INDIANAPOLIS — Bound together contractually for another two weeks, Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins await the inevitable breakup. But while the split signals a big shift within the organization, and soon the Redskins’ huddle, Coach Jay Gruden is more than ready to embrace the change.
“We’ve played this tag game for a couple years now it seems like, and I think it’s time to get some stability at the most important position in sports, and that’s quarterback,” Gruden said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, referring to the organization’s decision to let Cousins, its starter the past three seasons, hit free agency March 14. “It’s very important for us to move forward and let Kirk move on.
“If Washington’s not a place that he wanted to be, it’s time for us to move on and get some continuity there at quarterback.”
After failing to reach an agreement on a multiyear deal the past two years, the Redskins retained Cousins under the franchise tag, paying him $19.9 million in 2016 and $23.9 million in 2017. The organization could have tagged him for an unprecedented third time — leading to a $34.5 million guaranteed salary for 2018 — but senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams said Wednesday that “I can’t remember one meeting where we talked about the possibility of tagging him.” And with the tag essentially off the table, “he’s a free agent for sure,” Williams said.
Cousins, who threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season, is expected to become the league’s highest-paid quarterback after he hits free agency, with the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings the leading contenders to sign him to a megadeal.
Gruden later clarified that he “can’t speak for Kirk and his reasons for not signing a long-term deal or what have you. It’s a mutual deal. At the end of the day, it’s a business deal. He wants to do what’s best for his family, and we’re trying to do what’s best for our organization, our football team, and it just didn’t work. Reasons are, I’m sure there are a handful on his side and there’s a handful on our side. But at the end of the day, it’s time to move on. And we will.”
Washington already has, though not officially. During Super Bowl week, the team traded for Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, who had a career year in 2017, throwing for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. Since the trade isn’t yet official, Gruden carefully, and rather comically, avoided mentioning Smith by name. But Smith’s impending arrival is significant for a coach in desperate need of long-term clarity at quarterback.
“It means a lot,” Gruden said of the four-year extension Washington gave Smith, 33. “Not just for me, but it means a lot for the team and the organization. Knowing where we are and who we’re going to prepare with for the next three, four years. It’s an important process for us to have the quarterback in a position where he can grow with the football team, we can grow with him and move on.”
Even though the Redskins have already turned the page on Cousins, Gruden insisted he’ll continue to cheer on his soon-to-be former quarterback.
“To see Kirk go somewhere else, I’m sure it’ll be a great opportunity for him,” Gruden said. “I’m happy for him and his family that he’s going to get an opportunity that he feels like he deserves. I’ll root for him, except when he plays the Redskins.”
With Cousins almost out the door, Gruden is turning his attention to his future, one he hopes will include an established signal-caller adept at extending plays and delivering game-winning drives.
“There are a lot of plays in pro football that aren’t going to go as planned,” Gruden said. “Sometimes it’s just throw it away and live to fight another day and punt or what have you. The decisions the quarterback has to make every given play are critical to the success of the team. Hopefully we get a guy in here that makes good, sound decisions in those situations year in and year out for a very long time.”
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