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Kirk Cousins has a case to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL

Since becoming Washington’s starting quarterback in 2015, Kirk Cousins has completed 1,034 of 1,525 attempts for 12,121 yards, 73 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)
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Kirk Cousins’s gamble on himself is about to pay off.

Willing to ride out the franchise tag as the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Cousins is set to hit free agency behind a three-year body of work that should make him one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

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Since becoming Washington’s starting quarterback in 2015, Cousins has completed 1,034 of 1,525 attempts (67.8 percent) for 12,121 yards, 73 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. His passer rating of 99.7 over that span ranks fifth among 22 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts. Only two future Hall of Famers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and the 2016 MVP, Matt Ryan, have a higher total passer rating since 2015. The order changes slightly — Brady, Ryan, Brees, Cousins — if you use adjusted net yards per pass, an updated version of passer rating that has a slightly higher correlation to team wins.

Player (2015 to 2017) Passer rating Adjusted net yards per pass
Tom Brady 107.8 8.1
Drew Brees 102.0 7.4
Matt Ryan 100.9 7.5
Kirk Cousins 99.7 7.3
Aaron Rodgers 99.3 6.7
Russell Wilson 99.2 7.0
Andy Dalton 96.4 6.9
Alex Smith 96.4 6.7
Matthew Stafford 95.7 6.6
Sam Bradford 94.2 6.2

The offensive line, held together with duct tape and glue, ranks 29th this season for pass-blocking ability, per Pro Football Focus, and has seen Cousins pressured on 36.6 percent of his drop-backs in 2017, the highest rate during his three-year run. Yet his passer rating under pressure this season is 81.6, a career high and the sixth-highest in 2017.

Kirk Cousins Passer rating with no pressure Passer rating under pressure
2015 114.7 72.3
2016 107.2 72.9
2017 110.1 81.6

And that is despite the Redskins facing the fifth-toughest pass defenses through the first 11 weeks of the season, per Sharp Football Stats.

The high-level performance for Cousins isn’t the result of conservative passes, either. His 42.5 percent completion rate on deep throws, those traveling 20 or more yards in the air, ranks fifth among 27 quarterbacks attempting at least 100 deep throws over the past three years. His passer rating (109.0) on these attempts is second only to Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. And this proficiency down the field isn’t merely the result of having DeSean Jackson on the roster during his first two seasons under center for Washington: Cousins’s completion percentage (40.5 percent) and passer rating (109.7) rank eighth and seventh, respectively, in 2017 with Josh Doctson as his primary deep threat.

  Deep targets Receptions Yards
2015
Pierre Garcon, WR 11 1 36
DeSean Jackson, WR 9 4 181
Jamison Crowder, WR 5 1 22
2016
DeSean Jackson, WR 17 8 301
Jamison Crowder, WR 9 4 151
Pierre Garcon, WR 8 3 118
2017
Josh Doctson, WR 12 3 122
Vernon Davis, TE 6 3 131
Jamison Crowder, WR 6 4 141
All data through the first 11 games of the season

Cousins can score with his legs, too, and his 12 rushing touchdowns since 2015 are the third-most at the position behind Cam Newton (19) and Tyrod Taylor (13).

Some will dismiss Cousins’s performance due to a lack of wins relative to his peers, but it is silly to assign quarterbacks wins and losses as if they have total control over the outcome of the game. Instead, it is more instructive to look at how often the passing game scores on each play compared to other offenses in the same situation. For example, with Cousins at the helm, Washington has scored 8.5 points per game more than expected based on each play’s down, distance and field position. Since 2015, only the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers have exceeded expectations by more points per game due to their ability to pass the ball.

This season, Washington’s passing attack has scored 5.7 points per game more than expected and, according to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, Cousins is responsible for a vast majority of that (4.9), signifying his high value to the Redskins. Seeing a quarterback account for so much of a team’s offense might be shocking to some, but not only is the quarterback widely considered to be the most important position on the team, Cousins has had to deal with a slew of injuries this season that only made his task tougher: Chris Thompson, Terrelle Pryor, Shaun Lauvao, T.J. Clemmings and Robert Kelley are all on injured reserve, in addition to Trent Williams and Jordan Reed missing significant time. In fact, Washington had to play at the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 without Williams, Reed and Lauvao in addition to right guard Brandon Scherff, receiver Jamison Crowder, defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Mason Foster … and the Redskins still managed to walk away with a win.

Jamison Crowder ready to take on a starring role in Redskins’ depleted offense

Using the estimate that 31 points in point differential equates to a win, Cousins’s performance is contributing 2.5 wins over a 16-game season, worth approximately $35.6 million on the open market based on what teams must pay replacement-level players (between $480,000 and $1,015,000, depending on his experience), the amount a team spends above and beyond those minimum contracts for a 53-man roster ($115 million) and the number of wins it takes to go from replacement-level to league average (eight, assuming a replacement-level team would have zero wins).

That’s close to what the Redskins would have to pay him if they decided to use the franchise tag on him for the third time ($34.47 million) and makes Cousins worth $178 million over a five-year contract, dwarfing the five-year deal Derek Carr recently signed with the Oakland Raiders worth $125 million.

Maybe Cousins doesn’t get that much, but he is sure to be one of the most valuable commodities to hit the free agent market in some time, and every team needing a quarterback should be interested in his services.

More on the Redskins:

Kirk Cousins: FedEx Field ‘probably doesn’t look like a professional NFL field should’

Redskins call threadbare condition of FedEx Field a ‘nonissue’

For Ryan Kerrigan, NBC’s postgame turkey is a dream come true

Depleted Redskins still eyeing a playoff run after beating Giants

Brewer: For Redskins, victory’s perfume helps a stinker smell sweet

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