Now that the Cleveland Browns sacrifice to the sports Gods of their 2016 NFL season for the betterment of the city (you are welcome Cavs and Indians fans) is complete, silly season is officially upon us.
From non-stop 2017 NFL mock drafts (shout out to Stephen Thomas and Jared Mueller) on Twitter to fights breaking out over the likes of potential quarterback draft prospects Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and more, Cleveland fans are fully entrenched in the 2017 offseason.
With so many potential scenarios swirling around from quarterbacks in the draft to trade targets (Jimmy Garoppolo anyone?), it is pretty intriguing many in the Cleveland sports community have not gone deeper into whether or not the team could land Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins—you know, the OTHER quarterback they selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Let’s face it, though the front office would not tell the media as much in the year-end press conference, the Robert Griffin III reclamation project crashed and burned in year one thanks to injuries and underwhelming performances. The Browns front office and coaching staff will be looking to address the most important position on the field this offseason—they did not need to scream it out in big bold quotes to be put on your websites and the front page of your favorite newspaper. Though many think they are smarter than the coaching staff and front office, if you are seeing poor QB play on Sundays, chances are they are seeing it every single day in film study as well.
This leads us back to the Cousins topic, and even though many do not expect the Redskins to let him walk in free agency, there was an interesting article on the Washington Post this week written by Rick Snider. Snider did not mince words or the premise for his article, as he opened the piece by stating “The Redskins should let Kirk Cousins test the market in free agency.”
He continued, “Paying the quarterback $24.5 million under the franchise tag next season or as much as $120 million over five years on a long-term deal would not be the best path for Washington to reach a Super Bowl. While Cousins is an above-average quarterback, he hasn’t shown that he can carry a team.”
Let’s start with that last line there “…he hasn’t shown that he can carry a team.”
In the last two seasons as the starting QB for the Washington Redskins, Cousins has started 32 games, compiled a record of 17-14-1, thrown for 9,083 yards, completed 54 touchdowns passes and thrown 23 interceptions. He has completed 785 of his 1,149 passes attempted for a completion percentage of 68.3 percent over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He finished the 2015 season with a QB Rating of 101.6 and the 2016 season with a QB Rating of 97.2.
To put those numbers into perspective for you, let’s look back at where he ranked in the league.
Cousins’ rating of 101.6 in 2015 was No. 5 in the league—ahead of Drew Brees, Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers—just to name a few. His rating of 97.2 in 2016 was No. 7 in the league, again ahead of a majority of the top perceived QBs in the league like Roethlisberger, Stafford, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, Rivers and more.
Snider thinks Cousins cannot carry a team, yet he fails to mention the fact that their defense, according to ESPN, ranked No. 28 in total yards given up per game (377.9), was No. 25 in passing yards given up per game (258.1), was No. 24 in rushing yards given up per game (119.8) and finished No. 19 in points given up per game at 23.9.
Meanwhile, the Cousins-led offense was No. 3 in the league in total yards per game (403.4) and No. 2 in passing yards per game (297.4) despite having the league’s No. 21 ranked rushing attack at 106 yards per game. Despite such a low ranked rushing attack, Cousins and the offense were able to finish No. 12 in scoring at 24.8 per game.
You can read the article in its entirety above, and while I understand Snider’s premise of not overpaying for a free agent when the money can help you upgrade elsewhere, the QB position is an exception—especially when that QB has proven over two seasons he is able to lead your team to a winning record.
Now, Snider obviously does not represent the thoughts of the Redskins’ organization here, but it seems some in the media are questioning him because of the team’s finish to the 2016 season. Because of this, the Browns could capitalize on the situation if the Redskins try and roll the dice and not franchise tag Cousins again.
I know what many of you are getting ready to ask, why would Cousins leave a team after two consecutive winning seasons for a team that just went 1-15?
For starters, the Browns were $49 million under the salary cap in 2016 and rolled over the full amount to the 2017 season according to a recent article from the Morning Journal. This means that not only can the Browns afford to pay Cousins the up-front and long-term money he is seeking, but they can go out and add other pieces to the puzzle (like re-signing Terrelle Pryor) as well.
Secondly, there are rumors that two of his biggest targets on offense in Washington—DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon—will be leaving in free agency now that their contracts are up. That will leave the team with breakout youngster Jamison Crowder, oft-injured Jordan Reed and rookie Josh Doctson (didn’t really see the field) as the primary weapons left on the roster for Cousins.
Finally, not only will the Browns have close to $110 million in cap space (according to this article on CBS Sports), but there are parallels to the offense Cousins ran in Washington with Jay Gruden and the one Hue Jackson wants to run in Cleveland. In fact, that same article on CBS Sports said as much, “…Moving to the AFC North would be an easy transition for Cousins because Hue Jackson runs the same offensive scheme as the Redskins. The Browns also have some playmakers with tight end Gary Barnidge, rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman, running back Isaiah Crowell and impending free-agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.”
Following a 1-15 season after a roster turnover unseen and unheard of at the NFL level, the Browns are once again locked and loaded with plenty of draft capital to again add more youth to their roster to continue their rebuild. However, if they want to make a real splash at not only upgrading their QB position immediately and for the foreseeable future, signing Cousins is certainly a real option for the organization.
Lastly, I have one more thought here before I let you get back to your regularly scheduled lives.
I’m not saying Cousins is Drew Brees, but the free agency parallel and stage of their careers has to be mentioned here. Brees was 27-years old when he hit the free agent market in 2006, Cousins is 28. Brees was a good QB in San Diego for the two years leading up to leaving, but he really took the next step when he was paired with Sean Payton, another well-known QB and offensive guru.
The impact of adding a veteran, productive QB to the Saints organization completely altered that franchise’s direction, as they went from 3-13 in 2005 to 10-6 in 2006. A few short years later, the team would go 13-3 in 2009 and win the Super Bowl.
Many may scoff at the fact that I am mentioning Brees and Cousins in the same sentence, but the fact is that while Brees was good with the Chargers, he blossomed into the future Hall of Fame QB he is today under Payton.
If the Washington Redskins try to let Cousins test free agency, he should immediately jump to the top of everyone’s wish list this offseason. He may not have the “Gets Us” factor like Trubisky, or the “Beat the Buckeyes” factor like Watson, but he is a veteran, winning QB at the NFL level who could completely alter the shape of this offense from Day 1.
And I’m sure you would all “Like That.”