The Redskins have plenty of questions looming, but none carries more intrigue than the quarterback position.
The Redskins soon must make a decision on what they will do with Cousins, however. Should they attempt to trade him for a draft pick? Should they keep him on the roster? And, if so, should he remain to serve as a backup, or should he receive a legitimate shot to compete for the starting job?
Like Griffin, Cousins has one more season left on his rookie contract. He has shown flashes that indicate he could develop into a quality starter. But like Griffin, his play has raised concerns.
During last season’s six-game sampling (the most significant body of work of Cousins’ young career), the Michigan State product completed 61.8 percent of his passes (126-for-204) for 1,710 yards, 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 86.4. Cousins got sacked eight times and lost two fumbles.
At his best, Cousins led the offense to season highs in points (41 versus Jacksonville, 34 versus Philadelphia) and passing yards (427 vs. Philly and 354 versus Arizona). Cousins had four multiple-touchdown games, while Colt McCoy had just one, and Griffin had none.
But at his worst, Cousins was a turnover machine, throwing four late-game picks against the Giants and three more game-costing interceptions against Arizona.
There’s no denying that Cousins displayed a better command for the offense and the concepts of Jay Gruden’s passing attack. He threw with anticipation, and moved the ball at a better clip, which helped led to increased point totals and fewer sacks.
By comparison, Griffin played in only three more games and was sacked a total of 33 times. The Redskins topped the 20-point mark with Griffin at the helm just twice.
But Gruden repeatedly stressed that his quarterback must “avoid the catastrophic plays,” and Cousins’ multiple interceptions – particularly those late in games – fell under that category.
Gruden pulled Cousins for McCoy midway through Washington’s Week 7 game against Tennessee and never went back to him, even after McCoy’s injury and Griffin’s continued struggles. The coach insisted that Griffin still gave the team a better chance to win than did Cousins because Griffin did a better job of taking care of the ball.
However, this offseason, the Gruden, McCloughan, offensive coordinator Sean McVay and new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh must ask themselves which quarterback gives them a better chance to win long-term. Are Cousins’ turnover tendencies correctable? Or, will he always tend to take too many chances, and then internalize his mistakes and force things while trying to erase transgressions with one throw?
The Redskins also must ask themselves what kind of value they see in Cousins, and what worth other teams have placed in him. The team explored trade possibilities last offseason, but the Cleveland Browns declined to offer anything more than a fourth-round pick. The Redskins wanted a second-rounder.
Now, with only 2015 left on his contract, Cousins is a season away from walking with Washington not receiving any compensation at all. Should the Redskins accept a mid-round pick for Cousins (if opposing teams still believe he is worth that much) and be glad to get anything at all?
Or, with serious doubts still hovering over Griffin and no other quarterback on the roster, should the Redskins hang onto Cousins and try to further develop him?
This year’s free agent class also will help Washington brass make this decision. Does a group that features Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer, Michael Vick and McCoy offer a candidate that boasts more promise as a competitor to Griffin than does Cousins?
And what would such a player cost? None will come cheaper than Cousins, who will earn a base salary of $660,000. But that doesn’t mean money should serve as chief deciding factor.