As the Minnesota Vikings investigate every possible option for their 2018 starting quarterback position, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’ name will inevitably be part of the conversation.
Washington has franchise tagged Cousins the last two years and could tag him again, but a third tag would cost the team $34 million. If Washington does not deal him or sign him to a long-term contract, Cousins will become a free agent, giving the Vikings an opportunity to make him their franchise quarterback.
While Ian Rapaport has reported Washington may choose to tag him again, they might have questions about whether he is worth the price that comes along with franchise QBs. Former GM Scot McCloughan was asked by a Denver radio station whether Cousins belongs in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
“He’s a good player,” McCloughan said. “Is he special? I don’t see special. But also, we were still building a roster around him to make him special…. He’s talented. Talent is good at quarterback in the NFL. He’s won games. I know his record overall is not over .500. I know he has not won a playoff game. But he’s competitive. He works his tail off. He’s so methodical. Every day he has planned out. He’s always in the building; he’s always watching tape; he’s always talking to coaches; he was talking to me. From the standpoint of the tangibles, they’re excellent. You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35 to 40 times to win the game. You want to have a running game, have a good defense, good [special] teams, and then let him do what he does.”
Cousins’ traditional statistics suggest that he’s far better than average. Over the last three years, the former Michigan State QB ranks only behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in quarterback rating.
Per Football Reference, here are his career numbers:
His yardage totals, yards per attempt and rating would all suggest Cousins is worth pursuing for the Vikings. There’s also the fact that he’s played two strong games against Minnesota over the last two years, beating the Vikings in 2016 and posting 30 points this year.
Former Washington coach Mike Shanahan is very much on Cousins’ side, arguing that he is a “special” quarterback.
“There’s no question in my mind that he’s a special player,” Shanahan told the Daily News on Monday. “If you don’t think he’s a special player, that means you don’t watch him practice very often. You take a look at some of the games he’s played in. He hasn’t played with a good defense that’s been in the upper half of the league, I don’t think, since he’s been there. You can’t always do it by yourself. You got to have an offense and a defense for a quarterback to be really successful… especially when you get in the playoffs. But I guarantee you he’s a special guy.”
A closer investigation into Cousins’ numbers raises some questions about what he might need to be successful.
Pro Football Focus’s 2017 metrics rank him poorly in many key categories, especially on third downs.
His three-year grades from PFF, which focuses on the quality of a quarterback’s throws, lands him more in the mid-pack category than elite. Cousins ranked 14th, ninth and 20th in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
It would be reasonable to project more toward the top end of Cousins’ production than the bottom considering the Vikings have a strong supporting cast with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and running back Dalvin Cook.
For the first time since Cousins solidified the job, he would have a better-than-average defense if he landed in Minnesota. Washington has ranked 28th, 28th and 21st in yards allowed and hasn’t cracked the top half of the league in points allowed.
Even if Cousins isn’t in the elite category of quarterbacks, a reasonable projection with a top-notch defense would put the Vikings in Super Bowl contention again next year. But it would likely hurt their long-term chances.
Cousins could be asking for a contract similar to the one Matthew Stafford signed. According to Overthecap.com, the cap number for Stafford’s deal increases to $31.5 million by 2020.
Matthew Stafford’s contract:
Whether the Vikings would offer Cousins this type of deal may depend entirely on whether they think Teddy Bridgewater or Case Keenum can be a long-term option.