No revenge, no regret, definitely no reminiscing. Cousins, the former Washington quarterback, is in a much better place. That is painfully clear. But he is not the quarterback who got away. On the other hand, he is also not the contractual bullet that Washington dodged. He’s the same eye-of-the-beholder guy he has always been, and his ups and downs have continued with the Vikings. Kirk is Kirk. Or, if you’re clueless Bruce Allen, Kurt is Kurt. And for certain, the Redskins are the Redskins.
On this night, a 19-9 Minnesota victory at U.S. Bank Stadium, the takeaway shouldn’t have been as basic as trying to declare a definitive winner and loser in the bygone saga. That will always be a nuanced debate. But considering what the Redskins have become and how they failed to sell high and maximize Cousins’s value when they had the chance, the debacle should have a different legacy: It represents the half-in, wishy-washy unsophisticated manner in which they evaluate talent.
The Redskins don’t know when to act. They never know when to act. Of course, hindsight makes that even clearer now, but it should’ve been clear then. The front office was uncertain about Cousins after his breakthrough 2015 season, which was understandable given his meteoric rise. So Washington put the franchise tag on him for 2016. All good. But it meant that after the 2016, the organization needed to make a clear decision: extension or trade when it’s highly possible that the return could have been multiple high draft picks. Instead, it became the first team to franchise tag a quarterback twice.
You know the rest of the sad story — the bad luck with Alex Smith included — and we can revisit some of it in a minute. But it’s relevant now because Washington is still on the same indecisive, destructive path. The front office, led by Allen, learned nothing from the irresponsible way it handled the Cousins conundrum.
The Redskins are shuffling their feet and publicly refusing to consider trading disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams before next week’s trade deadline. The Williams situation is sensitive and complicated, but Allen’s pettiness makes it worse. There is also diminishing hope that they can come to terms with Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff on a contract extension. They’re all over the place on when to turn the offense over to rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, but that might have changed Thursday night because Case Keenum left at halftime with concussion-like symptoms.
Talent evaluation isn’t just about picking new draft picks and signing free agents. It’s about understanding the talent and the value of your current players, internally and externally, and reacting in proactive fashion to those instincts. Washington stinks at it. If it weren’t also addicted to doing reprehensible things, we would pay more attention to this shortcoming.
At one time, Cousins was the biggest asset the franchise had. It had reservations about paying him top dollar. Okay, fine. Leverage his productivity to a franchise obsessed with his stats. But rather than maximizing his trade value, they waited too long and ultimately got a third-round compensatory pick for Cousins after letting him enter free agency. They did that because Allen went out and traded both draft capital and a good young corner in Kendall Fuller to Kansas City to get Smith. And Allen gave Smith $71 million guaranteed before he ever played a down here.
Yes, an unpredictable and tragic injury to Smith makes that entire deal and QB exchange look even worse. But even if Smith, 35, were healthy, the process to acquire him and essentially dump Cousins was still a net loss in terms of assets. It’s one of the most preposterous misuses of resources in the NFL in years. It’s impossible to get ahead playing the game this way.
And if Smith were still playing, he would be burdened by some of the things the Redskins have done wrong. They have no touchdown makers, really, other than rookie Terry McLaurin. They have few consistent defensive playmakers who create havoc and create turnovers. They’re still shocked that they can’t keep tight end Jordan Reed healthy, even though Reed has had injury and concussion problems his entire career and played very little the past three seasons. They should have cut or traded cornerback Josh Norman, 31, before this season, but now they’re enduring his decline.
Cousins was right to hedge in response to Washington’s initial hedging. He wasn’t a bad guy because he started dreaming of something better. He was simply wise.
After the game, Cousins said the right things, as usual. He was gracious and focused on the Vikings mostly. So his teammates expressed his feelings.
“Kirk’s probably going to keep it politically correct, but I know it feels good to win against your old team, especially with how things went with him there,” Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. “He probably won’t say it, but I’ll say it for him.”
Cousins, the owner of a fully guaranteed $84 million contract, has plenty left to prove in Minnesota, which has a Super Bowl roster if the quarterback manages the offense properly. Entering Thursday night, Cousins, 31, was on an unprecedented hot streak, throwing for 977 yards and 10 touchdowns over the previous three games and becoming the first quarterback to post three straight games with at least 300 yards and passer ratings of at least 130.
In this game, he was steady and deadly efficient, completing 23 of 26 passes for 285 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass. He didn’t need to. It was just the Redskins, after all.
“He’s playing outstanding right now,” Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer said of Cousins. “He’s been on a roll for the last four ballgames, and we’re hoping it continues to stay that way.”
The Kirk Bowl wasn’t a revenge game, for either side. It was another textbook home win for the 6-2 Vikings and another run-of-the-mill disappointment for the 1-7 Redskins. Good team crushed terrible team. Nothing compelling to see here.