Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Much Is Kirk Cousins Really Worth?

(Will Redskin fans get the draft pick(s) they want for Cousins? Image Via.)

Ever since he was drafted at #102 overall (4th round) in 2012, there has been trade talk associated with Kirk Cousins. This has been obvious since many in the league think Cousins has starting potential (although that opinion varies between league insiders and even certain fans/bloggers like myself) Its been pretty clear that in Washington, Cousins is only the next man up to RGIII and that he'll never get the opportunity to lead the team barring injury/inactivation of Griffin.

So of course after a successful start in 2012 (to go along with three relief performances off the bench against Atlanta, Baltimore and Seattle), the "Trade Cousins" talk began during training camp and carried throughout 2013. It started hitting its peak during the final three games of the season when RGIII was de-activated and Cousins had his opportunity to start. Even Mike Shanahan threw out demands of wanting a first round pick for Cousins.

The off-season hasn't gotten any better. With the need for more depth and talent on the roster, fans have been dreaming of what the Redskins could get this year for Cousins. When Kyle Shanahan became the Browns' offensive coordinator, there were comments on Twitter from fans suggesting the Redskins getting the Browns late 1st round pick or players like Josh Gordon or Joe Haden (none of this likely to ever happen). That seemed to stop because GM Mike Lombardi is not a fan of Cousins and that the Browns are likely to draft a QB with the early 1st round pick.

However, with the firing of Lombardi, the chatter has started again about a possible trade with Cleveland or another team for Cousins. So the big question is what is Kirk Cousins worth after two seasons in the league? Today, we're going to look at Cousin's numbers and compare what he's done so far to that of other recent trades for backup QBs who would become starters in the league.

Is Cousins really that valuable or is this just fan/media driven hype?

Let's look at Cousins' stats before we look at some of the historical trades.
Kirk CousinsGames Played/Started/W-L: 8/4/1-3
Stats: 114/203, 1,320 yards 8 TD, 10 INT (2 Seasons)

Overall, not bad numbers for Cousins and there is potential for him to be a starter in the NFL. Now let's compare what he's done to some similar players that were in his situations over the past few years.

What History Tells Us.......

(2007) Texans trade for QB Matt Schaub
Games Active/Started/W-L:  38/2/0-2
Stats: 84/161, 1033 yards, 6 TD, 6 INT (3 seasons)
Trade Details: Houston flips 1st round picks with Atlanta (from 8th to 10th) and gives up two 2nd round picks (2007, 2008).
Thoughts: At the time Schaub was a RFA and was tendered by Atlanta that it would cost another team a 1st and 3rd round pick, so the Texans actually thought they got a pretty good deal at the time. Cousins has started more games than Schaub and actually has a victory under his belt, but has thrown for less TDs and more INTs.

(2009) Chiefs trade for QB Matt Cassel
Games Active/Started/W-L: 30/15/10-5
Stats: 349/555, 3946 yards, 23 TD, 13 INT (4 seasons)

Trade Details: Patriots acquire Chiefs 2nd round pick (#34 overall); Chiefs get Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel. 
Thoughts: This trade is a bit skewed for a few reasons. 1st Scott Pioli had just left the Patriots to become the GM of the Chiefs, so there may have been been a friendly relationship going on between the two sides. Also, don't let the Vrabel move fool you, this benefited the Patriots to help their cap situation more than give the Chiefs a veteran leader. Still, based on one season of success Cassel garnered the Patriots a near 1st round caliber pick (also worth noting this happened prior to the current CBA, at that time 2nd round picks were extremely valuable because rookies were significantly cheaper in the 2nd round compared to the 1st round.).

(2011) Cardinals trade for QB Kevin Kolb
Games Active/Started/ W-L: 19/7/3-4
Stats: 194/319, 2082 yards, 11 TD, 14 INT (4 seasons)
Trade Details: Eagles get 2012 2nd round pick (#51 overall) and CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie
Thoughts: Give credit to Andy Reid as he tends to get good deals for quarterbacks when he makes trades. At the time DRC was considered a #1 CB with playmaking potential in some circles. Meanwhile a mid 2nd round pick for the next season is still pretty decent along with a starting corner. The Cardinals on the other hand got a player with potential but injury prone and still a long way to develop.

 Analysis

This is a small set of trades and one thing that you have to consider with at least two of the three is that there was a different CBA in place at the time. This does matter because with the old CBA, there wasn't a cap on rookie contracts. So, teams would have to shell out as much as 20 million guaranteed (or more) for a high 1st round quarterback that hasn't thrown a single NFL pass. This made trades more likely because a known commodity that's cheaper may be more prudent than a costly unknown who could be the next Peyton Manning or the next Heath Shuler. This is key because the teams needing a QB are more likely to take a risk on a 1st rounder now because they are cheap in the current CBA compared to the previous CBA.

That said, in each of the above trades, the starting point is a 2nd round pick. The Texans/Falcons trade seems to be closest to the current situation that Cousins and the Redskins are in. Schaub was never going to beat out Mike Vick for the starting job (at that time, in that situation) and the Falcons wanted to get something before Schaub became a free agent. Luckily the Texans were interested.

However, here's the rub. In all three trade situations, each QB had at least three seasons in the league. Also, while Cousins has more attempts, wins and starts than Schaub, Cousins lacks the amount of playing time and snaps compared to the others in my survey.

The biggest problem with the Cousins evaluation is need. Who needs a QB? With the upcoming draft are their enough talented QBs to fill the need then trading for Kirk? We know that the Texans, Browns, Jaguars and possibly the Raiders, Vikings and Titans will be looking for quarterbacks. Here's where the problem might occur. Most of these teams have high round picks and while they may be interested in giving up a late round 2nd rounder, they probably don't want to give up a high second round pick (which in this draft is likely to yield 1st round talent).

On the Redskins side, they do not want to give up Cousins for anything less than a second. While it is plausible that the Redskins could take a 3rd round pick and other selections (maybe an additional 4th or a conditional 3rd in 2015) instead of a 2nd, it's clear that the Redskins don't want to blow an opportunity especially in a situation where the franchise is looking to rebuild a significant portion of their roster.

So How Much Is Cousins Worth?
Based on his limited playing time in the league and some minimum success that he's had with the Redskins and on historical precedent, I would say that right now Cousins is probably worth a mid-2nd round to early 3rd round pick.

Should The Redskins Trade Cousins?
It really depends on what a team is offering and the situation right now. If somebody offered the Redskins a 2nd round pick for the former 4th rounder, then I'd say take it and move on. However, the Redskins don't have to force this trade. Cousins is signed through 2015 and there's obviously a good chance that Cousins will see playing time with the Redskins this season with RGIII's injury history.

Ideally, the Browns make a good choice. They have the ammo to move all over the draft board and they have a coordinator that believes that Cousins truly is a 1st round caliber talent. The Browns could forgo a QB and target another WR talent in Clemson's Sammy Watkins or trade back and garner even more picks to build their roster. But they could also target a QB and bring in a veteran free agent like Rex Grossman to help teach the rookie QB the system (like he did with RGIII).

If there isn't a buyer that wants to make a good deal for Cousins, then the best bet is to wait a season and see if Cousins' value continues to grow. Meanwhile the Redskins have a solid backup who has been successful (at times) if he is needed to start.

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