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System QB or solo talent: Redskins still need to determine Kirk Cousins' value

System QB or solo talent: Redskins still need to determine Kirk Cousins' value

With the Redskins mired in a second-straight year of contract squabbles with their starting quarterback, it's obvious the team does not see the same value that Kirk Cousins sees for himself. 

Looking last week at a series of comments from Cousins and his agent Mike McCartney, it's obvious the passer sets his value with the franchise tag. This mindset makes sense, considering Cousins played on a one-year tag last year and is poised to do so again in 2017, making a combined $44 million along the way.

There is a school of thought that says the Redskins need to pay up for Cousins, regardless of the cost. Quarterbacks get paid exorbitant sums in the NFL, and Cousins has proved he can play at a high level the past two seasons.

Another school of thought is unsure what Cousins' true value is, and much of that is based on the quality of the Redskins offense and the QB's true role in it. Consider Andy Benoit of the MMQB.com in the latter camp.

Over the last two seasons Cousins has thrown for more than 9,000 yards and twice broke the franchise's single season passing record. The offense has largely looked efficient with Cousins at quarterback, and in flashes, has looked explosive. 

Yet, plenty of NFL folks, on and off the record, don't think Cousins is the engine driving the offense. Benoit's tweet makes clear he thinks Jay Gruden's offense is a bigger benefit to Cousins than the QB is to Gruden's offense. 

Consider that in 2014, Gruden's first year as coach, the Redskins passed for 4,047 yards. That season saw a combination of Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy and Cousins start games for Washington, and plenty of subpar quarterback play. 

In 2015, Cousins took the reins and passed for 4,166 yards. The increase from the year before was slight, and that included a stellar final quarter of the season from Cousins. In 2016, Cousins passing yardage jumped to 4,917, but his touchdowns decreased and his interceptions increased by one. 

The reality here may be a chicken and egg scenario. Is Cousins good because of the offensive system? Or is the offensive system good because Cousins runs it? Remember, also, that some folks at Redskins Park believe Colt McCoy could produce similar numbers to Cousins at a much reduced cost. 

2017 will be a particularly interesting case study in this debate, as many of the key pieces of the offense have changed. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are gone, and Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor will take their place as the starting WRs. What impact will that have on Cousins numbers?

For the Redskins, weighing the system against the individual talents of Cousins may prove to be the hardest question to answer before the July 15 franchise tag negotiation deadline. 

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Redskins Free Agent Targets: Darqueze Dennard

Redskins Free Agent Targets: Darqueze Dennard

NBC Sports Washington is taking a long look at potential free agents that could help the Redskins in 2020. 

Cincinnati Bengals CB Darqueze Dennard
2014 first-round pick by Cincinnati
Unrestricted free agent
5-foot-11 | 200 lbs. | 28 years old

Cornerback is a significant need for the Washington Redskins and one they were likely expected to address in free agency. With the release of veteran Josh Norman last Friday, upgrading the position now becomes a necessity. 

One cornerback the Burgundy and Gold should target in free agency is a name many Redskins fans are not familiar with: Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

The 28-year-old was drafted in 2014 and has spent all six of his NFL seasons with the Bengals. During his time in Cinci, he played the majority of his snaps from the slot but proved he has the ability to play on the outside as well. The 5-foot-11 cornerback has a strong frame and is one of the best at his position defending the run. 

Injuries have hampered Dennard throughout his career, but he's been productive when on the field.

Last season, although he played in just nine games, Dennard posted the 15th best coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. The 28-year-old excelled in coverage downfield, allowing just four catches of 10 or more yards all season. In contrast, Redskins' cornerbacks posted the fourth-worst grade by PFF in such situations.

Dennard was a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but never blossomed to the shutdown cornerback the Bengals hoped they drafted. Nonetheless, he's a very viable starter and one that could greatly benefit a Washington secondary that struggled mightily a season ago.

As it stands now, the Redskins starters at cornerback are Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau starting on the outside with Jimmy Moreland in the slot. 

Dunbar, who had a career-best season a year ago, was rumored to request a trade from the Redskins a couple of weeks ago. He later backtracked on his statement, saying the situation had been blown out of proportion.

Regardless, Dunbar enters his final season under contract with Washington and has zero guarantees remaining in his contract; there's no assurance he's back with Washington in 2021 and beyond. Moreau also enters the final season of his rookie year as well.

So, the Redskins likely need to sign at least one, if not two, cornerbacks in free agency. Dennard could be an ideal fit and a cheaper option than other cornerbacks on the market.

Head coach Ron Rivera said that part of the reason he released Norman was so the team could get younger at the position, and at 28, Dennard still has plenty of football ahead of him.

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Questions facing Ron Rivera: What will cornerback look like now that Josh Norman is gone?

Questions facing Ron Rivera: What will cornerback look like now that Josh Norman is gone?

With Josh Norman no longer a Redskin and Quinton Dunbar seemingly unhappy with his standing on the team, cornerback is an issue that's rising up Ron Rivera's lengthy to-do list.

Finding a solution to the Trent Williams dilemma, making sure Dwayne Haskins has what he needs to succeed and figuring out what to do with the No. 2 draft pick are all likely ahead of fixing corner on the coach's list, and rightly so.

That said, he probably now has circled CB and drawn an upward arrow next to it, indicating its increasing prominence.

The Norman release was an easy place for the team's new leader to begin. While it would've been intriguing to see Rivera try to reinvigorate Norman's career, No. 24's age, decline in speed and salary all made him extremely expendable. Still, it does mean the franchise is now without a DB who started the overwhelming majority of games in the past four seasons.

Next, Rivera will have to get an idea about how another starter is feeling.

While Dunbar has apparently backed off his recent trade demand, it's clear he's not pleased with the money he's making and is also a bit insecure about where he stands in this new version of the organization. Can Rivera change his opinion, either by initiating a contract adjustment or calming Dunbar's mind about his future, or will the receiver-turned-defender be moved this offseason, too?

The ending of that storyline will obviously impact the entire depth chart in a big way.

Those are the two important secondary pieces who wore Burgundy and Gold in 2019 that Rivera focused on (in Norman's case) or will soon focus on (in Dunbar's case). Others from 2019, like Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland, will return and contribute in their own right.

But there are also lots of guys who wore lots of different colors last year who'll soon be worth monitoring in free agency as well. Fortunately, there'll be plenty of targets for Rivera and Kyle Smith, depending on how aggressive they want to be.

There are the well-known names who are about to cash in, like James Bradberry, a former Panther who's already stated that he wouldn't mind a reunion with Rivera if he can't work out a deal with Carolina. Chris Harris also falls into this classification.

Then there are some mid-tier options, such as Bashaud Breeland. Breeland was drafted by the Redskins and recently won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs. He also was slated to sign with the then Rivera-coached Panthers a few offseasons ago before a fluky injury voided that agreement. Bradley Roby and Darqueze Dennard are in a similar place as Breeland.

Beyond those groups, there are even cheaper free agents as well as later draft picks. Looking ahead, as long as the Redskins keep the second pick in this April's draft, they won't be selecting a cornerback. That, plus the fact that they don't have a second-rounder as of now, means whatever prospects they end up with will come later in the event.

As two former linebackers, Rivera and Jack Del Rio surely understand the significance of fortifying and in turn want to fortify the front line of their defense, and they are one Chase Young choice away from doing so. They'll also be keen on improving their old stomping grounds to ensure the middle of the unit is reliable.

However, cornerback can't be overlooked. With the way the NFL has slanted toward the offense during the last decade and the continued influx of talent at wideout and tight end, having multiple corners who can match up with those pass catchers is a must. Because of that, corner should certainly be close to the center of Rivera's mind.

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