The Case For Paying Kirk Cousins

The time has come for the Washington Redskins to decide if Kirk Cousins is worth the price. What price is that? We’re assuming in the $25 million per year range, stretched out over about 4-5 years with probably at least $60 million guaranteed. It’s money that puts Cousins among the elite quarterbacks in the league from a salary standpoint.

Quite a payday for someone with whom the Redskins are 17-14-1 with over the last two years and who was last seen throwing a hideously bad interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that effectively ended the season.

But in spite of all that, and having had several weeks to overcome my bitterness at the idiocy of that final interception, I think the Redskins should pay Cousins. The reason is that there’s two ways this can end up working out.

The first is the obvious one—that Cousins continue his upward trajectory and grow into a genuinely elite-level quarterback. His play has gradually improved over the last two years. When he first got the job full-time to start last season, he spent about half the year as a dink-and-dunk passer before really coming on. That mostly continued this year and is backed up by his 8.1 yards-per-attempt average on the season.

In addition to being a genuine, down-the-field quarterback, Cousins has also cut back on the mistakes. The interception that ended the year was a throwback to when he first got an opportunity in 2014, but lost it to Colt McCoy amid a flurry of picks, where one mistake inevitably led to another. Cousins’ ability to bounce back from a mistake has made significant improvement.

Given all that and given that he’s got an obvious rapport with head coach Jay Gruden, it’s not pushing it to suggest Cousins can still make the final step to becoming the kind of quarterback you can afford to pay huge money to and then focus on building the rest of the team.

It’s the latter point that’s the big issue here. No one really disputes Kirk Cousins is a legitimate NFL starting quarterback, but where he ranks is subject to considerable debate. Is there a quarterback in the league that can look like both Tom Brady and Brock Osweiler, oftentimes within the same game, more often than Cousins?

The consequences of bad contracts to quarterbacks are out there. Forget the Osweiler deal—Cousins is a legitimate quarterback and Osweiler is not and never was. That was just a stupid contract. I’m thinking more of things like Baltimore backing up the vault for Joe Flacco after they won the Super Bowl in 2012. No one can doubt Flacco’s bona fides as a legitimate quarterback. But when he was overpaid and the team became more “his” rather than that of the defense, the Ravens suffered. They’ve made the playoffs once in the past four years.

What if it turns out Cousins’ success is the product of all the money the Redskins have spent at wide receiver? That’s about to come to an end, as the ‘Skins probably have to choose between DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garcon in this year’s free agency. If that’s the case, the Redskins are going to lose ground on offense, while not being able to spend and upgrade the defense.

It’s a significant risk, and a reason I’ve hesitated for a long time about the idea of paying Cousins. But there’s another angle here—the market for quarterbacks is changing. We could well be heading into an era where $20-25 million per year is simply the going rate for any of the twenty quarterbacks or so that are legitimate starters. If that’s the case, Cousins is worth it for sure and I think it highly likely the economic landscape changes in this direction.

Kirk Cousins can still become the next Joe Theismann in the history of the Washington Redskins. And even if he only becomes the next Gus Frerotte, the market could change and make the new contract worth it anyway. The percentages say, pay the man.