Keenum Shows Why Cousins Is Not a Franchise Quarterback

Case Keenum, the journeyman backup who has made Minnesota his fourth team in four seasons, shredded the Redskins defense in Week 10 of the NFL season for four touchdowns and 304 yards on 21 completions over 29 attempts. He had a perfect quarterback rating in the third quarter before giving up two late interceptions on overconfident passes to routes run once too often. Keenum passed the ball around too, passing to seven different receivers, none of which caught more than one touchdown. Washington’s Kirk Cousins, in contrast, passed for more yards (327) on more completions (26) to more different receivers (8). Washington won the game, right? Wrong. The Vikings won 38-30, with the score not even really reflecting how dominant Minnesota was on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It was yet another case study in how Cousins racks up big statistics while dooming his team with incredibly untimely turnovers and a sprinkling of ham handed passes on short routes.

Granted it did not help that the Redskins posted its worst defensive performance in nine games, with even defensive Pro Bowl standout Josh Norman getting burned for big gains. But while it would have helped if the D-line and the secondary had held up their end of the bargain, there is little question that Cousin’s performance contrasted poorly, snap by snap, against a third string quarterback getting paid near the league veteran minimum. Cousins is making $24 million for the 2017-2018 season, after getting franchised for the 2016-2017 season for $20 million. Cousins accepted the franchise tag for a second time after turning down a long term deal worth about $20 million per year, with $72 million guaranteed (he turned down a $16 million per year offer the previous off season).

It seems incomprehensible that the Washington ownership would consider paying Cousins the franchise tag number of $29 million for the upcoming 2018-2019 season given his inconsistent performance, never mind sinking nine figures into a multi-year contract. But the logic behind Cousins and his agent is fairly sound–the league is currently experiencing a quarterback talent drought and the signing numbers for starting journeymen is running $20 million per year. Even if Cousins was willing to concede that he was not elite, his strategy is certainly not surprising. And most sports pundits agree with Cousins, calling the Redskins shortsighted for not giving him the $25 million per year that he was probably seeking.

I’m on the other side of that trade, as the Wall Street brokers would say. Cousins hasn’t shown he is worth $25+ million per season based a significant body of evidence. I would cut Cousins in the off season. No one will trade for Cousins since everyone will be aware that the Redskins would either have to franchise the quarterback or release him if they cannot get Cousins and his agent to agree to a contract. Jay Gruden won’t certainly like it, but his best bet might be to draft a rookie to hold a clip board for a few games while Colt McCoy puts in a veteran clinic on the field. McCoy has been inconsistent in pre-season play, so there is little reason to think that McCoy won’t be the same during the regular season. But how is that different from Kirk Cousins? Not much, I reckon. The Redskins might be better off spending the money on an edge rusher, a pass-catching tight end, and a solid middle linebacker. Sure, Gruden wants to go to the playoffs. But he wants to keep his job too–which means winning more games than he loses–something which he hasn’t been able to do with Cousins as the signal caller.

2/9/2018 update. At the end of the 2017-2018 Season the Redskins traded for Kansas City’s quarterback Alex Smith, making Cousins expendable. Smith then signed a four year contract worth about $23.5 million per year. Smith is known to be more mobile than Cousins with a lower turnover rate, although is is much older. Expectations are that Cousins will be released by Washington before his next contract milestone. The 49ers just signed former Patriots backup quarterback and last half of the season starter Jimmy Garoppolo to a five year contract averaging $27.5 million per year. This appears to sharply reduce expectations of the type of money that Cousins can expect to earn in a contract offer from the remaining teams with available salary cap space.

3/18/2018 update. Keenum took a contract to play for the Denver Broncos, while Cousins ironically went to Minnesota for three years of $84 million in guaranteed money after being released by the Redskins. Keenum’s deal was for two years at $36 million, $25 million of which is guaranteed. Cousin’s deal as of this date is the richest for quarterbacks during the 2018 free agency period. Tom Brady, arguably the best quarterback in the league and even of all time, is currently in the second year of a two year deal for $41 million.

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