolo of NFL Network, the Redskins offered a deal that would average 16 million/year with 24 million guaranteed. While the 24 guaranteed sounds small, the 16 million average actually is pretty close to what plenty of experts suggested prior to the team franchising Cousins (if memory serves Over the Cap and Joel Corry come to mind).
I figured the team would probably have to pay 18-19 million/year with maybe 35 million in guarantees at the time and I was being told by some that was too much. For Cousins' team it wasn't close enough.
"But Al, the Texans paid Brock Osweiler MORE than what you thought Cousins was worth and that was more than what the Redskins offered Kirk. So didn't you both low ball our QB?"
Nope. QB is a critical position in the NFL. The Texans were desperate and the 2016 draft had a lousy QB class. When you're desperate, you overpay. The Texans overpaid, period. If Osweiler fails, then the Texans are stuck with a big cap hit. In the Redskins case, if Kirk fails, they don't have any future cap concerns but they have the bigger challenge in finding a new starting QB.
Why Kirk Is So Confident He's Worth More Than 20 Million Per Year?
There are two reasons why this is the case.
The first is just simply market value. Team Cousins knows that quality QB availability is less than the demand of NFL teams. It's more than likely that the Redskins would franchise Cousins possibly for both 2016 and 2017 than to let him go. I mean even the anti-Cousins fans would have to admit that Kirk is probably at worst a top 15-20 QB in the league (I'm talking at worst here). There just isn't a better option for this team this year and probably next year as well.
If the Redskins franchised Kirk in both years, he'd average 22 million/year. Thus, if the team is willing to do this, it's only logical that Cousins' agent would want at minimum a long term deal that would average this type of money.
The second reason is that Kirk believes in himself. He's been in Jay Gruden's scheme for two full seasons at this point. He had one full year to play in it as a starter and in 2016 he will have an entire offseason to take starter reps. He also has worked with his WR/TE corp for years, so he knows them inside and out (with exception to rookie Josh Doctson). He also knows that his OL may be the strongest unit that he's played with since being drafted by the Redskins.
Also, Cousins has the confidence that maybe he has lacked in previous years because he knows he's the guy in DC. This isn't new. Joe Flacco had a similar situation with the Ravens and as a result, Flacco eventually got an amazing deal by proving he was worth the big contract. Cousins believes that he can have similar success. I think this is a good thing. You want your QB to have confidence in his abilities and just a little swagger. You also want a player to have something to prove.
So can Cousins prove that he's the franchise QB the Redskins have looked for since Joe Theismann?
I think there is a good chance that he can. I also think we may be having this same conversation next season as the Redskins will have to determine how much Cousins will be worth with a rising cap and more veterans to extend.
Could Cousins become the highest paid player in the NFL in 2017? Don't be surprised.