Washington Redskins

Will Kirk Cousins Ever Land a Starting Job in the NFL?

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass during an NFL football minicamp, Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Barring a major injury elsewhere and, consequently, a significant offer that Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen can't refuse, it's probably safe to conclude that backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will return to D.C. in 2014. 

But ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that the third-year quarterback would be "open" to a deal, and CBS's Jason La Canfora reported earlier this offseason that the 'Skins turned down an offer for Cousins from the Cleveland Browns.

It's a quarterback-needy league and, based on what he was able to do in relief of Robert Griffin III as a rookie and to a lesser degree as a sophomore, Cousins has to be considered one of the best backups in the NFL

That's why it's very likely he'll eventually land a legitimate opportunity to start somewhere.

That chance won't likely come in Washington in the near future. Not with Prince Griffin monopolizing the throne. But Cousins has just two years remaining on his rookie deal. When that expires, he'll be 27. And if Griffin has succeeded, somebody will be willing to pay Cousins more to compete for a starting job than Washington could as a No. 2. If Griffin hasn't succeeded, Cousins could be capable of making a run at that job. 

Either way, unless Cousins falls flat on his face between now and the spring of 2016, he'll have a shot. The guy's accurate arm can't be denied, especially on deep balls. 

I mean, 25-year-old dudes who can make throws like these in NFL games have to be given a shot:

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NFL Game Pass

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cousins has completed six of the 16 deep passes he has attempted two years into his career. His accuracy percentage on those throws would have ranked in the top 12 this season. 

Cousins has made more than a few mistakes, too, but he generally makes better decisions than your average young borderline starter, and he makes them in less time than many of his young peers, including Griffin. 

He's a good decision-maker who is also cool under pressure. He has just one interception on 60 career under-pressure dropbacks, per PFF. On average last season, it took him 2.6 seconds to throw, which was better than the league average and well ahead of Griffin's 3.0. 

As a result, Griffin's career sack rate of 7.4 is nearly twice as high as Cousins' mark of 3.8. 

So there's a good indication Cousins won't fall on his face as a backup the next two years, which is why he'll likely get his chance. If you're a team desperate for a quarterback in this day and age, that's exactly the type of signal-caller you're going to gamble on. 

I know, Cousins posted a dismal 58.4 passer rating in relief of Griffin this past December, which—if he qualified—would have ranked dead last in the NFL by a huge margin. He also tossed seven interceptions on only 155 pass attempts. That was a small sample size, and it counterbalanced some very solid performances during his rookie campaign, but that's still not pretty. 

What we're forgetting when we criticize those late-season performances, though, is that we were still watching a virtual rookie (in terms of NFL experience, anyway) in a nearly impossible situation as he suited up for a team that had seemingly given up on its head coach. 

So watch for Cousins to benefit from his first full offseason in a fresh, positive atmosphere under quarterback guru Jay Gruden. We've heard over and over about how Griffin could be rejuvenated by Gruden, but that also applies to the backup, who is in fact more suited to Gruden's preferences (see: Dalton, Andy). 

And sure, Cousins would certainly prefer he get an opportunity before 2016 arrives. And the franchise that winds up giving him a shot would prefer its potential savior be a little younger. But 28 is still fresh in the quarterback world, especially when you've been meticulously groomed over a three- or four-year period. 

Aaron Rodgers waited three years to become a starter. Warren Moon wasn't an NFL starter until he was 28. Steve Young was 30 before he was a regular starter in San Francisco. Those situations worked out OK. 

The current crop of starting quarterbacks is undoubtedly loaded, but nobody from the 2013 class has stood out, and the 2014 class is void of sure things.

Right now, the Jets, Bills, Browns, Texans, Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Vikings and Buccaneers aren't entirely sure what they have at quarterback. Some of them will find answers soon, but history indicates that some won't. 

They'll come calling, along with teams that aren't desperate now but could be in a year or two. The Bengals, Steelers, Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Cardinals and Rams come to mind. 

We just listed more than half of the league's teams. The smart money is on Cousins landing a starting opportunity with one of them in the near future. And if you have the skills to gain that chance, you've got the ability to hold on. 

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