Since being selected in the 4th round of the 2012 draft, Kirk Cousins has had the fate of his NFL career continuously tied to that of Robert Griffin III. In their rookie season, when Griffin got hurt, Cousins came in and kept the Redskins NFC East division winning season alive. In 2013 when Griffin was benched by Mike Shanahan despite being healthy, Cousins again was tasked with coming in to run the offense. Cousins has won himself a sizeable contingent of Redskins fans who think he’s a starting calibre NFL quarterback.
In 2014, however, Cousins found himself in the unusual spot of himself being benched when healthy, and watched Colt McCoy step in to run the Jay Gruden offense. And now in 2015, the Redskins under Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan have once again anointed Griffin as their starting quarterback, perhaps unsurprisingly.
With Colt McCoy still on the Redskins roster in 2015 and apparently entrenched in the #2 quarterback slot on Jay Gruden’s depth chart, the value of retaining Kirk Cousins remains an intriguing dilemma for the Redskins front office.
A quick glance at the projected week 1 starting quarterbacks around all 32 NFL teams shows just how thin the top level quarterback talent is. Guys like Matt Cassel, Geno Smith, Josh McCown, and Brian Hoyer are all likely starting quarterbacks for their teams in 2015. When looking at the projected #2 quarterbacks around the NFL, the talent level drops off quickly; Matt Moore, Bruce Gradkowski, Chad Henne, Kellen Clemens, Kellen Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and Blaine Gabbert are all set to be their teams backup signal caller this season.
Whether you’re a Cousins fan or not, surely it can be agreed that he’s a higher calibre of quarterback compared to most, if not all, of those names listed above.
Unless there is some scenario that plays out in 2015 that sees Cousins permanently earn the Redskins starting quarterback job, it seems likely that he’ll opt to move to a different team when his contract ends at the culmination of this season. Such a move would net the Redskins nothing in return, and therefore the option of trading him now whilst there is value to be gained in such a move must be explored.
But first, let’s take a quick look at Kirk Cousins time as an NFL quarterback.
Cousins has appeared in 14 out of a possible 48 regular season games in his time with the Redskins, starting 9 times. On face value, his stats appear to be fairly reasonable for a quarterback who rarely gets to practice with the first team offense. Throughout his career he’s thrown 240 completions from 407 attempts for 3,030 yards averaging 7.4 yards per pass and a 59.0 per cent completion rate. He’s also thrown 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Given these stats are decent enough, why has Cousins not had greater success in either cementing his role as the Redskins starter or even backup quarterback? Well, breaking down those stats into greater detail tells the story.
During his 9 games as a starter, Cousins has a 2-7 win/loss record. Furthermore, and most crucially, Cousins has demonstrated an inability to shine under pressure. When he has the ball inside the redzone, he has been excellent, throwing 6 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and 9 first downs. However when he is backed up on his own side of the field, the numbers quickly fall away. In the Redskins own half of the field, Cousins has thrown 3 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, been sacked 6 times and lost 2 fumbles.
In the first half of games, Cousins has a 6 touchdown to 1 interception ratio, but in the second half that ratio is 4 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. When the Redskins are trailing on the scoreboard, Cousins has thrown 6 touchdowns to 8 interceptions, and when the Redskins are trailing by 1 score in the second half, Cousins completion rate drops down to a paltry 51.0 percent. Although it’s an admittedly small sample size, when the Redskins have been trailing by less than 1 score in the 4th quarter, Cousins completion rate is 30.8 per cent.
Now, when considering these stats it is only fair to acknowledge that Cousins has never had an offseason as the undisputed starter working with the first team offense units and building rapports with his receivers, his offensive line, and his running backs. It is one of the toughest assignments in the NFL to come in as the #2 quarterback and attempt to pick up where the starter left off. He has faced adversity every time he has taken the field, and to his credit has done at least reasonably well in most of the games he has played.
After Griffin busted his ankle in week 2 last season, Cousins was again called up to lead the Redskins. But after 5 and a half games, Gruden had seen enough and Cousins was benched for Colt McCoy halfway through the week 7 matchup versus the Tennessee Titans. McCoy came on and guided the Redskins to their first win in a month, and backed it up the following week with a huge victory over the Dallas Cowboys. When Griffin was himself benched a few weeks later after returning from injury, it was McCoy and not Cousins who was called up to start.
During this offseason, Cousins spent time with head coach Jay Gruden’s brother Jon Gruden working on his game. And immediately following the 2014 season, at a time when emotions were running high, Cousins went on the record with NBC4’s Dianna Russini about his interest in either seeking a trade or leaving as a free agent if he isn’t given an opportunity to compete for the starting job in 2015;
When I asked Cousins if I could go on the record with his desire for a trade if RG3 is named starter "Isn't it obvious I couldn't stay here"
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) December 29, 2014
Cousins explained if there is no QB competition, there's no point. Although he would approach it as 16 games until free agency #Redskins
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) December 29, 2014
With the starting job now handed to Robert Griffin III, the relationship between the Redskins and Cousins seems to be destined to end.
Whilst the Redskins front office seems content to let Cousins play out the final year of his contract and head into the season carrying 3 quarterbacks on the roster, there really is not a justification for keeping a valuable asset on the bench as the #3 quarterback. Especially on a roster that still has holes to fill, such as the Redskins roster.
The trade value of Cousins may not be high, but even a 5th or 6th round pick is more than the Redskins would get if they opt not to trade him and let him walk as a free agent in 2016, which is almost certain to occur.
For what ever it may be worth, former head coach Mike Shanahan agrees, telling 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny last week;
“I think Kirk Cousins will be a big time player for a lot of years in the National Football League. I’ve seen it first hand what he can do. Once he gets a team with a little balance he will have a very succesful NFL career”
If the Redskins can move Cousins for a draft pick, or even for an upgrade at one of the guard positions, they should swallow their pride and pull the trigger. The halcyon days of thinking there may be an offer of a high 2nd round pick for Cousins are over. The best hope is that a team would be willing to part with a 4th round pick. But an extra 4th round pick is better than absolutely nothing, which is what the Redskins are in currently line to receive in return for 4 years of developing a quarterback who, if given the opportunity and support, is capable of starting in the NFL.
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