Sports Column: QB cousins situation sets balance between commitment to current team and a complete rebuild for Washington

By DREW WILLIAMS

Staff Writer

@drewwilliams302

The Kirk Cousins saga with Washington will enter part two as fans await the 2017 NFL season. The Washington Redskins’ quarterback enters an interesting situation as the offseason continues.

Washington gave Cousins the exclusive franchise tag earlier this week, meaning Cousins cannot talk with any other teams while the tag is in place.

Now, here comes the interesting part; this will be the first time in NFL history that a quarterback was franchise tagged in two consecutive seasons.

Money is set to come Cousins’ way if he does indeed end up signing the tag. The tag price will run just a bit more expensive this time around—about $23.9 million.

If things stay the way they are, Cousins will be responsible for the fourth largest cap in the entire league.

Washington and Cousins have until the July 15 deadline to try and reach a long-term deal, keeping Cousins locked up for the long-term.

Can Washington live with this number in hopes of locking Cousins up to a deal? Or do they use this as a rather expensive transition period until they find their next quarterback?

Let us start with the latter first.

Many people talking about the draft this year have noted that no single quarterback in this year’s class really is a generational talent. North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer are the names potentially going in the first round of draft action, but none can have as big an impact immediately compared to what Cousins already has done the past two seasons.

Free agency does not boast too many high caliber passers either. Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Landry Jones and Colin Kaepernick lead the way in names headed into the free agency period.

None of those names have provided too much buzz in their NFL careers.

The nature of the NFL is that great passing quarterbacks tend to never find the free agency pool at such an important and often shallow depth position.

Names like Tony Romo and Jay Cutler are also being talked about in the league, but adding either of them will likely cost a fair amount to get, especially in the trade market. Cousins has also had better numbers than Cutler, and Romo has been plagued with health concerns the last two seasons.

What hurts Washington even more is that Cousins’ numbers last year were actually pretty darn eye-catching.

Cousins had 4,917 passing yards in 2016 to go with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Adding a 71.3 quarterback rating (QBR), which was sixth in the league, and a 67 completion percentage gives anyone a solid outing.

Down the stretch, Cousins and Washington were in great positioning for a playoff appearance in a tough National Football Conference (NFC) race that already had Dallas and New York in the playoffs. But going 2-3 down the stretch and losing in a win-and-get-in game versus the Giants left Cousins and Washington on the outside looking in the playoff window.

That is a tough decision for Washington to make, considering that Cousins has been just good enough to keep Washington out of the cellar, but not great enough to lead them past the first round of the playoffs.

Sample size is also a big factor here. Seeing Brock Osweiler get $76 million in Houston last season may be the example anyone can look at and point to as a reason for not handing big money to a guy who has not had a huge number of starts.

But Cousins is in firm control of this whole situation. Washington is stuck between a rock and an even rockier place.

The 49ers have expressed interest in Cousins, especially considering old Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shannon takes the reins in the bay area. So, potentially, Cousins can be trade bait.

The problem Washington finds itself in is this: unless they can reach a contract agreement with Cousins, they bear the risk of him walking for nothing, essentially pushing the reset button for the team.

Last season, Washington was prepared to offer Cousins just $24 million in guarantees during the contract negotiations. By betting on himself, Cousins can make that much in just this season—kind of a no-brainer there.

According to Washington’s actions, though, Cousins did not prove much of anything and instead provided more questions for the front office.

Quarterbacks are not cheap; that is a given in this league today, but does having a starter who can give you numbers and maybe get you to the playoffs be enough?

In 2016, Washington had a relatively well-known named cast boasting the likes of tight end Jordon Reed and wide receivers Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The offensive line also finished third in adjusted sack rate.

Jackson and Garcon are both free agents this year and Washington will likely only be able to keep one around. Cousins has shown that he likes to be a gunslinger, so losing a deep threat like Jackson or a possession receiver like Garcon could change the dynamic of the passing attack in 2017.

Washington head coach Jay Gruden told the media the losses of those receivers did not have him worried. Maybe he should be mildly worried, especially considering the effect it may have on Cousins.

Out of 606 attempts by Cousins in 2016, 36 percent of those were Jackson and Garcon targets. Both players also accounted for just under 42 percent of Cousins’ 4,917 total passing yards.

Without those two playmakers, the offense may change drastically. Guys like wide receiver Jae Crowder and Reed will still be around, and they did total 13 touchdowns together, but Crowder is not a number one receiver and Reed has problems staying healthy.

This decision for Washington will not be easy, but ultimately Cousins will likely get paid from the team. They do not have solid options other than him, considering the talent pool and their positioning in the draft.

In the current quarterback market, Cousins has leverage to gather more than the $20 million per year he originally wanted. With how things are shaping up now, he understandably will ask for more money.

If Washington chooses to let Cousins walk, however, they are essentially committing to a rebuild. This could be disappointing to fans, considering the haul the team gave to grab former-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III just five seasons ago.

Cousins may not be the best quarterback in the league, but he sure is the best option Washington has. Not many other teams can boast a quarterback to the caliber of Cousins, so Washington should at least count that as a blessing.

Only time will tell what inevitably happens in this situation, but Washington may rather roll the $24 million dice then get locked into another Brock Osweiler.

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