Going back to their 2012 wild card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, it would have sounded insane to suggest that the Washington Redskins’ marquee free agent of 2017 was not Robert Griffin III, but his late replacement that day: Kirk Cousins.
Cousins went 3-of-10 for 31 yards that day and over the next two seasons, would start eight games, go 1-7, and throw 14 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Forget about whether or not Cousins had a future in the NFL as a starter, after three seasons it seemed questionable that he had a future in the NFL at all. Take some time to appreciate the fact that as recently as 2014, some favored Colt McCoy as the Redskins long-term answer at quarterback, and many screamed “Nonsense!” when Cousins was named the starter over Griffin and McCoy to open 2015. (If only jeers were so tame.)
Now Cousins is the center of the entire 2017 free agency universe with GMs and fans alike wondering what’s going to happen in the standoff between the team’s leading passer in each of the last three seasons and a team that hasn’t had a quarterback do that for four straight seasons since Mark Rypien was under center.
The good news for Washington is that outside of Cousins and his top two weapons, they don’t have much else to worry about among their own free agents. GM Scot McCloughan, no doubt a wrench in the Seahawks’ plans because of his roots with Seattle and penchant to want to do similar things, should even have enough money left over to meddle in said plans.
Impending Free Agents
Kirk Cousins, QB*
*Cousins was given the franchise tag but as a QB, he’s still of interest to other teams via trade
Picking up where I left off in the intro, Cousins has thrown 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions over the last two seasons. Over that time he is third in completion percentage, fourth in yards per attempt, and fifth in passer rating, ranking ahead of Aaron Rodgers in that category. If he receives the franchise tag for the second year in a row, Cousins would make just under $24 million next season if he doesn’t come to a long-term agreement.
But Washington has $43.8 million in cap room before some pretty obvious cuts, so the cap space shouldn’t be a huge issue ... it’s the idea of giving Cousins a long-term mega extension that would.
This may not be the most popular opinion, but while Cousins is a good quarterback, which is still extremely hard to find for many teams, I just don’t see him as a championship caliber quarterback. I would liken the situation to the one with Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs; you’ve seen your ceiling and thy name is divisional round. Cousins has led the Redskins to 9-7 and 8-7-1 records in his two seasons as starter, and in his lone playoff start, a 35-18 loss to the Packers, Cousins was pitiful in the fourth quarter and a good chunk of his 329 yards came with the game out of reach. Inside the opponents 10-yard line last season, Cousins completed 31.5% of his attempts with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. That was the lowest comp% in the NFL among any QB with more than six attempts inside the 10. (Cousins had 38 attempts inside the 10.)
Cousins is the perfect type of quarterback I’d want on my team if this was the first two or three years of his career on a rookie deal, but that’s not what we’re talking about. That situation at hand is not if Cousins is an above-average starter, or even if he might have a future as a great starter, it’s about signing him to a $125 million deal on the back of him being an above-average starter with no idea if he’s going to be great. To make matters more complicated, his offensive coordinator left to become head coach of the LA Rams and his two top receivers are aging free agents.
There’s a remarkable amount of change going on with Washington’s offense and we’re not even entirely sure what other changes to the roster could be coming next.
Not only am I staunchly against a long-term deal for Cousins, I’d also advocate for exploring trade routes once the franchise tag is in place. The Redskins have to entertain the idea of selling high, because while quarterbacks of his caliber don’t become available often, I also think that in this particular case, he’s somewhat replaceable thanks to the presence of Jay Gruden and McCloughan. They’d be getting back at least one first round pick, which could potentially be used on a quarterback in a class that has three or four guys with a first round grade.
Here’s what our own Sam Gold, who has watched as much tape on Cousins as any fan I’d imagine, had to say about him:
As my video kind of discussed (video: “Kirk Cousins should be paid like a top-5 QB”) I think he's proven himself to be better than average. Last year he had a few bad games (Steelers opening week, NY Giants final week), but also had a couple of elite performances and looked to have improved throughout the season.
I want the Redskins to get a long term deal with him. He's a perfect fit for their offense. Anywhere between $22m/yr and $24m/yr I will be completely on board with. $25m/yr+ and I will start being hesitant.
I think they will be smart to tag him and see what others will offer him in a trade like situation. If someone is stupid enough to give them 2 first rounders, and 2 seconds we have to consider it, but at anything less than ridiculous I think he can lead the 'Skins to the next level and they should give him the money he has earned since they have the cap space.
Sean McVay leaving will be huge in my opinion. He was their creativity. I expect some regression on the offensive side, but possibly better redzone efficiency since Gruden has more experience.
I respect Sam’s opinion. There’s a huge risk to not signing Cousins, but there’s also a huge risk to signing him. I’m just leaning towards the risk in not signing him and getting back a ton of draft capital and cap space instead. The most-rumored landing spot for Cousins is the San Francisco 49ers where he can reunite with former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, which a lot of people think seems like a perfect marriage but let’s not forget:
- Cousins was terrible when Shanahan was there.
- Shanahan’s best season as an offensive coordinator came on an offense that had two great running backs, one of the top two receivers in the NFL, a bevy of additional good weapons, some great offensive linemen. The 49ers have almost none of that. If Cousins goes to San Francisco this year, they’d be spending first round picks and tens of millions of dollars on a quarterback who stands almost no shot at being effective. It would be a horrible deal for the Niners, so I say go for it.
DeSean Jackson, WR
Pierre Garcon, WR
Both Jackson and Garcon are free agents coming off of 1,000-yard seasons, but Jackson scored just four times while Garcon scored thrice. They are both 30. Garcon was more reliable last season, catching 69.3% of his targets while being targeted 114 times, and Jackson caught just 56% of his 100 targets. Of course that makes Jackson the bigger deep threat, but it seems like Garcon is where they’d focus their attention on getting re-signed. It seems Jackson is on his way out.
A contract for either feels like the 2-3 year, $10 million per year range and both could draw a lot of interest from the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals, all of whom have needs at wide receiver. The Seahawks have needs to but they won’t be fulfilled by going this route. The Redskins have 2016 first round pick Josh Docston and slot receiver Jamison Crowder but the loss of both of their starting receivers could be devastating, with Sam saying they “could be boned in the wide receiver department outside of Crowder.” Doctson has suffered from a mysterious injury and played in just two games as a rookie.
Chris Baker, DE
Far from a household name, Baker has been a regular starter for the last three seasons and he’s gotten a considerable number of QB pressures in that time. Washington would like to re-sign him, but he could be more popular on the market than most people expect.
Others: S Donte Whitner, CB Greg Toler, DE Ziggy Hood, S Duke Ihenacho, LB Terence Garvin, DE Cullen Jenkins, DT Kedric Golston, C John Sullivan
Cap Casualty Candidates
DeAngelo Hall, CB/S
Ricky Jean-Francois, DE
These are the two obvious cap candidates I see. I don’t know which other players could get released, as their are no other options that so clearly will be let go. I don’t see either as having a future in Seattle.
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