All of the drama between Robert Griffin III, Mike Shanahan and Daniel Snyder is compelling and rich, but let's not forget about the man who, as a result of all this, will quarterback the Washington Redskins over the next three weeks.
Kirk Cousins is about to get his chance, and he shouldn't be overlooked. Don't forget how good Cousins was in relief of Griffin last season, when he posted a 101.6 passer rating in three regular-season appearances.
His career passer rating is just 75.9, but his numbers would be a lot better if not for some rushed performances within games that Griffin had started.
|Kirk Cousins, starter vs. reliever|
|As a starter||1||70.3||8.9||2||1||104.4|
|Pro Football Reference|
For Cousins, it's the most important three-game stretch of his life. He has a chance to pull a Matt Flynn and strike oil elsewhere. He could come out of the middle rounds and become the next Nick Foles. The window is open. This is his audition for the rest of the league.
The Redskins can't really lose here, which has to be nice to hear considering the fact the organization has been jinxed since a pair of ligaments in Griffin's right knee popped on Jan. 6. It's been nothing but bad news throughout the 2013 calendar year, but it really can't get any worse now.
If Cousins doesn't succeed, then he'll likely still be good enough to work as Griffin's backup for years to come, and the 'Skins will have increased their chances of keeping him around beyond the expiration of his rookie contract in two years.
If Cousins does succeed, they'll have enhanced their trade options. Suddenly, a quarterback-hungry team like Houston, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Arizona or Oakland might be willing to part with a prime draft pick in order to acquire Cousins right here and right now.
There are 32 teams in this league and even less starting-caliber NFL quarterbacks. You can't win without a good player under center, and every general manager knows that. If Cousins can prove over just a three-week period that what he did when he torched the Browns for 329 yards last December wasn't an anomaly, then they'll come knocking. That's a promise.
And considering that the Redskins are entering their second consecutive offseason without a first-round pick, that could be a game-changing development for this organization. They'll inevitably have an early second-round selection, so adding another pick in the top two rounds would take a lot of pressure off of Washington.
At the very least, Cousins brings something different to the table, which should help to more thoroughly establish just how bad the rest of this offense is, particularly the pass protection. That's the area that has taken more heat than all the others despite the fact the broad advanced stats have supported the notion that the line has actually done a decent job.
Of course, we need nothing more than a set of eyes to know that the pass protection hasn't been good, but left tackle Trent Williams is still having a very good year and Tyler Polumbus has held his ground on the right side. The middle of the line has collapsed too often, but Griffin has undoubtedly made things harder on himself.
In a very limited sample size this year, Cousins has gotten rid of the ball two tenths of a second faster than Griffin, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which is like a month in NFL terms. His career sack percentage is 5.2, whereas Griffin's is 7.4. He's more of a prototypical pocket passer, and, according to former teammate Chris Cooley, a better one than RGIII:
Overall Kirk is a better pocket passer right now. That’s apparent, very easily, that he is able to sit and execute the drop-back offense that we want to run at times better than Robert can. Ultimately RGIII gives you a more explosive element, a big-play style that I think is needed in the NFL [more] than Kirk does. But he’s not very good right now when it comes to getting from 1 to 2 to 3. He just isn’t. I think he fears that he’s going to be sacked, I think he fears everything around him in the pocket.
Cousins has had a chance to watch Griffin take beatings for 13 weeks, no doubt considering how he'd do things differently if/when given the opportunity.
A report by ESPN's Dan Graziano suggests that Shanahan had a problem with the way Snyder treated the franchise quarterback and the team culture was not "conducive to winning."
Notice I haven't said anything about a quarterback controversy. Of course, the only way the Redskins can completely avoid even a small controversy in the eyes of certain fans and members of the media is if Cousins struggles (just another way in which this is a win-win), but the reality is that this job isn't up for grabs.
Griffin's leash is as long as they come. That's what happens when you give up three first-round picks and a second-round pick for one player. Entering 2014, it won't be a matter of weeks that RGIII has in which to prove himself, it'll be a matter of years. Unless he implodes in Ryan Leaf fashion or suffers a serious injury, you have to give Griffin half a decade.
But that doesn't mean Cousins can't become extremely valuable and have success himself, here or elsewhere.