3 Ideal Landing Spots for Kirk Cousins (And 2 That Aren’t)
This time last season, I had my qualms about Kirk Cousins entering 2017. He had lost his main playmakers and offensive coordinator, though there was upside at his ADP. Cousins eventually finished 2017 seventh in scoring at the quarterback position in Yahoo fantasy leagues — slightly lower than what he produced in 2016, but it was his third year in a row as a top-10 quarterback.
Given his lack of offensive weapons and injuries at running back and offensive line, Cousins’ production this past season was impressive — 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He has proven to be a valuable fantasy asset, be it in a one- or two-quarterback league. If Cousins finds himself on the right team, in the right offensive system in 2018, it’s likely he can keep up his fantasy production.
Kirk Cousins Entering Free Agency
Cousins’ pending free agency is one of the most speculated topics this offseason. It’s the third straight offseason in which Cousins’ contract status is a key storyline. But this year, his time as the starting quarterback in Washington has come to an end and it’s now Alex Smith’s time.
The #Redskins gave QB Alex Smith a 4-year extension worth $94M, source said. He gets a whopping $71M in guarantees.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 31, 2018
With a dire need for quality quarterbacks throughout the league, Cousins is one of the most valuable quarterbacks to hit free agency and is poised to seek a substantial long-term deal for the next stage of his career. That is, unless the Washington franchises Cousins for the third consecutive year to recoup some of their losses from their trade with the Chiefs.
In regards to what Cousins’ plans are in weighing his options in the free agency market, he told WFAN’s “The Afternoon Drive”:
“Winning is everything, especially at this stage of my career — I’m going into Year 7. Because I’ve been franchise-tagged twice, I’ve been in a position where it’s not about the money so much; it’s about winning. I want to win. This isn’t the NBA. You can’t just get one player and now you’re in the AFC championship game…other pieces come into play.”
Per Bovada, there are betting odds on where Kirk Cousins will land:
Kirk Cousins betting odds, per Bovada:
— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) January 31, 2018
Of those teams, which can give him the best chance to win? I weigh in on a few of those options below.
Ideal Landing Spot #1: Denver Broncos
Cap Space: $26 million*
Draft Pick: 5
As soon as the Alex Smith news broke, rumors of a Cousins/Broncos partnership began to circulate. Of all of Cousins’ options, Denver seems the most intriguing of the likely suitors. The Broncos have long been considered one of the most stable and successful organizations with John Elway at the reigns, though they have yet to find a suitable replacement since Peyton Manning called it a career. Instead, there’s been a disappointing cycle of sub-par options, including Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch.
Elway has vowed to “fix” the quarterback situation, but with only $29 million in cap space going into the offseason, this will require Elway to restructure contracts and cut players should he want to make a run at Cousins. There is already expectations that at least one of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will be relinquished into free agency, as well as CJ Anderson being cut, but it might also take some losses on the defense — which has been the driver of their success the past few seasons.
What’s more, the Broncos’ 20th-ranked passing offense needs much more work than just the quarterback position. For the Broncos to put all their eggs in Cousins’ basket, this might require them to miss out on less financially debilitating additions.
There is opportunity for the Broncos to pass on Cousins and roll the dice at snagging a young buck with their fifth overall pick. But after the failed attempts with Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian, it might be safer to devote the resources to a vet and trade down to further build the offense.
Von Miller is all-in on reaching for Cousins, speaking on the Dan Patrick Show: “We need Kirk. I would like to have Kirk. We have great quarterbacks now. Kirk could take us over the edge.”
If John Elway agrees, he’d need to pull out the negotiation tactics he used to land Peyton Manning.
Non-Ideal Landing Spot #1: Cleveland Browns
Cap Space: $110 million*
Draft Pick: 1
There’s not much to harp on here. Since 2010, the Cleveland Browns have had 16 different quarterbacks under center. Of those 16 quarterbacks (outside those that played in 2017), only two saw a snap this season. With Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel in that list, it seems like the Browns are a quarterback’s final pit stop. It’s obvious the Browns are still in desperate need of a franchise quarterback, but the need is likely not mutual if you were to ask Cousins.
The challenge of attracting Cousins is simple — what can the Browns offer Cousins outside of money? Their defense allowed the fourth-most points per game in 2017, Josh Gordon is their best offensive weapon, and their head coach cannot manage the team or his coaching staff.
The Browns will likely draft a quarterback with one of their 12 draft picks, even if they were to sign Cousins. The last thing Cousins wants is another quarterback controversy.
And you know what else Cousins probably doesn’t want? Another dysfunctional front office. Now, the Browns’ newly minted front office may seem promising, but they’re an accumulation of fresh meat that doesn’t fully see eye-to-eye with their head coach. After his on-again, (mostly) off-again relationship in Washington, it’s finally Cousins’ chance to find a franchise that has the experience and stability to develop him into a star.
The Browns have won one of their last 32 games. Cousins isn’t going to change that, and it’s unlikely he wants to rise to the challenge.
With their laundry list of draft picks, the Browns’ best bet on landing Cousins would be if Washington puts the franchise tag on him and the Browns paid them off in picks. This would allow GM John Dorsey to devote the draft picks he’s left with to develop a supporting cast for Cousins.
And if Washington doesn’t franchise tag Cousins, the Browns have plenty of cap space to pay him. In fact, they could likely outbid all other teams. But if his main goal is to win, the money might not be enough. There is opportunity for the Browns to make a run at Cousins, but there’s not much opportunity that encourages Cousins to accept.
Ideal Landing Spot #2: New York Jets
Cap Space: $73 million*
Draft Pick: 6
In what was expected to be a rebuild, 0-16 year, the Jets managed to exceed expectations largely due to the success of quarterback Josh McCown. When McCown fell to injury in Week 13, so did the Jets. Going into 2018, McCown is no longer under contract and will be turning 39 this summer. This leaves Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, neither of whom have proven themselves thus far, to fight for the starting quarterback position.
Over the past seven years, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, and Mark Sanchez have been the primary starters for the Jets. Cousins seems to check all the boxes for what the Jets need in a franchise quarterback.
The Jets exceeded expectations in 2017, yes, but they also finished the season 5-11. In fact, this was their second consecutive 5-11 season. There is still a lot to be accomplished before the Jets can be a contender, which might not be suitable for Cousins.
The Jets have the cap space to pay Cousins, but they also have the draft pick. The Jets will need to determine if Cousins is the answer to their problems, or if they should focus on drafting and developing instead, especially given the picks and cap space at their disposal.
Now for the fun part — the Mike Shanahan family tree. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, both bred under Mike Shanahan, helped guide young Cousins in the early stages of his Washington career. The other person “raised” by Mike Shanahan? Newly hired Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. With Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay already making names for themselves, one can assume Bates could follow the same path. At the very least, Cousins himself thinks so:
“[Shanahan and McVay] are great footballs minds and I’ve been very fortunate to have one good coach after the other. Jeremy Bates does come from that coaching tree, if you will…I think it was a smart hire with the Jets.”
The Jets show potential with Robbie Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins running the offense. Pair that with a young defense, a top-10 draft pick, an attractive OC, and nearly as much money as the Browns to spend, and it seems the Jets could be an ideal option for Cousins.
Non-Ideal Landing Spot #2: Arizona Cardinals
Cap Space: $22 million*
Draft Pick: 15
Carson Palmer played in seven total games in 2017 before announcing his retirement in the new year. New coach Steve Wilks’ first big move will be finding the Cardinals’ quarterback of the future, describing his plan for free agency as “very active and aggressive.”
Despite significant injury at several positions on the offense, the Cardinals played fairly middle-of-the-road this past season. This leaves them with a sub-par first-round draft pick in addition to little current cap space. If the Cardinals want to be “active and aggressive” in pursuing Cousins, they will need to find the cash to entice him.
The Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers are now resting easy at the quarterback position, as are the Seahawks. The Cardinals will need to make significant moves in free agency in order to stay competitive with their NFC West rivals.
With David Johnson’s return and Larry Fitzgerald still in the game, adding Cousins under center would position the Cardinals for a bounce-back season. And with Arizona’s defense giving up the fourth-fewest yards per game, what the Cardinals are offering might be fairly desirable to Cousins. That is, at least on paper.
What makes the Cardinals less-than-ideal for Cousins is the fact that, outside of Fitzgerald, David Johnson is their only sufficient playmaker. Their offense is pass-heavy (averaging 288 yards per game last season), which is suitable for Cousins, but with all their money tied up in the current roster it doesn’t seem like the Cardinals have the ability to get Cousins and some young playmakers.
Though the Cardinals will find Cousins’ price tag a bit out of their price range, their draft pick won’t allow them to find their future starter either. To land Cousins they’ll need to find a way to add to their cap space.
Ideal (but unlikely) Landing Spot #3: Minnesota Vikings
Cap Space: $49 million*
Draft Pick: 30
The Vikings had all the pieces in place in 2017 to make a run at the Super Bowl. Without Teddy Bridgewater and their star rookie running back Dalvin Cook, they managed to finish the regular season 13-3 due to their brick of an offensive line and a defense equally as strong. Unfortunately, the Vikings could not get past the eventual world champion Philadelphia Eagles. Now entering the offseason, still with the fifth-best odds to win Super Bowl LIII, all three of their quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum) are set to be free agents. If they want to make a more successful run at the Super Bowl, who they choose to take the starting quarterback position will be their missing link. The question is, do they spend on one of the guys they already have or make a play at Cousins?
Cousins with the Vikings would be incredibly fun to watch, but re-signing one of their free agents or slapping a franchise tag on Keenum would be the easiest solution. The question is, is it the right one? This is the challenge only the Vikings front office can find a solution for.
It’s rumored the Vikings are Cousins’ top pick. But two questions remain: 1. Do the Vikings even want Cousins? 2. And, most importantly, do they want him enough to find the cash to pay him?
There’s one person on the Vikings we know would be happy to have Cousins, and that’s Adam Thielen, who recently told the NFL Network:
“There’s another guy out there now - Kirk Cousins..If we can’t get one of those three that we already have to stay around, then Kirk Cousins is out there and he’s a heck of a football player.”
With Dalvin Cook’s return, the Vikings are not going to experience much of a drop-off moving into 2018. In fact, they’re going to come back stronger and healthier. They also are one of the few teams that give Cousins the best chance to win immediately. Though Cousins’ (and the media) may have their hopes set on a deal with the Vikings, it seems like a risky move given their current options.
Who needs Cousins the most? The Broncos.
Where is Cousins’ best chance to win? The Vikings.
Where do I think he’ll end up? The Jets.
The Jets aren’t a sexy pick for Cousins, but they can pay him, appreciate him, and are willing to work their scheme around him. The more I dug into each team, the more ideal it seemed for both Cousins and the Jets organization. The Jets are a pass-heavy team in desperate need of a leader under center who can bread the young guys currently on the roster.
It might take a year or two for Cousins to turn the Jets into a winning team, but they have the money, draft picks, and young talent already in place to help give Cousins the tools he needs to succeed.
So what’s next? February 20 is the first day Washington can place the franchise tag on Cousins, should they choose to do so. That opportunity will expire on March 6, allowing the feeding frenzy to ensue come March 14 (official start of free agency).
Time and money will tell what Cousins’ future holds.
*Cap numbers courtesy of OverTheCap.
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