Kirk Cousins

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Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Build up the defense and forget about big money QBs? It's not that easy

Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Case Keenum will be three of the four quarterbacks playing in on Championship Sunday this weekend. That's remarkable, as none of the three are considered elite passers.

The strength of those three teams is very obviously their defenses. Minnesota and Jacksonville rank as the top two defenses in the NFL, and the Eagles rank fourth. 

Naturally, in a copycat league like the NFL, many fans are starting to wonder how to emulate the model established by the success of the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles. For Redskins fans facing the possibility of losing Kirk Cousins to free agency or paying the franchise record holder upwards of $28 million a year or more, is investing heavily in the defense and saving money at the QB position a faster path to playoff success?

RELATED: REALISTIC REDSKINS QB OPTIONS IN 2018 NFL DRAFT

The question makes sense.

The answer, however, is much harder to explain.  

Let's dispel a few myths to start. The Eagles have a great defense, sure, but Philadelphia was getting fantastic quarterback play from second-year star Carson Wentz. He got hurt late in the regular season. Playing Foles was never the plan in Philadelphia, and the Eagles invested heavily in draft picks to trade up and acquire Wentz. Do not for a second think Philadelphia got Wentz on the cheap. 

Next up we have Keenum. Yes, he's cheap, with a salary of less than $2 million. He's also been terrific.

One of the more interesting QB situations in the last decade unfolded in Minnesota this season. Highly paid Sam Bradford ($18 million in 2017) got hurt, and Keenum took off like a rocket as the backup. In 14 starts he's completed 67 percent of his passes for more than 3,500 yards to go with 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The Vikes went 11-3 with Keenum at the helm in the regular season, and just logged an incredible 29-24 comeback win over the Saints in the divisional round. In the final seconds of the victory, Keenum threw the game-winning TD. 

Lastly, there's Bortles. His numbers this year were decent. He runs a conservative offense and does a pretty good job. He threw for nearly 3,700 yards with 21 TDs against 13 INTs. He was plenty good for the Jaguars as they pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset in Pittsburgh in the divisional round last weekend. Jacksonville used a ton of draft capital to select Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 and the team has already picked up his $19 million option for the 2018 season. Nothing cheap there. 

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Beyond the quarterbacks, obviously, the Vikings, Eagles and Jags all have terrific defenses. Much of that came in the way of smart free agent decisions. 

Much of the success of the three defenses also came from good drafting, season after season. 

Jacksonville's 2016 draft haul is incredibly impressive. In the first three rounds, the Jags selected Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue. All three now start, and star, for the Jacksoville defense. 

Minnesota drafted Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr over the last four seasons, with plenty of other contributors coming via the draft as well. 

One year after giving up four picks to acquire Wentz, the Eagles went defense with their first three selections in 2017. 

The point isn't that free agency can't make a good defense into a great one, that can happen. But to build a truly great defense, significant draft capital needs to be used. Teams must nail their first round picks, and hit on a few players later in the draft as well. 

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Further, stop thinking that just because Bortles, Foles and Keenum are starting this weekend that those teams didn't spend plenty at QB. Minnesota had more than $22 million invested at the quarterback position in 2017. Bortles was a third overall pick, and the Eagles gave up four picks  just for the chance to acquire Wentz. 

For Redskins fans, know that building the defense is absolutely a strong strategy. Last year, Washington used its first three draft selections on defensive players for the first time in 20 years. This offseason, the Redskins should again look to add talent on defense, both through the draft and free agency. 

That success will not come over night, however, and it will not come without a capable quarterback. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Jaguars big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for Redskins, bad for Kirk Cousins

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Jaguars big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for Redskins, bad for Kirk Cousins

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars went to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers in the NFL's Divisional Playoff Round. 

Seriously. 

A team few thought would win many games this season, let alone two playoff games, will travel to New England next week for the AFC Championship game. 

And Bortles was a big part of their success. 

The Jacksonville quarterback wasn't great, but he was exactly what the Jaguars needed. Bortles completed 14 of 26 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 35 yards on five carries. 

But wait, why is a Redskins reporter writing about this? 

Jacksonville's big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for the Redskins.

With Kirk Cousins possibly hitting free agency this offseason, the Jaguars were long considered a potential landing spot for the Washington passer. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

Now, with Bortles leading the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game, that scenario seems far fetched. 

Keep in mind two things:

  1. Bortles is under contract for 2018. Jacksonville picked up his $19 million option for next season, and while it's guaranteed for injury only, he could command more than that on the open market. In the crazy world of NFL quarterbacks, Bortles at $19 million might be a bargain. Remember, Chicago paid Mike Glennon $14 million last season.
  2. Jags owner Shad Khan reiterated that Bortles is the future in Jacksonville before the playoffs began, and his stance will only be solidified by the win in Pittsburgh. 

Let's be clear: Cousins is a better passer than Bortles. The Redskins QB posted better statistics than Bortles in every major passing category, and the gap wasn't insignificant.  With or without Jacksonville, Cousins will have a robust market in free agency.

Cousins will also carry a higher price tag, possibly as a high as $30 million if he hits true free agency.

Jacksonville has built their team on the defensive side of the ball, and offensively, they run a ball control run-first game. The Jags have more than $111 million tied up in defensive players in 2018, and only $17 million in salary cap space. 

Considering all that, would Jags boss tom Coughlin want to pay up for Cousins when he has Bortles already in place?

Maybe. 

After Jacksonville's big upset win in Pittsburgh, however, it seems much, much less likely. 

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Pay close attention and it's clear to see what Kirk Cousins really wants

Pay close attention and it's clear to see what Kirk Cousins really wants

If it wasn't obvious before, it sure is now: Kirk Cousins wants to hit free agency. 

Unfettered, free to the market. Capitalism in its purest form.  

And why shouldn't he? As the Redskins quarterback has repeatedly explained, Cousins has not been able to pick where he played football since 2008. That was when he elected to attend Michigan State for college. As a professional, he's been forced to play for the Redskins since 2012. 

He will turn 30 in August, and wants to shape his future. Cousins explained his decision will not be just about money, but control. 

"Money is not the driving factor in this decision to go another 16 games,” Cousins said last week in a radio event with 106.7 the Fan's Grant and Danny. “It’s just not what I’ve built my life on. That’s not what it’s about."

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What does that mean for the Redskins? 

Trouble. 

Cousins talked at length last week with about his future (video above), and while he didn't make much clear, he doubled down on a position Redskins fans should remember. 

In 2017, Cousins and his representatives decided not to engage in contract negotiations with the Redskins. Washington made an offer that included $54 million guaranteed and showed Cousins the Redskins "were all in last summer."

Still, despite his team being "all in," Cousins and his camp decided not to talk about a long-term deal. Instead, the QB played on a one-year deal that paid him $24 million. 

That wasn't the first time Cousins eschewed a multi-year deal with Washington. 

Speaking last week, Cousins explained that late in the 2015 season, the Redskins tried to sign their passer to a contract extension. As Cousins tells the story, the offer came before the Redskins played the Bears in early December 2015. His agent, Mike McCartney, told the quarterback to turn down the offer. 

“Going into this game, I’m thinking I kind of like the comfort and security the Redskins are offering. But Mike said, you don’t want to do this, you want to go play this out and then go from there. Well, I was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month those last four games, we won all four and we went to the playoffs and the rest is history.” 

As for “the rest is history,” well, Cousins is right. 

Since refuting the Redskins' offer in 2015, the organization has twice used a franchise tag to keep Cousins. In turn, he’s made $44 million the last two seasons, more than almost every other NFL player during the same time.

Washington should have made a stronger effort in 2016 to sign Cousins before using the first franchise tag. The team didn’t, and it was a big mistake. 

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In 2017, however, the team tried. Cousins wouldn’t talk, even though he admitted the offer was legitimate. 

In 2018, is it even worth trying for the Redskins?

The evidence is clear: Cousins wants to be a free agent. 

Cousins’ self-described timeline for negotiations will force Washington team president Bruce Allen to use either another franchise tag or a transition tag before the deadline in early March. While Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has made clear he doesn't want his quarterback playing on another one-year deal, Cousins reiterated that he doesn't mind. 

"I'm OK with a one-year deal. It doesn’t scare me a whole lot, I’m OK with it, I think it’s a very fair contract and I don’t have any quarrel with it so I would just sign and go play football," he said. 

Everybody knows what's at stake. The Redskins could lose their franchise record holder for passing yards in a season, and the first QB to ever start 16 games three years in a row. He has said almost all the right things, but Cousins has never truly commited to the Redskins. Washington has made multiple missteps in the process, but at this point, it seems that Cousins' priority is testing the market and controlling his future. In 2018, or beyond. 

Either tag him, or Cousins will hit free agency.

And that’s exactly what the quarterback wants. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!