When the Kirk Cousins deal was first announced, it was greeted with some combination of amusement and mockery. Why would anyone get financially invested in a backup quarterback? Where was the worth in a guy who had already tried, and failed? This was a stunt, a distraction, a joke.
But a radio host and a program director at 106.7 The Fan were convinced that Kirk Cousins represented a value proposition in that summer of 2015. They were sure Cousins would be a starter eventually. They thought he was worth the risk, so they did the deal, before anyone else would have done it. And showing that early faith in Cousins — before he proved himself — led to a minor coup that continued this week, when the quarterback rewarded the station for its loyalty by signing yet another below-market contract.
Are there any parallels here? Nah, none that I can think of.
Oh wait, right: Maybe the Redskins could have sized up the same scenario and signed a deal with Cousins, before he had fully proven himself, on a well-educated hunch about his potential, thereby earning his long-term loyalty and avoiding months of uncertainty and stress. Though it might be asking too much for a football team to have the same foresight as a sports-radio station.
(Wow, that was cheap. By the way, don’t look up what I wrote about this topic at the time. Because it’s apparently asking too much for a Post columnist to have the same foresight as a sports-radio station.)
Okay, let’s back up. Back in early August 2015, when the universe still assumed Robert Griffin III would be in charge, the local FM sports-talker announced a weekly in-season gig with Washington’s backup quarterback. This prompted guffaws all over the place, and some more serious reactions too. (“Cancel the show,” former quarterback Shaun King said. “Get somebody else. The backup quarterback doesn’t do a radio show.”)
But that deal wasn’t some random summer fling. Midday host Grant Paulsen had long advocated for Cousins as the team’s starting quarterback, and also for Cousins as a regular radio guest. In fact, he tried to get Cousins on the station in 2014, but the quarterback was worried a regular radio gig would be appear inappropriate. By 2015, Paulsen convinced Cousins that his football insight would be valuable to listeners no matter who started at quarterback. His program director, lifelong Washingtonian Chris Kinard, didn’t need much convincing that D.C. fans would be interested in a backup quarterback.
Paulsen and Kinard, though, also thought it inevitable that Cousins would be the starter at some point that season, whether because of an injury to Griffin or because of performance. A below-market deal with the Redskins’ starting quarterback? You don’t get those every day.
“Even if Robert starts, which he probably will for at least the first four weeks of the season, we’ll have the most popular guy in town, because he’ll be sitting on the bench and people will want him to play,” Kinard said. “And then eventually we’ll have the starting quarterback for however long that lasts. That was the plan.”
“The chances that he was not going to start at all in 2015 were pretty minuscule,” Paulsen said.
Exactly three weeks later, before August even ended, Cousins was named the team’s starter, a scenario no one at the station imagined. Now Paulsen and co-host Danny Rouhier had a weekly appointment with a guest who made national news every time he appeared, whose appearances were mandatory listening for most media members in town, whose segments were winners by every metric the station can use. It was, according to Kinard, “100 percent” the best player deal the station has ever signed. It wasn’t even close.
“It’s been the best thing that happened to our show,” Paulsen said. “There’s no doubt about that. I mean, every single Monday we’re the only people in town that get to ask questions to a guy who’s carrying out the most important role in sports in this city. So it’s been a gold mine.”
Cousins excelled on the field that year, but he stayed loyal to the station and came back for another year of Mondays in 2016, when he excelled again. At which point the station figured its gold mine had been picked clean, that an entrenched, big-contract, Pro Bowl player would finally move on. Cousins, according to Paulsen, was offered “substantially” more money to take his radio talents elsewhere. “Maybe he had just outgrown this little midday show,” Paulsen said on-air this week.
But Cousins apparently liked the fact that 106.7 The Fan had shown interest before anyone else. He values loyalty. He’s drawn to people who believed in him when no one else did. He cares about long-term relationships with folks who had his back. Have I laid it on thick enough yet?
“I think with most other players, there’s no way that we would have been able to keep him,” said Kinard, describing Cousins as “incredibly fair and gracious and loyal” to the station. “It seems like he does think about and take to heart how he is dealt with. The respect that he is given is remembered. So I’m not necessarily surprised. I would be surprised with a lot of other players we’ve dealt with if they signed with us for much less money than they could have gotten somewhere else, but I’m not shocked with him.”
“He left so much money on the table to do this, basically to do in his mind what he thought was the right thing for the people who had his back from the beginning,” Paulsen said on-air on Thursday. “There’s one reason he’s with us at this radio station, and it’s because he showed us loyalty. Period. That’s it.”
If they sound proud of themselves, they should. Because maybe you didn’t need to be a fortuneteller to see the value in securing a relationship with Cousins before things escalated. Maybe you didn’t need to be a savant to play out all the scenarios and then understand the appeal of acting early, that locking up a guy who might remain a backup (or prove a mediocre starter) could turn into an incredible, unprecedented, transformative bargain if he succeeded.
Okay, a radio station inking a one-year deal with a backup isn’t the same thing as an NFL team signing a long-term contract extension with a divisive quarterback who lacks a track record. The risk to the station was minimal; the worst case was soaking up some barbs and jokes, and then running a weekly segment with a knowledgeable second- or third-stringer. The risk to the Redskins, had they signed Cousins before he proved himself, was far greater.
But the situations are similar enough to make you wonder: Should the football guys have recognized the same risk/reward dynamic that the radio guys saw? If the football guys didn’t see it in 2015, should they have at least seen it in 2016? At some point, shouldn’t they have known it was better not to wait?
“You always want to get someone before they reach the mountaintop, so you’re not paying that top rate for the entire time you have them,” Kinard explained. “That’s the name of the game in any business.”
His station did that, and it paid off. The football team didn’t do that, and now Cousins is on the verge of becoming one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.
Cousins, by the way, has also promised Paulsen and Rouhier a 45-minute exclusive interview the Monday after the July 15 deadline for reaching a new deal. Maybe the Redskins will have locked him up by then. Somehow, the sports-talk radio station already has.