As fall leaks into winter, Kirk Cousins again finds himself near the end of a one-year contract. Once the season ends in 2018, the Redskins and their quarterback will be forced back to the negotiating table, or, put in position to again use a franchise tag to keep their passer.
While that situation will unfold across board rooms and telephone calls, what Cousins can control right now is on the field. And through 11 games, he's controlling it well.
Cousins is second in the NFL at 3,038 passing yards, ranking only behind Tom Brady. He's third in the NFL in passing yards per game, again behind Brady as well as Carson Palmer (who only played five games before a season-ending injury).
In fact, looking at QB stats around the NFL this season, Cousins' name is near the top of almost every key metric.
Considering that an Ian Rapoport report showed the Redskins want Cousins to prove he can be their franchise passer with a strong performance the remainder of the season, it's worth considering just how good Cousins has been so far this year.
This list will be objective, based on empirical data. For fans that want to point to intangibles, head straight to the comment section. Also, this list is based on 2017 performance alone. Repeat, only 2017 statistics. As they say in the stock market, past performance is not indicative of future returns.
Ultimately, Washington's question in paying up for Cousins, or not, this offseason comes down to how good he is compared to the rest of the league. How good is he? Let's answer by figuring out who is definitively better:
- Tom Brady - He's the best passer in the game, and probably the best QB of all-time. This is the easiest No. 1 choice in history.
- Carson Wentz - The Eagles second-year passer has thrown for nearly 500 yards less than Cousins, but has found the end zone nearly 10 times more. Wentz's ability to go downfield with accuracy separates him from Cousins. Wentz leads the NFL with 28 TDs and has thrown just five interceptions.
- Drew Brees - While Brees is actually a hair behind Cousins in a few categories (yards, YPG, TDs) he is completing 71 percent of his passes to Cousins 66 percent. Also, he gets the nod for a head's up win over Cousins just two weeks ago. Brees also averages more yards-per-attempt than Cousins and has the higher QB rating.
That's it. That's the list. Only those three passers are definitely better than Cousins this season. Of course, Aaron Rodgers would also be on this list, but he's currently on injured reserve after breaking his collar bone in Week 6.
Now, a case can be made for two more players. Not an ironclad argument, but a case.
- Russell Wilson - More TDs but fewer yards and lower completion percentage. Nobody is more important to their team than Wilson is to the Seahawks.
- Philip Rivers - More TDs and siginificantly fewer sacks. Also, grit. Rivers vs Cousins in LA in two weeks will be fun to watch. Rivers and Cousins are tied in yards-per-completion at 12.2.
At this point, there are probably some folks screaming that Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford should rank ahead of Cousins. Look at the numbers. They don't. Perhaps Cam Newton? Newton only has 2,400 pass yards to go with 14 TDs against 11 INTs. Not even close to the same company this season.
Three players that bring interesting questions: Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and Case Keenum.
If Watson stayed healthy, he would have ranked ahead of Cousins or at least been in the same category as Wilson and Rivers. In six games he had 1,700 pass yards and 19 TDs. He was throwing a touchdown almost 10 percent of the time.
Goff's season started slow, with head coach Sean McVay keeping things very simple for the second year passer. In his last four games, however, Goff has twice thrown for more than 350 yards to go with 9 TDs against 1 INT.
And Keenum? Well, 2017 Keenum could be very similar to 2015 Cousins. In his last three games, Keenum has completed at least 70 percent of his passes and thrown for seven touchdowns. Facing free agency after the year, the Vikings might be forced to use the franchise tag on the still unproven Keenum or lose him to the market. Sounds familiar, right Redskins fans?
Looking at the numbers, and just looking at the numbers, even the most ardent Cousins critic sees that the Redskins passer belongs among the Top 10 NFL quarterbacks. In fact, he might be in the Top 5.
Looking beyond just numbers, the answer isn't as concrete. Using their proprietary grading scheme, Pro Football Focus ranks Cousins as the 11th best QB this season, behind players like Tyrod Taylor and Marcus Mariota. Football Outsiders, using either their DYAR or DVOA metric, also rank Cousins 11th in the league.
One metric that hurts Cousins in some of the more advanced passing statistics comes from the 31 sacks taken so far this year. That's the fourth most sacks in the league, and Cousins has lost 269 yards on sacks, by far the most in the league. The tricky part about Cousins' high sack total is that some of it appears to be by design. Rich Tandler has more on that here, but the short version is the Redskins want more downfield and off-schedule plays from their QB, and sometimes that results in more sacks.
Stats don't tell the whole story, but they tell a big story. When it comes to Kirk Cousins and Redskins fans, the story often remains more complicated.
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 Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!