This time last year Kirk Cousins’ career trajectory was pretty easy to map out. He’d play another year in Washington on the franchise tag, pulling down a cool $23.9 million in the process before signing a free agent deal with the San Francisco 49ers and reuniting with Kyle Shanahan.
Now the path is far less certain. Cousins got that big payout from the Redskins, but then the 49ers were able to swoop in for Jimmy Garoppolo, who spent the last few weeks of the season burning down defenses for fun. With his path to San Francisco blocked there was a thought that he and the Redskins would be able to come to terms on an actual contract, but then they went and traded for Alex Smith and signed him to a long-term extension.
So now Cousins is seemingly without a home. Adrift in the NFL landscape and waiting for a huge money offer that may never come. So what are his options likely to be? And where would be the best landing spot for him?
The big money players
Since taking over as the Redskins starter at the start of the 2015 season Cousins hasn’t missed a game, has completed 67% of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt, has averaged 274.5 yards per game and has thrown 81 touchdowns to 36 interceptions. Those are pretty good numbers, but with a record of 24-23-1 there have been plenty of doubters among talking heads, fans, and front office staff to make the prospect of a four-year, $100 million deal seem distant.
The one team that would be ready, willing, and able to make that kind of offer though is the Cleveland Browns. They have $111.5 million in cap space and a hole at quarterback, meaning they could comfortably afford to out-bid everyone else for his services. Of course, Cleveland is hardly the ideal location if you want to actually compete in the NFL, but a job is a job, and a well-paid job is extremely difficult to turn down.
A more attractive spot that could also offer a big salary would be the New York Jets. With $79 million in cap room and a new offensive coordinator they are positioned to bring in a viable passer that could finally allow them to compete in the AFC East.
The Jets can offer Robby Anderson as a young target to throw to, but not too much else as they try to overhaul an offense that has been consistently struggling, and we all know that the Browns offer little but misery and losses. And that’s were the less cap-rich teams can sway Cousins.
The talented contenders
There are two teams that immediately leap off the page as both quarterback-needy and talented. That is the Arizona Cardinals and the Denver Broncos. Let’s start with the Cards.
For a start you get to work with Larry Fitzgerald, a living-legend at wide receiver, and a returning David Johnson who is one of the NFL’s best weapons. New head coach Steve Wilks has inherited a talented defense that features some of the best individual talent in the league. There is a lot to like about how competitive a team the Cardinals have should a passer like Cousins sign up. There is also the fact that he would get to take on Shanahan and the 49ers twice a year. If there is one thing that Cousins’ time in Washington has shown us it is that he is fiercely competitive and getting one up on the team that passed him over would certainly fit with his personality.
As for the Broncos, they have two leading receivers that have been wasting away since Peyton Manning’s arm died. While the team can save a lot of money by cutting Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (around $13 million), combining them with the talent of Cousins could immediately make the franchise a contender again. Stepping into a new team is always tough, but if you have a pair of Pro Bowlers to throw to you can be fairly confident of landing on your feet.
The dark horse
One team that isn’t really talked about and is about to see three quarterbacks hit free agency is the Minnesota Vikings. After making it all the way to the NFC championship game with an impressive year from Case Keenum you would think that they would be happy to roll into 2018 with Keenum and either Bradford or Bridgewater as his backup, but convincing them all to sign up without eating into the sizeable cap space that they need to hold onto for 2019 is a big task.
It might simplify matters for them if they signed Cousins, who would have a ready-built core of talent around him and a beautiful dome to play in. Sure, playing outside in Chicago and Green Bay isn’t overly appealing, but a league-leading defense, two young and talented wide outs and a big tight end isn’t a bad group to land in.
Picking a landing spot
So where is Cousins likely to end up next season? If I were a betting man I would say the Jets or Cardinals. Both can offer him a decent contract, something along the lines of four-years, $95 million with a guarantee in the $60-70 million range. One suspects that the Vikings’ preference is to bring back their own quarterbacks, while the Broncos are in a strong enough draft position to take one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, or Josh Allen.
At his best Cousins can play to the level of Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan, at his worst he is Andy Dalton on a good day. There is enough talent in his arm and smarts in his head for any offensive coordinator (outside of Brian Schottenheimer) to do well with. Washington Redskins fans have grown tired of Cousins not dragging a bad roster to wins, but they will realize what they were missing when he starts firing touchdowns downfield in Arizona or putting the Jets in position to win.
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