Kirk Cousins is not a top-tier NFL quarterback. He’s probably won’t even find himself in the middle of the pack. At this point, he’s established himself as a below-average player who turns the ball over too much and is far too inconsistent to be considered star material. Yet the Redskins are reportedly wrestling with the idea of giving him a contract extension. Why?
Quarterback play in 2015
The extension is a complex issue that centers around perception. NFL fans see the success of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and naturally wonder why their team can’t find a similar signal caller. It’s why we see first round draft picks thrust into the starting job in Week 1 when all logic says they should sit for a year or two to learn the intricacies of the most difficult position in sports. It’s why Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan all face questions about whether or not they’ll ever take the next step. They have taken it, you heathens, there are dozens of teams that would want those guys! Apparently, if you’re not Brady or Rodgers, you’re not doing your job right.
Which brings us to the State of Quarterbacking in the NFL. It’s not good. It’s actually terrible. Awful. Crap-tastic in so many different ways. We live in a time where:
- The Houston Texans had a real, live, actual quarterback competition because they couldn’t figure out whether Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallet was the least horrible
- Josh McCown is starting for the Browns, Johnny Manziel was drafted and can’t find the field behind a career backup, and he was only drafted because the Browns were literally out of options
- Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are the two best quarterbacks on the roster for the New York Jets
- Matt Hasselbeck has outplayed Andrew Luck
- Nick Foles has a starting job
- Zach Mettenberger is a quarterback and not the name of a fatty food (though he plays about as effectively)
- Ryan Tannehill is making $95 million
- Matthew Stafford was benched for Dan Orlovsky
- Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, Jimmy Clausen
- Landry Jones outplayed Michael Vick
- Colin Kaepernick was benched for Blaine Gabbert
Not to mention the generally poor play of Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford, the list just keep growing. There are a scant number of quarterbacks you can depend on week to week, even though fans seem to believe that one poor showing is grounds for being benched.
The case for Cousins
Finally, we have Cousins. No one would mistake him for a franchise quarterback. But I don’t think we should mistake him for a bad quarterback either, and that’s why the Redskins are thinking about extending him.
In a league where bad quarterback play is the norm, it’s incredibly important to hang on to the chips you have if you think they can pay dividends. Cousins turns the ball over a lot, yes, but he’s started a grand total of 16 games. He just finished his rookie year! And you know what? He’s shown marked improvement from prior seasons. In 2015:
- He’s thrown more passes than last year and completing them nearly 70% of the time (for the uninitiated, that’s fantastic)
- He’s led two game-winning drives and a game-tying drive (on the road against an undefeated Falcons team)
- He has a 95.7 rating in the fourth quarter
- He has a 112.2 rating in the red zone and despite his turnover issues has never thrown an interception inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in his career – 19 TDs, 0 INTs
- He’s facing duress every 5.9 dropbacks but is only sacked once every 34.6 attempts
- He is at league average in first down rating (89.8, avg = 91.2) and third down rating (84.4, avg = 84.5)
In addition, the team seems to enjoy him. Jay Gruden waxes poetic weekly about Cousins’ ability and work ethic. Pierre Garcon noted that the Redskins “expect Cousins to win games” when he has the ball. Even former running back Clinton Portis noted that he gets the feeling Cousins brings “passion” to the team.
Does that deserve an extension? It depends on what you think “elite” means. Cousins isn’t Brady, he never will be. But he could be Eli Manning, or Matt Hasselbeck, or Trent Green, or Steve McNair, or any other quarterback who was never a superstar but remained an entrenched starter for most of their career. With the way quarterbacks are playing now, that’s quality you can’t afford to leave on the table.
Here’s the most important point. This is the point that will make you think, and will force you to consider that maybe re-signing Cousins is essential:
There are multiple teams that would sign him if he were free agent, with the express intent of starting him in Week 1.
I’m not saying Cousins is a savior. I’m not saying he absolutely must be extended. What I’m hoping is that a dose of reality hits the Redskins’ restructured front office, a front office that has thus far overseen the most promising start to a season in this town since 1991.
Teams are always searching for their “franchise quarterback.” You know what almost never happens? Exactly that. And if you’re searching year after year, the team suffers.
Maybe it’s time to step back and evaluate. Maybe Kirk Cousins is more important to the Redskins’ future than we know. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but what’s wrong with that? It’s all about putting it in perspective.