Jay Gruden does not feel owed anything from Kirk Cousins. He made that clear on Wednesday.
"Why would he owe me something? Kirk doesn’t owe anybody," the coach said.
And he's wrong.
Cousins' rise to succesful NFL quarterback might have happened without Gruden, but it might not have happened nearly as soon.
Remember, Gruden, along with former general manager Scot McCloughan, went to Redskins ownership to insist that Cousins should start over Robert Griffin III in 2015.
That was the easy part.
By that point, after a brilliant rookie campaign in 2012 ruined by injury, Griffin had bombed out in 2013 and 2014. Outside observers knew the Redskins could not stick with RG3.
The hard part was insisting that Cousins was the guy, and sticking with him during a rocky start.
Fans remember Cousins ended 2015 on a tremendous hot streak and an NFC East title, but the first half of the year was not nearly as strong. The season swung after an incredible comeback win at home against Tampa, the famous You Like That game, but prior to beating the Bucs, Cousins was hardly a sure thing.
Coming into that game, Cousins had thrown six touchdowns compared to eight interceptions and the Redskins were 2-4. Immediately prior to the Bucs win, Cousins had thrown for less than 200 yards with one TD and two INTs while completing less than 60 percent of his passes in a loss to the Jets.
At this point, zero debate remains among sane people if Cousins is good enough to start in the NFL. He very obviously does, and will have numerous suitors should he hit the open market.
But at that point? Halftime of the Bucs game, down 24-7? It took a strong belief in Cousins to keep him in the game.
Gruden had it, and was rewarded.
Now is an important time to point out that Cousins has become the Redskins single-season passing yards record holder largely on his own skill and hard work. Players improve on their own. And if he was asked, Cousins would likely disagree with his coach and say that, yes, he does owe Gruden for some of his success.
Coaches can accelerate that improvement, and put players in positions to succeed, but ultimately, Cousins made himself into the player that could become the highest paid in the NFL.
"Some players put less into it and you see they get less out of it. But Kirk’s put so much into making himself a great player that he’s made himself who he is," Gruden said. "We just try to give him information to help him succeed along the way and surround him with good people. And he’s made people around him better in turn and made me better, made other coaches better, and also made some players around him better. It’s worked hand in hand."
That's all true, but it's also true that Cousins needed Gruden to get where he is now.
The quarterback famously said "I owe you my career" to former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay when he left to take the Rams head coaching job before this season. McVay was vital to Cousins' development, clearly, as both a play caller and peer.
Earlier this year, however, Cousins said he believes he's playing his best football. And that's with Gruden back calling the plays.
It's entirely possible Cousins will play for another team next year. The Redskins have few good options with their quarterback's pending contract situation.
What Cousins owes Gruden will unlikely be a factor should the passer hit free agency. And that's fair. Athletes, especially in the non-guaranteed contract world of the NFL, should maximize their opportunities.
Cousins doesn't owe Gruden everything, but the quarterback does owe his coach. Something.
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