A debate that is sure to take place this offseason, has had a jump start these last few days, with the performance of back-up quarterback Kirk Cousins in Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens. Yes it might have been just a handful of plays, but Cousins showed great poise and executed the plays very well. His value grows given the reports of his work ethic and preparation for the Redskins (a reputation that he’s always had). Given the high number of teams struggling at quarterback, and what appears to be a weaker than normal draft class, Cousins could be a hot ticket on the trade market. The question than becomes should the team consider dealing him for assets or is he worth more to the team as a quality back-up quarterback.
How can a quarterback who was just passed up by 31 other teams (multiple times at that) and taken in the 4th round, have such projected positive value after just 11 passing attempts? Well it’s simple, his value is well beyond those regular season numbers. Cousins was considered by many to be a higher projected pick (2nd or 3rd round) than where he was drafted. And since that time has shown leadership and a strong work ethic despite not having any chance to win the starting job. Cousins also looked impressive in the preseason, showing nice pocket awareness, touch, and an ability to make all the throws.
Add in the fact that the quarterback class this year, even with some top juniors coming out (which is undetermined just yet), doesn’t project to be deep with impact talent. Particularly guys who can start right away. While there are some intriguing long term options, maybe just 2 or 3 QB’s could even be considered starting options as rookies. Given that you have unsettled quarterback situations with the Bills, Jets, Eagles, Cardinals, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders and Chiefs, it is clear the draft can’t fill all of the needs. The free agent market won’t offer much (though Alex Smith and Michael Vick could improve it), meaning that a trade for Kirk Cousins is one of the more viable options for a team looking for a signal caller, especially one with some nice upside.
Cousins has further value given his contract status. Cousins is under control for the next three seasons at an extremely affordable rate. Cousins will make just $1.71 million over those three remaining years, which will be less than what it would cost some team to sign an Alex Smith, Michael Vick, Jason Campbell, or Matt Moore for just one season (far less in the case of Alex Smith or Vick). Cousins will even make less than any QB taken in the 2nd round over the next three years. Any early-mid 2nd round pick would make $3-4 million over that time frame. Now that is a relatively small difference, and of course the team would get an extra controlling year, but the point is Cousins represents excellent value. Cousins in many ways will only lose value each year, unless he were to play a significant amount of time in place of Robert Griffin III, given that he’d be a year closer to free agency.
It’s hard to put a firm value on Cousins right now, as some factors still need to play out. If not as many as expected Junior quarterbacks declare for the draft, then that will further thin the ranks of plausible options. Will any other top back-up quarterbacks hit the free agency or trade markets (Matt Flynn, Ryan Mallet, etc.), adding additional options for QB needy teams. That all being said, Cousins should bring back at least a 2nd round pick plus something else. What else would be determined by where exactly that second round pick is, and how thin the market has become.
While it is true you need a decent back-up option at quarterback, they are really nothing more than a good insurance policy. You are hoping you never need to use them, and any extended period of time (over 3 weeks) that the quarterback is out is probably going to be costly to any postseason chances, regardless of who your back-up is. And in most cases where that back-up quarterback goes on to succeed, it is because of the talent surrounding that quarterback (defense, good skill guys, offensive line) rather than the QB carrying the team.
The Redskins are a perfect example of this in 2007, as Todd Collins came in of relief for an injured Jason Campbell in week 13, and started the final three weeks of the season. Collins was long considered a solid-good back-up quarterback, but he was never really considered starting material. Collins won all four games, and the Redskins made the postseason. Though Collins had good numbers in that stretch, the defense and the rest of the team came up big to propel the Redskins into the playoffs.
Without a good team, it would be next to impossible for any back-up quarterback to carry the team in the absence of Robert Griffin III, especially considering how much the offense would have to change with a different quarterback. That makes it hard to justify keeping Cousins, when the Redskins have so many other pressing needs among starting positions and significant role players. Add in the fact that the Redskins are missing their first round pick the next two years, and appear to be in significant salary cap trouble next year, they won’t be able to come close to filling all of their needs.
Yes if Robert Griffin were to get hurt, it would force the team into a tougher situation without Cousins. But by trading him the Redskins could add at least one more piece to the puzzle and be in a far better playoff position when Griffin is healthy. In part 2 I will look at 5 teams who might be the most interested in Cousins, and what he could bring back in return.