By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor
Elite quarterbacks are in high demand and short supply in the NFL, a fact which makes the Washington Redskins’ decision on the future of Kirk Cousins such a fascinating conundrum.
Cousins is not considered an elite quarterback, unless his wife is ranking quarterbacks. But because the Redskins put the exclusive franchise tag on him Tuesday, Cousins will be paid at an elite level ($23.94 million) in 2017.
The Redskins still could trade Cousins or negotiate a long-term deal with him by July 15. He’s in an ideal spot. The team, on the other hand, is backed into a corner.
“First, let me say I think Cousins is a good quarterback, but not by any stretch of the imagination a great quarterback,” South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said. “I guess if you had a lot of talent around him, you could win and maybe even win the Super Bowl. But you better have a hell of a lot of talent around him.”
Washington needs more talent, either at quarterback or several positions around him, because it finished 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs last season. Cousins’ poor play in two home losses — Week 15 to Carolina and Week 17 to the New York Giants — sealed the Redskins’ fate. He threw a combined one touchdown pass and three interceptions in those games, when he was tagged as a failure.
Still, most of his numbers at the end of the year stacked up in the league’s top 10. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns. Only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan compiled more passing yards.
Andrews ranked the NFL’s quarterbacks going into next season and placed Cousins 16th, on the outskirts of the league’s top half.
VSiN host Gill Alexander, who is passionate about the subject as a lifelong Redskins fans, ranked Cousins the 11th-best quarterback in the league.
“Cousins is a flawed quarterback,” Alexander said. “The perception of him is this stats-accumulating guy that’s breaking Redskins season records and that somehow he’s this top-tier quarterback. He is unquestionably better than the bottom half of quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s clearly not in the top eight or nine, maybe not in the top 10.
“So the Redskins are in this (messed) up situation where they have to decide, do we really want to give all this money to a guy who’s not in the top 10?”
The South Point lists Washington’s odds to win the Super Bowl at 50-1 and odds to win the NFC at 25-1. If Cousins is traded, the odds might dip slightly, but any adjustment would depend on which quarterback replaced Cousins.
The value of a starting quarterback to the point spread is often debated. But the answer hinges on the quality of the backup quarterback. Late in the 2013 season, when Aaron Rodgers was injured, there was a 7-point line adjustment based on Green Bay’s lack of a decent backup. Last season, when Tom Brady was suspended, the line adjustment on New England was around only a field goal based on Jimmy Garoppolo’s strong performance.
Where would the Redskins look if they decide to turn away from Cousins?
Garoppolo, Tony Romo and Colin Kaepernick appear to be the best available veteran quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor also could be on the market. A team in a hopelessly desperate situation might even consider Jay Cutler.
“I’ve heard Romo rumors,” Andrews said.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would do everything in his power to prevent a Romo-to-the-Redskins scenario.
“I think the replacement is on their roster, and it’s Colt McCoy,” Alexander said. “I think if the Redskins go to McCoy, they in essence don’t drop that much and have the ability to pay all these other players.”
The salary cap is expanding, so Washington could survive retaining Cousins at a high price tag and still sign some necessary free agents. But the Redskins might be wiser to trade Cousins, move forward with McCoy or another quarterback and pay to build the rest of their roster. Still, McCoy has not started a game since the 2014 season, and not everyone would share in the optimism of that plan.
“Cousins was responsible for the Redskins being out of the playoffs with a horrible pick in Week 17,” Alexander said. “I’m not saying he’s bad. He’s better than the Case Keenums of the world. There’s something wrong with the NFL’s salary cap structure, where the Redskins now have to make this decision on a guy of that caliber.
“And, by the way, I don’t know what the right decision is. They are in this no-win predicament. The Redskins have won nothing with this guy. Nothing.”
Well, Washington did win the NFC East with a 9-7 record in 2015, when Cousins led the league in completion percentage (69.8) and passed for 29 touchdowns.
“They have not won a playoff game,” Alexander said, “let’s put it that way.”
NFL QUARTERBACK RANKINGS
(Going into 2017 season)
1. Tom Brady 2. Aaron Rodgers 3. Matt Ryan 4. Ben Roethlisberger 5. Drew Brees 6. Derek Carr 7. Russell Wilson 8. Matthew Stafford 9. Philip Rivers 10. Andrew Luck
1. Aaron Rodgers 2. Tom Brady 3. Ben Roethlisberger 4. Andrew Luck 5. Matt Ryan 6. Russell Wilson 7. Drew Brees 8. Matthew Stafford 9. Joe Flacco 10. Alex Smith
1. Aaron Rodgers 2. Tom Brady 3. Ben Roethlisberger 4. Matt Ryan 5. Drew Brees 6. Andrew Luck 7. Derek Carr 8. Russell Wilson 9. Philip Rivers 10. Matthew Stafford