“It would not make my life easier,” Gruden quipped. “My life is only easier when you win a lot of games and Super Bowls. Until that happens, my life will never be easy. I’m going to coach the players that are here and just go from there.”
This was before the season ended, and it was perhaps the political thing for a head coach to say. But this week, during his season-ending, team-produced television show, Gruden pulled back the curtain a bit more. Co-host Chris Cooley pointed out that Cousins has said he’s fine playing on one-year deals, but then asked Gruden the key question: “For you as a head coach and as an organization, how soon do you need to know, and how does it impact you year in and year out, being on the one-year deal?”
“I think something has to be done,” Gruden said bluntly. “I personally don’t want to go through another one-year deal, and just [keep going] one year, one year. I think you want to have a quarterback in here that’s going to be here. And hopefully that is Kirk, and if not, we have to move on and do what we have to do as an organization.
“For the most part, the great quarterbacks are in the same system year in and year out, and are developing in that system. [Teams are] not holding our breath every March and April, waiting for the guy. But if that’s the case, that’s the case. But we like Kirk and his development. He’s played well at times, without a doubt, proven that he’s a good starting NFL quarterback.”
That interview was conducted in the middle of last week, before Cousins’s nearly two-hour appearance on 106.7 The Fan to discuss his future. Cooley previewed Gruden’s answer on his own ESPN 980 radio program Thursday, explaining to listeners, “that’s the coach who wants to know right now. The coach doesn’t want to do this anymore. You can’t do this, man. You can’t build a team one year at a time with your number one player. You can’t.”
And while Cousins has been adamant that every NFL contract is essentially a one-year deal, due to the ease with which NFL teams can cut players, he seemed on Friday to admit that he would also like a more settled future. This came when Cousins was asked whether he’d be okay playing under a tag for a third straight season.
“Um,” Cousins said, and then paused. “You know, there’s a part of me that would like to get settled. You know, there’s a part of me that would like to get settled. But I haven’t really even gone there yet. I haven’t thought about what if — what if that happens — you know? Because then that becomes July, where [the negotiating deadline] goes out to. So haven’t thought that far ahead. But at the end of the day — and I’ve said it many times, but I do believe it — this league is one-year deals. I mean, it really is. Everybody signs these deals that are five or six years, but the teams usually have the ability to get out of them pretty quickly. So if it is a one-year deal, sometimes that’s just as good as you can do as far as feeling settled, because that’s the nature of this league.”
Cousins was then pressed on what it is he’s hoping for: “I think eventually it’s getting settled,” he admitted. “I think you can only just kind of go year-to-year for so long. But I think that’s why it’s first things first. First let’s get away from the season a little bit. Then let’s gather some information as to what the rest of the league is looking like, who’s being hired, who’s being fired. And you just keep kind of stacking up days on each other, gathering information that then leads to the next decision and the next decision. So it’s hard to make March’s decision now, because there are so many dominoes that will fall between now and then to influence it.”
There are a lot of words there, but the important point is this: The head coach doesn’t really want to go through another season with his quarterback on a one-year deal, and the quarterback also thinks there’s a life span to that approach. Because, duh. Still, at least they’re now publicly agreeing on that point.
On the other hand, they do not seem to agree on what the determining factor for Cousins will be. Gruden was asked on his television show how big a role he will play in this process over the next few months.
“Well, I’m not going to pull any money out of my pocket,” he joked. “So I think it’s all about, probably all about the money, I guess, and about the security that he feels that he needs. I don’t know. He’s got to talk about it with his wife and family, and his agent. And if they feel like the deal’s good, then we’ll go forward. If not, then we’ll go forward some other way.”
That Gruden would cite the money directly contradicts Cousins’s message, as when he talked about the Bruce Allen statement last year, in which Washington’s top football official said the team’s offseason offer “would have made [Cousins] at least the second highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.”
But when Cousins and his father met with Allen last offseason, the quarterback said on Friday, “we both made it very clear, at this point, at this juncture, it’s just not about the money.”
“Like, the money is not the driving factor in this decision to go another 16 games,” Cousins said Friday, describing his thinking last offseason. “It’s just not what I’ve built my life on. That’s not what it’s about, and shame on me if I feel like just a contract is going to solve all my problems. I mean, that is broken thinking, and that’s going to lead to a dysfunctional life. And so I just made that clear, and so then when the statement came out, it was pretty much about the money. And I just said, you know, that’s not really what’s doing it. Is it important, what we’ve talked about — to take advantage of a great opportunity and not just roll over and die [in negotiations]? Yeah. But to say that that’s the end-all be-all, for me, that’s just not what my family or I’ve built my life on.”
Cousins made it clear on Friday that he’s in no hurry to act and that he sees this process continuing to play out until the March deadline for the team to act. So there will be more — so much more — of this in the coming weeks. But Gruden’s statement might perhaps be a hopeful step toward some sort of resolution.
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