After all this, why would anyone buy a Kirk Cousins jersey?
Okay, sluggish Redskins merchandise sales isn’t exactly an American tragedy. Daniel Snyder can make up for the loss in QB jersey sales by hawking more of those Redskins picnic baskets ($180), or the Redskins pet bandannas ($15) or the Redskins coffee tables ($299) or the Redskins Sriracha grinders ($15, not joking). And Cousins again will be the starting quarterback this year, even without a long-term deal.
Still, Cousins, his agent, Bruce Allen, his front office, and everyone else involved in this multiyear contract saga have created one of the least-embraceable franchise quarterbacks in the history of franchise quarterbacks. Congrats?
Cousins exists on a perennial year-to-year contract. He displays as much unprompted affection to Washington as does Arya to House Frey. He spends four months playing football, and eight months turning Washington sports-radio into “Accounting Talk.” His front office respects him so much that it immediately revealed the details of its best offer Monday afternoon — and then dinged the quarterback for not counter-offering. Cousins is the quarterback Washington has sought for a generation, yet we spend every summer wondering whether it will be his last with the Redskins. His nickname might as well be Tag. It’s better than Hashtag, but not by much.
Call it our eternal penance for imagining those Robert Griffin III statues midway through his first season. Now that Washington actually has stumbled into a franchise quarterback, he remains perpetually a few months away from a possible departure. It feels like some dark NFL fairy tale; the result is that Cousins can never let down his hair.
Which isn’t to say the sides are acting irrationally. Barring a catastrophic injury or unimaginable regression, Cousins will be in an even better position next summer. Maybe he’s trying to make a stand for players who deserve more guaranteed dollars, or dreams of a reunion with one of his former offensive coaches on the West Coast, or is just following sound financial advice. (“I hired my agent to do his job,” he said earlier this month.) Maybe he’s super sick of being called “Kurt.” (It happened again on Monday, naturally.)
"Here lemme shift blame to my starting QB while mispronouncing his first name" pic.twitter.com/uFfwEijanB
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) July 17, 2017
As for the Redskins, maybe they still don’t think Cousins is worth what the market says he is. Maybe they think Nate Sudfeld can be special, or special enough. Maybe they have a long-term plan we haven’t imagined. Maybe they’re angry they never found a way to monetize “You Like That.”
For the 2017 season, though, none of that matters. The result is yet another year of limbo, with no one sure quite how closely to embrace the team’s most important player.
So whose local image has improved over the past few months? Certainly not Allen, the front-office mastermind who assured us we shouldn’t worry our little heads about any of this. (“I don’t think it’s as complicated as everyone wants to make it,” Allen said in February. “And we’ll get together with his agent, and I’m sure we’ll come to an agreement.” FAKE NEWS.)
Not Cousins, who spent the offseason carefully doling out his words, saying more than once that the ball is in the team’s court, and that “I want to be where I’m wanted.” Can you feel the love? And not Snyder, who found his first stable, sturdy, competent, in-his-prime quarterback since Brad Johnson, and turned him into an annual question mark. Can’t the Redskins ever just be normal?
This isn’t a trivial thing. Look at the 12 playoff teams last year: Ten of ’em featured quarterbacks who had been starting for their team for at least three seasons. Eight of ’em featured quarterbacks who had been starting for their team for at least five seasons. Half the playoff QBs — Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan — had been in place for at least eight seasons. Call it continuity, and it seems helpful.
“In my opinion it’s the only chance you have to succeed on offense,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said this offseason. “The quarterback and coach have to be intertwined. They have to know exactly what each other’s thinking.”
One of the outliers was the Houston Texans, who dumped money on Brock Osweiler and then dumped Osweiler. That’s the situation Cousins has pointed to repeatedly, while arguing that every NFL player is essentially on a year-to-year contract.
“So I don’t see these long-term deals meaning a whole lot in the grand scheme of things,” he said in April. “As we know, this league is so much week-to-week and year-to-year. And that’s why I’m comfortable just playing on a one-year contract.”
Well, it’s nice that he’s comfortable. But the Osweiler example isn’t necessarily comforting. What’s the supposed lesson? That maybe Cousins will still be a bust? A disappointment? A failure? Oh, well, in that case, three cheers for a one-year deal!
The fact is, Cousins and the Washington brain trust together have created perverse rooting incentives. The Redskins bet against Cousins last year. The team would have been in a better negotiating position if Cousins stumbled, which meant that rooting for the quarterback was also rooting against the front office. A year later, not all that much has changed: What’s good for Cousins long-term is bad for the team, and vice versa.
That fits in well with Monday’s late-afternoon theatrics, with Allen reading a statement assigning blame for the lack of a deal to the quarterback’s side. Training camp is 10 days away, but before that happens, remember this: it’s not our fault!
This is almost entirely on the team’s leadership, for not securing Cousins when he was most securable. And it seems odd to begrudge any athlete for working the system, especially here. The front office fed Cousins through the Griffin controversy machine, never was quite sure how much it wanted him and failed to lock him up when the price was cheapest. He’ll get around $24 million this season, and barring a catastrophe, will either make more next year or enjoy total freedom. He’s had a nearly unprecedented amount of leverage, and he’s used every drop. He hasn’t said anything hateful or spiteful, and good luck arguing that he’s greedy.
But that still doesn’t mean it’s fun to root for a guy who’s working over your favorite team. Yes, sports are big business, players are treated like commodities, and loyalty is for hotel rewards programs. It’s still sort of depressing to turn fandom into a year-to-year proposition, where each season bleeds into the next hopeless negotiation. This isn’t like knowing a free agent wide receiver might leave, or that a defensive lineman might not get a second contract. This is the face of the franchise, and he always seems to be facing away.
The team could and should have prevented this mess in previous offseasons. Cousins has no obligation to offer a hometown discount to his employer, and the team shouldn’t violate its judgment to make fans happy.
I just don’t know how you ask a fan base to wrap its arms around a star who always seems to have one foot out the door. And it’s not too early to start dreading next January when our third round of the Cousins Contract Calypso figures to begin.
So by all means, bring on those Redskins Sriracha grinders. But after all this, why would anyone buy a Kirk Cousins jersey?