Following an impressive performance last week on the road to help lead his team to a must-have victory, Redskins rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins is receiving the attention we all expected he would. This particular background story has a history in the NFL: starter goes down, backup comes in, backup shows glimmers of what could be as a starter, and suddenly other teams and fanbases begin to salivate.
Before it was Matt Flynn in Green Bay, it was Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia, Matt Cassel in New England and Matt Schaub in Atlanta before that. And with Flynn being the lone exception, each of those backups were traded for good compensation with the offering team prepared to make the backup its starting quarterback. So much so that Kolb and Cassel each signed massive contracts with their new teams upward of $60 million. When Schaub was traded to Houston in 2007, he received a large contract of his own worth more than $45 million.
Success with the Texans would later net Schaub an extension in 2011 worth more than $66 million.
Naturally, Redskins fans take these past developments into account. Despite the quarterback’s experience, we know there are teams out there willing to trade a truckload for a backup. And for a team like the Redskins that with a number of holes to fill before they can become legitimate contenders, draft picks in exchange for a backup quarterback does sound quite pleasant.
That being said, the importance of a backup quarterback is crucial. Sure, Peyton Manning went a long way with some guy named Jim Sorgi backing him up, and now he’s doing it with rookie Brock Osweiler. But Manning and Redskins starter Robert Griffin III are two different beasts. Manning is planted in the pocket and kills you with the pass. Griffin is mobile and threatens with more than just his arm.
As I’ve argued in recent weeks, the fact that Griffin takes off and scrambles does not make him more susceptible to injury. In fact, when leaving the pocket, that’s when Griffin has a wide view of the field with complete control of his own destiny on that specific play. And in Griffin’s defense, he has committed himself to getting out of bounds or sliding as the season has gone on. It’s in the pocket, though, where quarterbacks are smacked by the unexpected, Griffin included.
With the talent and threat that Griffin brings to the table, the backup position in Washington is significant for different reasons. Although the backup doesn’t have to possess track speed and an arm that resembles a cannon, he does have to come in and weather the load of an offense whose dynamic changes as a result of losing its starting quarterback. That’s just what Griffin does. He adds new dimensions and threatens to score on every play. Thinking and praying for a backup to be something similar to Griffin is just that—a prayer.
After Griffin suffered a sprained LCL in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore game, Kirk Cousins was called upon to take the field in Cleveland and keep Washington’s win streak alive. Far from an easy task. And to make things even more difficult, Cousins, who’s more of a traditional quarterback, was being asked to take a dynamic RG3-based offense and keep it scoring points.
Despite his rocky start, Cousins settled down and improved every quarter. Thanks to the rookie’s resiliency and masterful play-calling by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Cousins finished the game with 329 yards on 26-of-37 passing, two touchdowns, one interception and the decisive victory. And although with no real importance, the Redskins offense put up 38 points and retained their top-five league ranking in points per game.
When Bruce Allen, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins boldly acquired the No. 2-overall pick this past March by trading away three first-rounders and a second to the St. Louis Rams, they were going all in on a top-tier prospect. Griffin wasn’t only the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, he appeared to be the type of quarterback that could change the game. And while some were critical of the move and blamed the Redskins front office for giving up entirely too much, the move appears to be paying off.
Griffin is the second-highest rated quarterback in the league and the Redskins are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since being bounced by the Seahawks in the first round in 2007.
Just as the Redskins stepped to the edge and took a leap back in March, the same would be required if they were hit with a trade offer for the beloved Kirk Cousins. Although most trade offers would probably appear like smash hits on paper, the Redskins are no longer run like a team in the latest edition of a Madden video game. Shanahan and the front office drafted Cousins last April because they needed a backup quarterback and the three-year starter from Michigan State was considered a steal in the fourth round. Regardless of the flack received at the time of the pick, Shanahan has already proven that it was well worth it and he’ll be flexing even harder as time goes on.
All things considered—and even after just four touchdowns and three interceptions—moving on from what appears to be a very reliable insurance policy would be pretty difficult. It would ultimately come down to the Redskins brain trust forecasting Griffin’s career moving forward. Is he Peyton Manning tough, or Michael Vick soft?
At this point, many would probably lean towards the Vick side of things. But arguments could be made. It’s not every day that you come across a quarterback as ironclad as Manning. But Manning's also the epitome of tough, so you or I shouldn’t expect that to fall out of the sky.
Griffin is tough, and there’s no reason why, at this stage in his career, we should be writing him off as some injury-prone wannabe running back. In addition to the improvements we’ve seen from him already this year in terms of sliding and getting out of bounds, you can rest assured that Griffin’s health and well being will be protected in Washington. Much more than it is now.
One glaring, yet often overlooked aspect of Griffin’s game is his ability to disguise an offensive line’s struggles. Even as a team that leads the league in rushing yards per game, the Redskins offensive line has its fair share of concern. Whether it be Kory Lichtensteiger and his setbacks this season, or nearly the complete absence of a right tackle in pass protection, the Redskins have issues. Yet somehow (wink, wink), the Redskins are potent on offense, ranking fourth in the league in yards per game.
Kyle Shanahan deserves credit too. This offense is working in Washington because it showcases each player’s best skills and his game plans are working almost to perfection. The zone-read, the bootlegs, the resulted wide-open passing lanes, the holes for Morris and Griffin to run through, etc. are all rewards of Kyle and his approach.
The point is, in time, with added depth and upgrades along the offensive line, there’s no reason to doubt a new wrinkle in the Redskins offense. We see very few traditional dropbacks right now because the line simply can’t block for it—not efficiently anyway. Griffin has handled his own this year and adding a new look like a traditional dropback could work wonders. Taking more snaps from under center and staying in a nicely formed pocket means fewer scrambles for Griffin, which in turn should quiet the critics about mobile quarterbacks being more susceptible to injury.
The idea of trading Cousins initially brings me thoughts of draft picks. And for a team that is committed to the draft, those things go a long way. There’s plenty of need in the secondary for young talent, London Fletcher is getting up there, there’s a need at right tackle, there’s potential of adding a guard, maybe a center, and additional speed on offense is never something to ignore.
Some could argue that one of the Redskins’ draft picks—in the case Cousins were traded—would need to be used on a backup quarterback. And that’s certainly fair. Firing back with “we could hit the free agent market!” isn’t all that rewarding either, considering Matt Moore may be the best option available amongst a poor group that includes Jason Campbell and Drew Stanton.
I would, however, throw out a name like Dennis Dixon, though. I’ve always had a thing for that guy.
Either way, a new backup in Washington would be necessary. Using Rex Grossman for anything more than a headset holster and entertainment on the sidelines would be blasphemous. But at what value would the Shanahans place on the backup? Sure they couldn’t pass up Cousins in the fourth round, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t believe in themselves and the offense to do more to keep Griffin safe as the team moves forward. There’s obviously no denying the freak accidents that happen in football (Griffin’s sprained knee is one of them), but upgrading the offensive line is a no-brainer in the course Keeping Your Passer Safe 101.
At the end of the day, I think you take into account any and all trade offers for Kirk Cousins from here on out. That doesn’t mean each one will be a good one, or worthy of pulling the trigger, but why not take a look?
If a team like the Cardinals of 2011 offer you a top cornerback and a second-rounder, that doesn’t excite anybody?
What if someone hangs two seconds and a conditional fifth? The Shanahans aren’t combing that one over?
I look at the potential and can’t help but see defensive backs and linebackers, offensive linemen and speedy playmakers. I can’t hold myself back from thinking about acquiring key positions to winning championships, even at the risk of losing Captain Kirk.
And while on the topic of championships and Super Bowls, can anyone recite the Super Bowl winning backup quarterbacks of the last five years?
Is it really all that impossible for the Redskins to find their own David Carr, Matt Flynn, Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich or Sage Rosenfels at the cost of collecting some good value while the market’s hot?
If KC12 were to go on to lead another team to the Super Bowl and eventually hoist the Lombardi Trophy, that’s still okay. He wasn’t drafted to do that in Washington anyway.