Among last year’s biggest laughs on the football field was the entire NFC Eastern division. A group that finished last season with just a single winning team, and no real hope of postseason success.
But looking back at the team that did win the division, the 9-7 Redskins, there were more reasons for optimism than the 35-18 playoff drubbing by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers let on.
Former Gator running back Matt Jones locked down the running back spot while college teammate Jordan Reed emerged as one of the top tight ends in the NFL. Ryan Kerrigan continued his dominance at linebacker and the emergence of stud defensive end Chris Baker has given the D-Line a giant boost. Meanwhile the special teams upgraded with one of the best kickers in the league, Dustin Hopkins. But as for biggest plus in Washington last year, that came from the quarterback position.
After nearly two-straight decades of inconsistency under center, Kirk Cousins took the reigns of an organization marred by bad quarterback play for almost as long as the Cleveland Browns have.
The Michigan State product became the first quarterback to start all 16 games for the organization since Jason Campbell did in 2009, and in those 16 games Cousins did more than just play well; he led his team to victories. The Redskins finished the season with 9 victories, making 2016 just the fourth winning season for the team since Y2K. And a lot of that was due to the quarterback that a year from now might not even be on the roster.
Although the Redskins see the obvious value of Cousins as one of the better quarterbacks in the league and the best quarterback in the division by franchise tagging him for $20 million, they apparently don’t believe he is worth the long term commitment of a big contract. The team and player were unable to agree on terms for a deal moving forward as Cousins thought he proved himself worthy of a major contract, something the organization apparently disagreed with.
The question is, how strong is Cousins case for a big contract and should the Redskins make more of an effort to sign the quarterback who seems to have finally have solved the quarterback issues in D.C.? Well last year the QB made quite the case.
Cousins threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns while being the most accurate passer in the league, completing 69.8% of his throws. All this led to Cousins boasting the 5th highest passer rating in the league (101.6), just ahead of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (101.0) and MVP Cam Newton (99.2). What it also led to was a division title for the Redskins, something that should have motivated the franchise to pay the quarterback whatever it took to keep him around.
Of course the team had their doubts about paying a quarterback after one good season, something that RGIII was able to accomplish before being shipped out of Washington this offseason. And when the team looked out into the NFL it saw even more reason to be skeptical of Cousins singular-season success. Last May Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill signed a 6 year, $96 million deal after a season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. The season following that deal Tannehill saw a dip in completion percentage, touchdowns, and passer rating, while his team saw a dip in wins. And while concerns that Redskins have seen firsthand success in one season become failure in another, and the fear that Cousins could become the next Ryan Tannehill, the Redskins also have other worries about shelling out big bucks on the quarterback.
The NFC Eastern division is not necessarily a solid one. As a matter of fact, it is seemingly a wide open division, with the Giants a complete question mark, the Eagles relying on Sam Bradford at quarterback, and the Cowboys being, well, the Cowboys. That plays a part in the thinking of the Redskins front office that the team might not necessarily need a max-contract type of quarterback to get the team to the postseason. Although Cousins seems to be the safest pick at quarterback for the team, at the end of next season when Cousins finishes up his year under the franchise tag, it is possible that instead of spending big bucks on him the Redskins go after another free agent signal-caller that won’t cost an arm and a leg like the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor (might be the most underrated QB in the league).
As for those of you clamoring on about Cousins’ talent and production last season as reasons to pay the quarterback what he is worth, remember that if any franchise knows what it is like to see a quarterback succeed one season on a way to a division championship, and absolutely self-destruct the next year it’s the Washington Redskins. And for an organization that more than anything else does not want another RGIII fiasco on its hands, there should be no problem in waiting to see if Cousins can sustain the success he had last year.
The fact of the matter is, either way the future of Kirk Cousins and the future of the Washington Redskins is completely up to the quarterback. If #8 struggles to live up to last season’s success and can’t compete with the big boys (has never beaten a team with a winning record) Washington may be seen as making the smart move. However if he can play like he did in his playoff game against the Packers (329 yards 0 INT’) or simply sustain the Pro Bowl level of play he did last season, he will get paid. Whether that means he is wearing a Redskins jersey or another jersey (most likely the Browns), it’s all up to him.