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The Kirk Cousins Contract Controversy

Breaking down the Kirk Cousins contract controversy.

Unlike most quarterback controversies, the Washington Redskins only have one signal caller to worry about. In 2012, the Washington Redskins traded four high profile picks for the St. Louis Rams second overall pick so that they could draft Baylor quarterback, Robert Griffin III to be the face of their franchise. Three rounds later, the Redskins drafted another quarterback. This time, it was Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins.

Cousins achieved moderate success in college, but experts said he lacked the arm strength, size, and ability to create “flash plays” in the pros. Most draft scouts determined he would be a reliable back-up at best. His counterpart, Griffin III was the opposite.

Griffin III was considered a phenomenal athlete with a great arm. He was believed to be a player who would produce a highlight reel every time he set foot on the field. Experts believed that his incredible athleticism compensated for his small frame, and that he would be able to avoid big hits and extend plays.

However, when the 2015 NFL season began, it was Cousins that sat atop the depth chart and started all sixteen games, while Griffin III didn’t take a single snap. Despite an exciting rookie year that saw Griffin account for 4,015 total yards and 27 touchdowns while leading the Redskins to an NFC East championship, his time in the limelight didn’t last long. While other 2012 standouts, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, continued to thrive, Griffin III fell apart.

The Redskins offense never evolved, and neither did Griffin III. He threw more interceptions and fewer touchdowns, and eventually the hits took their toll on the young passer. He missed six games in 2014, and was injured in the 2015 preseason before being benched in favor of Cousins, who had impressed whenever he had filled in for Griffin III.

With the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, Chip Kelly’s crazy off-season while with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the experience of head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning still with the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins were far from a trendy playoff pick in 2015. However, with Cousins under center, the Redskins won 9 games and the NFC East.

Cousins had one of the best passing seasons in Redskins history, setting the record for passing yards with 4,166, and coming up just short of Slingin’ Sammy Baugh’s record of 31 passing touchdowns with 29. The Redskins eventually lost to the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but the Washington faithful couldn’t help but be excited about the progress their team made and what the future of the franchise could be.

With Robert Griffin III set to be released when free agency begins, the Redskins have another problem. Kirk Cousins’ rookie contract is expiring, and he wants to get paid.

Unfortunately, the Redskins aren’t willing to pay Cousins what he wants to get paid. Reportedly, he’s asking for upwards of $18 million per year. That number may sound ridiculous, and it is, but in the NFL, franchise quarterbacks come with a hefty price tag.

Even so, $18 million is a lot for a guy who has only had one great season. Throughout history, plenty of quarterbacks have had one great season, only to return to mediocrity. Steve Beuerlein had a monster year for the Panthers in 1999, Elvis Grbac had a flash of success with the Chiefs in 2000, and only three years ago, Robert Griffin III made the Redskins faithful believe again.

Still hurting from when they traded so many high profile draft picks for a bust in 2012, the Redskins have to be reluctant to bank their future on a guy who might not develop into an elite passer. On the other hand, the Redskins are painfully aware of just how hard it is to find a franchise quarterback. They haven’t had one since Mark Rypien in the early nineties. Unfortunately for the Redskins, this leaves them with very few choices.

The first choice is that they just invest. They give Cousins all the money he wants, and hope he becomes all they want and need him to become. They likely won’t do this, because it just doesn’t make sense on paper, and it would cripple their franchise if he fizzles out.

The second choice is that they let him hit free agency. They let Cousins test the market, and they either re-sign him for a more cap-friendly deal, or they lose him to another team and begin looking for their next quarterback. They probably won’t do this either, because they’ve already seen the likes of Rich Gannon and Trent Green leave, only to achieve success for other teams while they struggled.

Finally, they could use the franchise tag on him. The franchise tag essentially forces a player to sign a one year contract worth the average of the five salaries of the player’s position. At the time of this article, the price of a quarterback franchise tag is about $19.6 million. While almost twenty million dollars for one season of a guy that has only thrown for more than 2,000 yards once in four seasons is ridiculous, this option would at least give the Redskins the opportunity to get a better idea of what Cousins’ worth is. If the former Michigan State signal caller continues to thrive, and the Redskins can overcome a heavy schedule that includes the Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Green Bay Packers, then they’ll know he’s worth the money he’s asking for. And if he struggles, and isn’t the quarterback they think he can be, then at the very least, they can sign him for a much smaller deal.

Either way, it’s a good sign that the Redskins are being so responsible with their money. Only seven years ago, owner Dan Snyder paid Albert Haynesworth, a player coming off of one good season that didn’t fit the defense his team ran $100 million. Haynesworth went on to record six and a half sacks in two underwhelming seasons with Washington, and he eventually faded into obscurity. It was probably assumed by most that Dan Snyder would hand Kirk Cousins a blank check. This smart, calculated approach has to be reassuring for Redskins fans, regardless of what happens moving forward.

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