One of my biggest regrets as a writer is the two years or so I took off from writing about sports on the Internet from the spring of 2011 to the spring of 2013. On the one hand, I absolutely needed to reset and refocus as a writer, and I had other things going on and some perspective would have done me a lot of good. If I continued writing the way I had been, in the style I had been, on the blog I had been, I would have burnt out sooner or later, and I would not be writing here for you today in 2017. On the other hand, there is no written evidence, no previous article I wrote that I can link to, that can prove how right I was about Kirk Cousins.
We sports writers, amateur and professional alike, we sports enthusiasts who call and email talk radio shows and fill Reddit threads with opinions and analysis, we love making predictions, and we love being able to go back and prove we were right when our opinion in the moment was not the consensus or the prevailing opinion. Now that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has been franchised for the second straight year, and now that he is set to be one of the most interesting and in-demand assets in the NFL, I wish I had been maintaining a blog in the spring of 2012, when the Redskins took two quarterbacks, so I could have written that Cousins was a real NFL QB, that having a guy like Cousins drafted alongside Robert Griffin III would not end well for Washington, and the overlooked Cousins would be itching to prove himself. Five years later, the Washington football team that had two rookie quarterbacks may very well lose them both, with nothing but a couple of one-and-done playoff appearances to show for it.
Last offseason, the Redskins placed the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, rather than signing him to a contract extension, after a 2015 season in which he won the starting job away from Griffin for good and led Washington to an NFC East division title. The Skins cut RGIII (who signed with the Cleveland Browns and subsequently got injured in the first game of the regular season), but were not ready to commit to Cousins long-term. That line of thinking is entirely defensible on its own. Cousins had one good season as a starter under his belt, and it would be reasonable for a team to want to see more before committing top dollar and many years to a relatively unproven player, but then Cousins had another good season in 2016. Sure, the Redskins struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs, but they had also not put in place a backup plan.
The only quarterback to play on the franchise tag twice was Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers, who eventually walked in free agency and signed with the New Orleans Saints, where he has been such a great face of the franchise that I often forget he was in San Diego and get caught off guard when scrolling through Google Images for pictures for articles I am writing. The difference between what the Chargers were doing a decade ago with Brees and what the Redskins are doing now with Cousins is that San Diego drafted Philip Rivers during that time (well, actually they drafted Eli Manning, but traded him for Rivers when the Mannings made it clear Eli did not want to be in San Diego), and gave Rivers a couple years in the system to develop before Brees left to go get paid by the Saints. I thought back in 2012 that Cousins, like Brees, would leave Washington to go get paid by another franchise, and eventually be synonymous with that second franchise the way Brees is with New Orleans, but I thought that would be because of the flashes he showed backing up RGIII, not because he proved himself as the starter in Washington like he ended up doing.
Rather than sign him to an extension, the Redskins placed a second franchise tag on Cousins. If they do not sign him to an extension, Cousins will most certainly leave Washington. Why would he stay with an organization that has been so hesitant to believe in him? That has forced him to bet on himself season after season? Cousins has been well compensated by the Redskins, thanks to the franchise tag, yet they are still finding ways to alienate their franchise QB. Why would he stay in Washington when there are two NFL franchises now coached by former offensive coordinators of his (Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and Sean McVay in Los Angeles), who would take him over their current quarterback situations, even if it means waiting another year.
The Rams and 49ers should not be the only teams interested in Cousins’ services. He has a lot going for him, even compared to the other highly regarded NFL quarterbacks being talked about as trade chips right now. Cousins is eight years younger, and far less injury-prone, than Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and has a far greater sample size for teams to look at than New England Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo (who started five quarters during Tom Brady’s suspension before getting hurt), but no matter what happens, I cannot shake the feeling that the Redskins will mess this up. That’s what they are known for in the Dan Snyder Era.
Since Snyder bought the team in 1999, the Redskins have had a high amount of turnover at the head coach and quarterback positions, not as high as the Cleveland Browns, but certainly not a model for consistency and continuity in professional sports, either. Head coach Jay Gruden is going into his fourth year of a five year contract the same year that Kirk Cousins is poised to play on a second straight franchise season. Why would Cousins want to sign an extension with a team that might be on the verge of turning over its coaching staff yet again? By Snyder’s own reputation, they are due.
When they quarterback draft class of 2012 was in college, Cousins was the one I saw the most on TV. I knew about Andrew Luck at Stanford and Robert Griffin III at Baylor, as they were the Heisman favorites all season, but for whatever reason, Cousins’ Michigan State team was on TV all the time in Massachusetts, it seemed, and I was in the habit of watching a lot more college football than I have in the years since (spoiler alert: I was in college, living in the dorms), so I was impressed with Cousins’ play at the time, and was particularly baffled when Washington decided to trade up in the draft to #2 overall to take Griffin, and then also take Cousins in the 4th round. How could that possibly end well?
While I prided myself on picking up on Cousins getting overlooked, and that driving him to improve the way he did, I was, of course, also guilty of overlooking Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who was taken by the Seattle Seahawks the round before Cousins, and who has played in two Super Bowls and has had the best career of the four quarterbacks to this point. As disappointed as I am in not having proof that I was bullish on Cousins in 2012, I am also thankful I don’t have written proof like that about how wrong I was about Russell Wilson. I guess it was all for the best I took those two years off and I am here now to write about it.
The year 2013 is drawing to a close, and looking back on it, Washington D.C. had probably the worst year of any city in North America. New York came close, but D.C. takes the title this year. The failures of Washington don’t end with Congress, either. The Redskins, firmly entrenched in a decades long conflict over the offensiveness of their team name, struggled mightily to do much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. Robert Griffin III was not right this year. It started with their one playoff game last January, when Griffin played on a bad knee that needed offseason surgery. Not only did the Skins lose to the Seattle Seahawks that day, but Griffin lost the ability to play in the preseason and take a step forward after an impressive rookie season. RG3 has regressed, backup QB Kirk Cousins has played his way, into a quarterback controversy, Mike Shanahan has been fired, and the St. Louis Rams now have Washington’s first round pick in the 2014 draft from when the Redskins traded up to get RG3. The Redskins are making Congress look competent.
I think Griffin still has a bright future in this league, but I’m not sure it’s with this team. The same can be said for Kirk Cousins, who could start for half the teams in the NFL right now but had the misfortune of being drafted in the 4th round the same year Washington used the 2nd overall pick to acquire Griffin (one of the many head scratching moves of the Shanahan Era). St. Louis, who still believes in Sam Bradford as their franchise quarterback, is in a great position to load up their team this spring, while Washington is stuck with the player they gambled to acquire. In the meantime, they have a mess, no head coach, no 1st round draft pick, and an aging defense on their hands. Now would be as good a time as any for Daniel Snyder to be more open to changing the team’s very dated name to get some positive PR for the franchise, but that’s not likely to happen.
The Redskins and the federal government were not Washington’s only institutional failures in 2013. The Washington Nationals looked like a new franchise and a winning franchise in 2012. They had finally rid themselves of the stink of the Montreal Expos after seven years in the nation’s capital, complete with a talented young roster headlined by ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg and teenage outfielder Bryce Harper. The Nats were one of the best teams in all of baseball in the 2012 regular season, and looked poised for a deep playoff run. Then they thought too much. Strasburg had missed the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was back to his dominant form in 2012. The Nationals’ front office wanted to limit the number of innings he pitched, however, so they decided to shut him down in September and keep him off the active roster in the playoffs, thinking that 2012 was the start of a run of success and that they would be back again in 2013. The Nationals squandered a good chance and were bounced in the first round, and were unable to repeat their success this year. They missed the playoffs, and as long as they continue to do so, people will be able to point to the decision to shut Strasburg down and think about what might have been. Who knows? The San Francisco Giants might still have won the National League Pennant and the World Series that year, but you can’t win if you don’t play. The 2012 Nats missed a shot by not taking it, and they fell back to earth in 2013.
2014 is a new beginning for everyone, but 2013 can’t end soon enough for Washington. At least they still have John Wall and Alex Ovechkin to be excited about.