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The $20 Million Question: Is Kirk Cousins Worth It?

Free agency started with the big Kirk Cousins contract worth $19.95 million: top of the NFL. There's more than one reason why he's worth that kind of money.

This offseason, Washington started the free agency scramble by locking up the top quarterback in this year’s class. The Redskins signed Kirk Cousins to a franchise tender of one year/$19.95 million. This will give Cousins the largest base salary in the league for quarterbacks. Is this Kirk Cousins contract exactly what Washington wanted? The deal sparked debate as to whether or not he deserved that kind of money.

Well, he does. And there’s three main reasons. The state of the division, his play, and the climate of the league.

The $20 Million Question: Is Kirk Cousins Worth It?

The NFC East is the dumpster fire that can produce the league’s best teams. It’s so volatile that it’s actually sickening to watch their inconsistency. The Eagles are going through a regime change, Dallas literally flipped their record their last two years, and New York hasn’t won the division since 2011. Currently, this is Washington’s division to lose. Washington understands that it needs to lock down its offense. The last two times they were able to be stable offensively they won their division (2012, 2015).

Look, Washington doesn’t need to put together a team filled with All-Pro offensive weapons. They have a tandem in Alfred Morris and Matt Jones at running back that will likely put up 1,500 rushing yards combined. They have a Tier-2 tight end in Jordan Reed and along with a healthy receiving core (I’m looking at you, DeSean Jackson), they’ll be above average. That’s enough for them to win ten games.

With that being said, they do have a scary high ceiling. Now, the front office will have to put more money into the defense, investing in draft picks that will peak in two to four years. But I see no reason why Washington shouldn’t be in the playoff picture every year with their CURRENT roster—assuming they don’t get better, God forbid.

The next reason has to do with Kirk Cousins himself. Cousins started the season with inaccuracy and mumblings of defeat. He started the first six games with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. That didn’t exactly inspire the same “Franchise Savior” feeling that Robert Griffin III had in his first season. A local Redskins blog gave Kirk a C+ grade in their first quarter rankings [].

The next 10 games showed such a different story.

Cousins threw 23 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions to match. He showcased a quarterback rating of above 100 in every game except for New England and Carolina. Cousins commanded the team excellently. He had calm pocket presence without a hairpin trigger. Cousins finished the year with the highest accuracy rating in the NFL, a sliver under 70%.

It became obvious that Cousins progressed into an upper level of the league. Cousins entered free agency as the best option at quarterback. They have a chance to lock up a player that has brought some stability. Kirk’s two worst games featured absolutely no help from the defense and deplorable efforts in the running game. Give him help defensively and more than 75 yards total on the ground? There’s a realistic possibility that they could have beat Carolina and New England. Washington is looking at Cousins as the center piece that—with efforts similar to the second half of the season—will pull the team together.

Remember in 2014 when Jay Cutler received a monstrous contract with a base salary of $17 million? That was enough for top of the league. People were screaming, calling for riots in the imaginary streets that were NFL blogs and social media. Living in Detroit at the time, every Lions fan I talked to was elated. A quarterback that had only two playoff games under his belt and only one 16 game season in five years? A quarterback who threw heaps of interceptions at a time? A guy who threw the most interceptions in 2009 by a wide margin? How was he worth any contract above $12 million? We simply didn’t know.

Chicago started the newest modern spending spree for quarterbacks. At this point in the NFL, we had seen a turning point exponentially in contracts. The third highest base salary in 2013 was less than $10 million. Just three years later almost half of the starting quarterbacks in the league have at least $10 million in base salary. Contracts have always been increasing but never had it jumped this quickly.

The NFL not only has an ever-expanding cap but a need for marketing star players. Social media created a universe in itself for quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Tony Romo that focused less on play and more on personality. A player that can make the kids fall in love with his with antics does more than any face of the franchise did 20 years ago.

Washington had a chance to lock up a player like that.

Cousins is likable, hails from an uber popular university in Michigan State, and already has a meme dedicated to himself. If you can’t have a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, the next best thing is to have a meme. And as a fan of the NFL that doesn’t laugh at Crying Jordan memes, that saddens you slightly.

This is a result of the era that we live in. This is the climate of our league, like it or not. A player’s career can be reduced to how many vines he had of him. But spinning this into a positive light, popularity can transform itself into swagger and confidence on the field. Odell Beckham Jr. was already having an impressive season before his famed one-handed snag. After the catch, we considered him elite. Only two years into his career and ODB was already dubbed by many to be the best receiver in the league. Teams benefit from player’s level of popularity, and Cousins is one of the more marketable players in the league.

Is Kirk worth it? No doubt. Will better quarterbacks be paid more? Absolutely. Right now, Washington has to take advantage of this division. They played horribly against Green Bay in the playoffs, but that was a stout Green Bay team that was angry for losing a division it normally has locked up. Washington is now in the position Green Bay was in after Favre’s second retirement: a young team lacking leadership and a cake walk to at least four inter-division wins. Green Bay had a novice gun slinger named Aaron who hadn’t yet earned or deserved to pull a discount double-check. Green Bay’s defense wasn’t top notch in many of those years. Respectable, sure, but no more impressive than the Redskin squadron today.

Washington is in a special position. They need a man willing to prove himself and lead a team. They had that in Kirk Cousins. They have that in Kirk Cousins. $20 million is a lot to swallow today. But it’s much easier to swallow than watching Cousins sign with Philly or L.A. and watch him bring them success.

Absolutely not. It’s Cousins’s time, and yes, Washington likes that.

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