Washington’s football front office and ownership need to get their heads screwed on straight about Kirk Cousins. Owner Daniel Snyder, General Manager Scot McCloughan and Coach Jay Gruden need to get on the same page. Cousins should never again have to yell at anybody, “How do you like me now?”
After two straight seasons that rank him among the top quarterbacks in the NFL, it’s time to get serious about signing Cousins to a contract extension at the current market price for such a creature. That means an offer well over $100 million.
Following his disappointing performance in the season-ending loss to the Giants, much of the fan base is down on Cousins. That’s lucky — for the team. Cousins’s nail-in-the-playoff-coffin interception may even have the quarterback a bit droopy about himself. That realistic mood, on both sides, might lend itself to a reasonable contract conversation. But it’s only going to work if the team uses this opportunity to see Cousins clearly and understand how remarkable his body of work has been.
Why be so dead-solid certain that you have to fight to keep Cousins in Washington? Here’s why.
Name the top five quarterbacks in the NFL in the past two years combined. Yes, two years.
Are they Brady, Ryan, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Cousins? That’s what ESPN’s total QBR system, which tries to de-emphasize “garbage yards” and focus on clutch ability in high-leverage situations, would say. (Rodgers is sixth.)
Are they Brees, Ryan, Philip Rivers, Cousins and Carson Palmer? They lead in total passing yards.
Are they Ryan, Roethlisberger, Brady, Cousins and Brees? That’s what net-yards-per-attempt says. That’s a number that includes yardage lost on sacks as well as passing yards gained.
Who gets the ball in the end zone most often, by his passing or running combined? The top five: Rodgers, Brees, Cam Newton, Brady and Cousins, who is third among all quarterbacks in rushing scores.
Whichever barometer you choose, Cousins is in some pretty elite company. Look at the ages of the others mentioned above like Brady (39), Brees (turned 38 on Sunday), Palmer (37) and Roethlisberger (34). Cousins is 28. With only two years as a starting quarterback, he may not even be at his peak.
Is Cousins one of the best five quarterbacks in the NFL? I didn’t say that.
Here’s what I say: Can you look at those facts and say, “Sign Cousins? Meh. Maybe, maybe not.”
Nitpicking Cousins may be the most prevalent hobby in the DMV. Conventional wisdom, even in Washington, is that he’s a good NFL quarterback — perhaps the 10th to 15th best in the league, although some wouldn’t even put him that high — but that his statistics have been inflated by the talent around him. And he comes up small in big moments — the interception against the Giants, for example.
Well, it’s time for everybody to step back, see the much bigger two-year picture, and get over it. Cousins is not a “pretty good game manager” who’d be fairly hard, but not all that difficult, to replace. The reason to extend him — not at a team discount, but at market value — is not because Washington has been in a quarterbacking wilderness for 25 years and can’t stand to watch anymore. Such broad-brush judgments, and I’ve been guilty of some, are a miss-the-forest-for-the-trees blunder.
In leading Washington, which has no defense, no special running back and a hodgepodge offensive line, to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996 and 1997, Cousins has been very good to exceptional at everything. He’s a bit light in touchdown passes, but if you flipped his nine rushing scores, all in the red zone, into short touchdown passes, which accomplish the same goal, that knock diminishes. He reads defenses and releases the ball so quickly that he’s the fourth best in the NFL at avoiding sacks.
Cousins does not have “great receivers.” He has very good ones, in abundance, but some of them show a bit of age. No receiver has had more than 1,041 yards receiving for Cousins — that’s not in the top 40 in the NFL in the past two years. Tight end Jordan Reed has averaged 819 yards. Way to go. Antonio Gates surpassed 819 yards receiving seven times in his career.
What happens if Cousins gets better as he matures? How often does that happen? Lucky you asked. I’ve looked up everybody you ever heard of and some I’d forgotten. A few, like Dan Marino, Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Jim Kelly and Johnny Unitas, are as wonderful as they ever get in their first year. But most of the NFL’s quality quarterbacks — like, say, Rodgers — improve once they’re full-timers.
Will Cousins make a jump to hyperspace? Don’t know. Probably not. There aren’t very many like Rodgers. But it’s a lot more likely that he stays the same or gets better than he regresses.
Right now, Washington needs Cousins a lot more than he needs Washington. His team better figure it out and show that it appreciates him, especially these bleak January days when, no doubt, he watches the playoffs, feels somewhat guilty and wishes he were still playing. That depressing ending to the season may actually be a long-term break for the team. Cousins was on the brink of robbing the bank.
Now, maybe, the team can just whisper the combination to him and hope he doesn’t take too much.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.