Five Reasons: Kirk Cousins Was Right Not to Sign Now

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The offer was not good enough

The Redskins offered Kirk Cousins $53M in guaranteed money at signing. He is already guaranteed the first $24M of that this coming season and will likely make a minimum of $28M next season (that’s how much it will cost Washington to transition tag him), assuming he doesn’t get hurt. So he would have been trading in free agency next spring– and the multi-year deal that would come with it,  for a total of about $1 million extra in guarantees. Why do that?

Instead, make your $24 million now and then force Washington to transition ($28M) or franchise ($34M) you again on a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract next year. He’s making NBA money right now in the NFL, $44 million over the past two years — all of it guaranteed. That does not typically happen. It might start happening more when players see how this has worked out for Cousins, though. The problem for the Redskins is that all of that money counts against the cap, which is why they’ve completely mishandled this. But that is the team’s problem.

A satisfactory offer would have guaranteed Cousins at least the 3rd season of his deal rather than just the first two. That would have meant the team’s $53M should have come in somewhere around $75M or $80M. They didn’t get close to that. Had they have, it probably would have forced Cousins and his agent to make a counter offer.

There are major questions about his front office

It sounds like Dan Snyder is playing nice with Cousins, at least based on what the quarterback said on the radio show I co-host on 106.7 The Fan today. He has been more involved in the negotiation this offseason reportedly, trying to make Cousins feel loved. That’s good business. It might also be too late. He wasn’t doing that in 2014 when he was reportedly demanding Griffin get back on the field against Jay Gruden’s wishes. He wasn’t doing that after the 2015 season when Cousins and his agent offered the team a reasonable contract at $19.5M a year that the Redskins failed to respond to. But if he has now decided that Cousins is worthy of the star treatment he extends to his favorite players, that’s progress.

The problem is that Bruce Allen still says “Kurt” instead of Kirk. Cousins says this doesn’t bother him. It would bother me if my boss of six years didn’t say my name correctly. Maybe I’m crazy. He is the team president and he does not say the starting quarterback’s name correctly. Ever. I think that needs to be repeated as much as possible.

Oh, and Allen issued a fairly unprecedented statement throwing Cousins under the bus when his player elected not to sign a long-term deal that wasn’t even market-value anyway. Note: Cousins did in 2017 what the team did in 2016, neglecting to respond to an offer while letting the deadline pass. The difference is that after the team refused to respond in 2016, the player handled it like an adult. The team had a strange press conference in front of a select handful of reporters where the president didn’t take any questions after reading from a piece of paper. My translation to the statement: “We tried to get a deal but couldn’t because Cousins took his ball and went home and he’s the bad guy here, not us, so direct your anger at him. Oh, and cheer for him this September.” It was absurd.

And he is supposed to want to sign with a front office who would do that to their franchise player? If they are treating their franchise quarterback who they are willing to pay $24 million to that way, how do they treat players they don’t like?

Lastly, there is Doug Williams. He is supposedly running the front office now but wasn’t the guy negotiating the contract with Cousins’ agent. What is his role? Will he be good at it? If I’m Cousins and I’m signing on to stick with a team, I’d like to have faith that the guy who runs the front office is going to build me a winner. Why wouldn’t I want to find out more about Williams the executive?

He needs to determine if he is a good match with Jay Gruden the play-caller

Cousins trusted and liked working with Kyle Shanahan because Shanahan believed in Cousins. He advocated for him and even told him that he thought Cousins could become Drew Brees. Shanahan is long-gone. Cousins then struck up a terrific relationship with Sean McVay. McVay was the team’s offensive coordinator and Cousins whisperer, helping the quarterback navigate a rocky path to become a starter. He fought for Cousins at times and stood on the table for a player he had been around since 2012, before Gruden showed up in DC. Cousins trusted McVay and liked working with him. He is now in Los Angeles.

Gruden gets credited with giving Cousins his first chance to start, and to some extent he should. He was the head coach when Griffin was benched before the start of the 2015 season. But I’ve long been told that Scot McCloughan advocated to start Cousins while Gruden wanted to start veteran backup Colt McCoy in Augest, 2015. If I know that, maybe Cousins does too. And while that may not matter two-plus seasons later, what does matter is that Cousins and Gruden have not had to work as closely as they will have to this fall.

Gruden gave up considerable offensive control to McVay midway through the 2015 season. McVay took over as more than just an influential organizer and game-plan coordinator, calling plays with less input from Gruden part of the way through the season. At that time, Cousins started to play his best football.

Can Cousins play at the same level he did over the past year-and-a-half with Gruden now calling the plays? Probably. But he hasn’t had to do it yet and his trusted mentor is gone. He probably wants to see how he likes working with Gruden, and for that matter his new offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

What if Gruden and Cousins disagree on in-game philosophy? What if Gruden’s idea of moving the football is way different than the Shanahan / McVay concepts that Cousins likes? Wouldn’t that matter to you as you determined whether or not you wanted to spend the prime of your career playing under a coach and play-caller? If I was him I would want to see how this season plays out with Gruden taking over duties he hasn’t had during my time as a productive starter.

Supporting cast uncertainty

A year ago Cousins operated an offense that boasted two 1,000 yard wide receivers. They are both now gone, with DeSean Jackson getting ready to debut in Tampa Bay and Pierre Garcon having reunited with Shanahan in San Francisco. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson, two super-sized, pass-catches with short track records of success, will serve as their replacements on the outside. Pryor is playing on a one-year contract. Doctson barely saw the field as a rookie and will show up at training camp next week trying to prove that his injury issues aren’t going to cripple his sophomore impact.

What if Pryor is one-and-done with the Redskins? What if Doctson’s Achilles injury resurfaces and this season ends with him becoming a major question mark beyond 2017? Clearly those are worst-case scenarios for Washington but they are both plausible, no? If you’re Cousins and you are signing away the prime of your career, don’t you want to feel pretty good about your wide receivers moving forward?

Obviously every quarterback would love to be able to know that their pass-catchers aren’t going anywhere for an extended period of time, but that isn’t the way the NFL works. But when you already have a one-year deal for $24 million locked in, and the leverage to play on that deal and not have to sign beyond this coming campaign, why not use the ability to find out more about which receivers are going to be staying around with you? Will Pryor be back? Is Doctson the furture star draft experts pegged him to be? Will Jamison Crowder be re-signed after this season, with the days on his rookie deal starting to dwindle?

His other options may be better in 2018

If the Redskins have a winning season and Cousins plays well, he can sign a monster extension to remain in Washington. If at the end of the season he is confident that the Snyder and Allen operation is not headed off the rails like so many thought it was in the wake of the McCloughan firing, he can feel good about committing to them. If he likes working with Cavanaugh more extensively than he has in the past and he thinks there is a chance to keep Pryor and Doctson and Crowder together with Jordan Reed, it would set him up for a chance to win immediately.

But if the Redskins struggle — either because Cousins doesn’t play well or because the team just doesn’t perform — and things go poorly, he has the opportunity to leave. If Gruden and he don’t see eye-to-eye in their newly-formed rapport or Pryor gets a massive contract elsewhere or the wacky front office turmoil of the last few months continues, he can seek a fresh-start elsewhere.

Regardless of how he plays this coming season, Shanahan is going to want to work with him. McVay would jump at the chance to bring him to Los Angeles, assuming Jared Goff doesn’t turn his career around in his second NFL season. And there are always a handful of other quarterback starved teams that would likely be happy to serve as a safety net in the wake of a regression for a guy that has shined in his only two seasons as a starter.

The Redskins present a way better chance to win than the 49ers, Rams and most of the other teams in need of a quarterback do right now. But is that a certainty to be the case in a year? No. And if you don’t have to make up your mind right now, which Cousins didn’t, why should you?

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Grant Paulsen

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