Note: We’re going to try something different for the Sunday Need to Know, with just one longer post on one subject and with all of the normal tidbits of information, links, social media normally included here stripped away. As always, feel free to let me know what you think about both the post itself and the change. —RT

Tandler’s Take: It’s about the money

It’s been four weeks since the Redskins’ regular season ended with a cold whimper in the Meadowlands. The NFL offseason comes up on you quickly and the Redskins are about five weeks away from having to make their first major decision on Kirk Cousins. The March 6 transition and franchise tag deadline is the first step towards determining how much money Cousins will make this year and for the next several years.

And money and salary cap space are what the controversy surrounding the six-year veteran is all about. There aren’t any reasonable arguments to be made that he isn’t, in the words of Scot McCloughan, good. Only three quarterbacks have more passing yards since Cousins became the starter in 2015. Among QBs who have thrown at least 1,500 passes only Drew Brees has a better completion percentage and only Brees, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan have more yards per pass attempt.

The numbers could go on, but I don’t think that many need convincing that he is a very competent NFL quarterback. And not many need convincing that he is not an elite quarterback, either. If I had to pick a quarterback to lead my team for the next 3-4 years, I’d certainly take Brady, Brees, Ryan, Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson over Cousins. That makes him No. 9 in the rankings at best. I could be convinced to take Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott, and Jared Goff ahead of him. If Andrew Luck makes it back from his shoulder problems I’d take him. And if I see more of what we’ve seen in the limited sample size of Jimmy Garoppolo and Deshaun Watson I might take him over Cousins as well. So Cousins could be as low as No. 15. That’s the very definition of average.


Comparing quarterbacks like this, however, is a lot like lining up supermodels and movie stars and deciding which one you would like to go out with. It’s purely hypothetical. You might want to have dinner with Mila Kunis but it’s not going to happen. The Redskins might want to have Aaron Rodgers under center but that’s not going to happen either. As Stephen Stills said, you have to love the one you’re with.

The Redskins may love Cousins but how much will it cost them to stay with him? And if they do keep him will they be able to fit some other players they love under the NFL’s salary cap? (OK, enough of the romantic analogies. I dislike them but sometimes nothing else works as well.)

There are no simple answers here. It would be a no-brainer to sign Cousins to a multi-year deal worth an average of $20 million per year. It also would be easy to say no to a deal worth, say, $32 million per year. Where in between there are the Redskins willing to go?

How about $23 million per year? And if you’ll go $23 million, why not $25 million. I mean, that additional $2 million represents just 1.1 percent of the 2018 cap and that cap number will go up over the years the contract is in effect. And if $25 million is OK, how about $27 million? $28 million?

I’m sure you see where that line of thinking can lead you. At some point, you cross a line where the quarterback doesn’t bring enough to the team to justify the cost. I suspect that the Redskins figure that line is somewhere around $24 million.

But here’s the thing—in the past, NFL teams have never drawn that line with quarterbacks. They have simply paid whatever it takes to keep their competent quarterback on the team. Cousins is one of 10 quarterbacks in the free agency era (1993-present) to throw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. None of the others were with a different team the next season. In fact, only Peyton Manning played for a different team at any point in his career after going for 4,000 at least three straight years. He had the unique set of circumstances as he missed a year with a neck injury and the Colts with the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck.


Even if you lower the threshold to three consecutive seasons of at least 3,500 passing yards to account for the growth of passing over the past 25 seasons you don’t find anyone who changed teams the following year.

Fiscal responsibility doesn’t seem to apply at the quarterback spot. With other players, the prevailing philosophy is that the team will set a price and if the players won’t agree to it it’s thanks for the memories. That’s supposed to be the “smart” way of doing business. But at quarterback, you hand him a blank check.

But how has that conventional wisdom worked out for these teams? Not so well in many cases. Currently, there are 14 quarterbacks with multi-year contracts with average annual values of at least $20 million. Nine of those teams played for teams that didn’t make the 2017 playoff field. Now, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer, and Aaron Rodgers were injured for all or part of the season so that should be factored in. Still, that’s not much of a return on the combined $207 million quarterback money spent (based on AAV) by those non-playoff teams.

It seems inevitable that Cousins will end up leaving the Redskins, whether it’s in a couple of months or in 2019. It may happen because of money or it may be for other reasons. In any case, it’s likely that the Redskins will be testing the “blank check for the competent QB” way of doing business.

The thing is, this is a two-part situation. If the Redskins are going to let Cousins out the door the question becomes, who’s next? Selling your current house may be a perfectly rational thing to do. But associated with that decision is figuring out where are you going to live next. And it’s safe to say that there are many more good, affordable houses out there than there are good, affordable quarterbacks.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.