A long time ago, in a galaxy entirely innocent of porgs, Kirk Cousins kicked off his offseason by talking openly about the prospect of being traded.
“Whether it’s talking to my agent, whether it’s talking to Bruce Allen with our team or anybody else for that matter, I think the message that I want to say to people is I’m open to a trade,” Cousins said after the 2013 season, when it wasn’t clear if a path toward the Redskins starting job would ever open. “As a backup, you only have so much influence. I want to be able to influence and really lead an organization as a starting quarterback. Now, I’m willing to wait, I’m willing to be patient and hopefully earn that opportunity down the road. But if somebody wants to give me that opportunity sooner, I’d be open to that. And so I’ve communicated that to the people that need to hear it.”
Cousins wasn’t traded that offseason or the next. A path opened. He became the starter, led Washington to the playoffs, obliterated franchise passing records. He was tagged not once but twice, became fabulously wealthy, won over a large portion of the fan base and virtually all of the local media. He outlasted a Super Bowl-winning coach, a Heisman Trophy-winning QB and a beloved general manager. Yet every offseason brought another wave of uncertainty, along with the possibility that Cousins wouldn’t be back. In some towns, January and February are about playoff games. In D.C., they’re about Kirk Cousins speculation.
“Again this offseason we’ll have plenty of time to talk through it all,” Cousins said Wednesday, in one of his last formal press events of the season, when he mostly dodged questions about his future. “And hopefully in a slower time of the year when it comes to the NFL, you guys will have some content to cover.”
Seems like a safe bet. Moments before Cousins approached the microphone, wearing slippers and a Redskins winter hat, the team’s media corps engaged in a spirited debate about his future: the transition tag vs. the franchise tag, the Jets vs. the Browns, the possibility of a real contender acquiring Cousins, the reasons he might or might not want to leave. It’s the rare sports topic that endures for three years without losing its potency. The topic is completely exhausting, and also completely compelling. We’re all sick of it, yet we can’t stop debating each other.
Fans analyze his tweets for potential hidden meanings. (“The drive-time back to Ashburn makes me want to live closer to the city!” he wrote after a recent home game, and why would you write that if you were going to live in Jacksonville?) They apply the same rigor to his quotes. (“There were some gems [this season] that we kind of discovered along the way that I think can really help us in the future,” he said Tuesday, and why would he care about the future of these gems if he’s off to Denver?)
His public statements have become increasingly vague in recent years — “I’ve grown tired of a three-second quote being taken out of context and being made [into] an entire headline, so I’ve tried to tread very lightly with what I say,” he told MMQB’s Peter King last spring. Still, we’ll all be listening next week, when Cousins has promised “honesty and some transparency ” during a two-hour fan forum to raise money for charity.
Some fans describe Cousins — who said last week that he wants to help ensure the Redskins are seen as a winning brand — as a politician, thinking every statement is calculated not to offend. I mentioned this description to the quarterback Wednesday.
“I think everybody has to be a bit of one, in all their jobs,” he said. “But no, I think everything I say I stand behind and I mean it. And why would you not want to be a part of a winning brand? Why would you not build for the future? You know, in any place you are, why would you not think ahead and think about, if I’m here, what do I want the future that I’m going to live into, what do I want that to look like? So I think we all live in the present, and we also look to the future at the same time, trying to build a better place for whatever we’re doing.”
It’s all slippery, something a listener might try to embrace but can’t quite corral. Maybe it’s the best he can do, given the circumstances. But the vagueness adds a note of restlessness and instability to the entire organization, a dominant seventh chord crying to resolve into something simple and basic. He is the quarterback, or he isn’t. He’ll move closer to the city, or he won’t. This last month, this entire season, was about building toward the future, or it wasn’t. And the chord won’t ever resolve. It just hangs there, dissonant and unsettled.
Cousins said his event next week will allow him “to answer these kinds of questions, talk through it, give it its due diligence.” He said the event will “be more helpful for all of you to hear insight [into] what I’m thinking and where my mind’s at.” But it won’t settle his future, because no sound bite can.
Part of me would rather skip this whole topic and instead write about punter Tress Way’s new family-friendly card game, called Who Farted? (Really.) (I swear.) (Not joking.) Even Cousins acknowledged the inadequacy of public statements; “this league changes so quickly, circumstances change, that it can be hard to ever be held to something that you say,” he said Wednesday. “Because things change, opinions change, and you never know what the next week or month may bring.”
But his future remains the most pressing question in Washington sports. And so just like in 2017, and 2016, and 2015, and 2014 — when Cousins was open to that trade that never arrived — we’ll enter 2018 studying every word and hoping that some of them might hint at finality.
The deadline for Washington to tag Cousins again, by the way, falls on March 6. That’s right about when the season-long furor about Bryce Harper’s 2018 free agency should be getting underway. Maybe Tress Way will have invented a new card game by then.