Playing instead of RGIII in Week 15 against the Atlanta Falcons, per head coach Mike Shanahan's decree, Cousins passed for 381 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a losing cause.
As pointed out by Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan in DC, Cousins was relatively sharp throughout the contest (minus his two interceptions), getting the ball out quickly to his receivers, which had an impact on the amount of pressure (or lack thereof) Atlanta was able to generate:
Kirk Cousins threw a couple balls he'd like to have back. Some things to clean up. Ball came out quick. Just 3 hurries all game. #Redskins— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) December 15, 2013
After allowing 24 sacks in their previous 5 games, the #Redskins yielded just one sack today. Sack was on a sack/fumble strip from behind.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) December 15, 2013
With his big performance, Cousins also became the first Washington quarterback to pass for over 300 yards in his first two starts during the Super Bowl era:
Correction: Kirk Cousins is the first #Redskins QB in the Super Bowl era to throw for 300 yds in each of his first two NFL starts.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) December 15, 2013
There will certainly be plenty of fans and NFL analysts who'll make the argument that Cousins deserves to compete with Griffin for Washington's starting quarterback job next year. It's hard to find fault in such an argument, too. He's looked fantastic as RGIII's replacement last year and in 2013.
But such talk is simply not based in reality.
RGIII is Washington's quarterback of the future—period.
Not only did Washington give up two first-round picks to move up to the No. 2 spot in the 2012 NFL draft to acquire Griffin, but the team is paying him a lot of money to play on Sundays ($5.76 million in 2014 and $6.72 million in 2015, per Spotrac.com).
Furthermore, RGIII is still the face of the franchise and is the man who spurred his team to the playoffs as a rookie. Fans want to see him on the field, and he'll be there when the games start up again next season.
But nobody can discount what Cousins brings to the table. In addition to his stellar play, Cousins displays the kind of leadership teams are desperate for at the quarterback position. After losing to Atlanta in Week 15, he took full ownership for his mistakes, as reported by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:
Didn’t do enough to win. Two interceptions that were on me. A fumble that you don’t want to have. The two-point conversion, the failed attempt there, I felt like that was on me. Those are four plays right there that if they go differently, it’s probably a much different result.
Opinions will vary about whether or not Washington should have attempted the two-point conversion to win the game outright with just 18 seconds left on the clock. However, when your team is 3-10, going for broke isn't such a horrid idea.
But that's neither here nor there.
The real story coming out of Washington after Week 15 is that Cousins' trade value is skyrocketing.
Before the contest against Atlanta, Shanahan told ESPN 980 that Cousins could potentially garner Washington a first-round pick in a trade. His comments were thought to be hopeful—at best—before the former Michigan State QB put on a show in Week 15.
But the veteran coach might just have a good point. With two more games on the schedule, Cousins can improve his trade value even more.
Washington will take on the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 and the New York Giants to close out the season in Week 17. Both teams feature secondaries that have been torched at times this season, so there's a good chance he'll continue boosting his stock.
What role will Cousins play for Washington in 2014?
There's a lot to fix in Washington. The team's defense has been atrocious the past two years, and the offensive line needs work. With that in mind, it might behoove Washington to take advantage of its opportunity to land a top pick.
On the other hand, given the way RGIII has struggled to stay on the field during his first two seasons, Washington could decide to keep its insurance policy in 2014 and beyond.
Whatever the team decides to do, flexibility is always a positive thing. One thing's for sure, with so many teams in need of quarterback help, Washington will receive more than a few phone calls from opposing teams regarding Cousins at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78