Yesterday I put some of Kirk Cousins’ numbers under the microscope here and asked the question if he is a quarterback who just compiles nice stats or if he is a quarterback who can win a Super Bowl. Here on Real Redskins the topic of what Cousins can do is great conversational fodder. Inside the doors of Redskins Park projecting Cousins’ future is not a parlor game; it is the core piece of data that will determine how the team handles Cousins this offseason as he heads towards free agency in March.
We have heard that some at Redskins Park are not sold on Cousins as a franchise quarterback. That is to be expected. In any organization there will be disagreement over major decisions like giving a player a multi-year deal with tens of millions of guaranteed dollars in it. While all views of important members of the organization are heard, there are really only four voices that matter—Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan, Bruce Allen, and Dan Snyder. It seems pretty obvious that Gruden wants Cousins to stay around for the long haul; the quarterback is the perfect fit for the coach’s system. While there has been some talk about the views of the other three we don’t really know what they think (I am throwing out McCloughan’s public statements because, this just in, GMs don’t always tell the truth). And nobody knows what their conclusions will be at the end of the season.
Complicating the picture is that this isn’t a binary choice to re-sign him or let him go. Let’s sort through the options here:
Sign Cousins to a long-term contract—Of course, this is much easier said than done. It doesn’t appear that Mike McCartney, Cousins’ agent, is going to settle for a contract like the ones that Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick got, contracts that let the team get out of the deal at multiple points with little financial penalty. Even if Cousins’ play stays at its current level it would take a five-year deal with some $50 million guaranteed and total dollars well north of $100 million. And no cheap exit ramps.
Tag him again—If Cousins gets tagged his salary would jump to a fully guaranteed $24 million for 2017. If continues his current path that would be over market value but that is the price you pay to put off a long-term commitment for yet another year. One question here is whether Cousins would rush to sign the tender like he did last year. He could choose to put some pressure on the organization to get a long-term deal done by not signing and sitting out OTAs.
Those two options are the only realistic ones for keeping Cousins in the Redskins uniform in 2017. There are a few different ways to proceed if they want to move on.
Stay in house—This would involve letting Cousins walk and handing the reigns to Colt McCoy until Nate Sudfeld is ready to start. McCoy does have 25 NFL starts under his belt including four under Gruden. But his ability to start for a season, or even a substantial chunk of a season, is very much in doubt. Remember that for the past three offseasons McCoy has been a free agent and a quarterback-starved league responded with a yawn. We don’t know enough about Sudfeld to project his future one way or the other. While risky, this course would save a lot of cap money and keep all of the draft picks available to meet other needs.
Get a QB in the draft—You don’t have to look any further than the other teams in the division to see that a rookie quarterback can be successful. Dak Prescott is showing that a quarterback doesn’t even have to be taken on the first two days of the draft to get the job done. Is McCloughan so confident in his ability to spot talent that he can identify and obtain a quarterback who can step in right away? I think we can rule out the Redskins making another blockbuster deal to move to the top of the draft so McCloughan would have to find the man from somewhere in the middle of the first round on. The Redskins have nine draft picks so they do have some flexibility to move up if they need to. This would save a lot of cap money but there is a degree of luck involved in finding a QB who can start right away at any point in the draft.
Sign a (cheaper) free agent—There aren’t many positions where you can’t find at least a competent player in free agency but the glaring exception is at quarterback. A look at the list reveals that Cousins is by far the best of the bunch. The only other player on the list who is currently his team’s starter is Case Keenum of the Rams and he might be headed for the bench soon if they pull the trigger on starting top draft pick Jonathan Goff. Others who have been starters at some points in their careers are Christin Ponder, Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, and Mark Sanchez. Colin Kaepernick seems likely to be let got but he may be a worse fit for Gruden’s offense than RGIII. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be a free agent but do you really want to go there? The Redskins would save some cap room here but not as much as you may think; even mediocre quarterbacks cost a lot of money.
There is one thing you need to keep in mind as you ponder these options. The Redskins are past the point where they can slide backwards as they adjust to a change at quarterback. If they are not at least .500 or better every season going forward they will be considered a failure. In Cousins they have a guy who can at least keep them in contention. If they let Cousins walk and they slide back into double-digit loss territory, their home for most of the last 14 years, there will be plenty of second guessing.
Another factor to ponder here is the fact that the Redskins will have $60-$70 million in cap space in 20017. That gives them flexibility to do whatever they want to do without worrying too much about cap problems. If they let Cousins walk and go into the season with, say, $35 million in remaining cap space they had better be good.
My guess right now is that the Redskins will tag him again. Perhaps Cousins will stay away from Redskins Park, force the issue, and end up with a long-term deal. But with or without a new contract Cousins seems likely to be back behind center in training camp next July.