Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has come a long way from being considered a long-term backup drafted the same year as Robert Griffin III to being declared the team's franchise player this offseason after winning the division in 2015.
This year, however, Cousins has a major task to accomplish. He has to prove he is truly the team's quarterback for the future and not just a one-hit wonder. Cousins sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss his situation:
Bleacher Report: First of all, congratulations. I know everybody is focused on your next contract, but a one-year deal for $19.95 million is still life-changing money. I know your wife gave Washington general manager Scot McCloughan a hug when you signed the one-year deal. What is that like to be staring at that type of deal?
Kirk Cousins: What's it like? I guess it's a blessing. Other than that, I'm just focused on trying to get better and make good on that investment by the team. I hope that the team can look back after this season and say that was a great investment and I delivered on it. That's the goal and focus of my approach.
B/R: You're staring straight ahead as you say that. You're really trying to focus on football.
KC: Absolutely. That's what it's all about. I got a small window of time to be an NFL quarterback. Some day when I'm done playing I can sit back and look at what we accomplished, or how does it feel, or what's it like. But right now it's full steam ahead, what's next, what's important now? What's important now is winning football games and delivering on the opportunity the Redskins have given me to be the starting quarterback.
B/R: You have talked about something interesting earlier this offseason, about having the ownership of the position and when you're the backup how careful you have to be not to overstep your boundaries. At the beginning of last season when coach Jay Gruden came in and said, "You're my guy," does your mind just flip and all of a sudden you are taking ownership of that? Do you feel exactly the way you did in college, or is it more gradual?
KC: Good question. There's two sides to it: One is when Scot McCloughan and Jay Gruden express a belief in you, and a strength of belief in you, it does give you the green light to search yourself, and it is a great boost to your confidence when those two get behind you. That being said, you have to go out and earn it too. It doesn't mean a whole lot until you go out and play well. There's a level of having to play a season and earn that right, and go through the different experiences and win some football games before you can have it be truly natural. Does that make sense?
B/R: Yeah, it's natural enough that you can, as you're walking off the field, say something as emphatic as—I don't have to worry about what does the outside world think of me? I have the position, I have the self-confidence. Everybody loves that moment.
B/R: Was that just you being a little silly, or you completely letting yourself go?
KC: Yeah. When you say was it you being silly or letting yourself go, or is it you being intense? I would say it was me being me. I would say that me being me is probably yes to all of that. So having fun, playing with passion, it matters to me, competitive. So all of that combined I think is to have it be presented the way it was. It was a fun moment that I never would have thought would have traveled as far as it did, but it goes to show how this league operates and how quickly things can spread. It was a unique experience.
B/R: It went viral in a hurry.
KC: Yeah, it went viral.
B/R: Does your wife look at that and say, "What was going on?" Or has she seen that before?
KC: My wife has said to me before, "I want to see a Michigan State Kirk" that was more intense and more sure of himself and more confident. I told her it takes time. That side of me came out late in my college career when I had been around the block and had proven myself and was pretty confident with what I could do and what I have done.
I knew that there were times early in my career, year one, year two, year three even where I wasn't there yet. So maybe that moment in the Bucs game was a moment when I had started to get to where I wanted to be as far as learning how to play the position of a quarterback in the NFL, and that side of me started to come out.
B/R: You said you talked to a bunch of quarterbacks this offseason. Can you say who?
KC: For the sake of them, I probably will just say I'm not going to say who, because when I asked them I didn't say, "Hey, by the way, I'm going to tell everybody that we talked." So I didn't ask for permission. Obviously, I don't care, but in their defense I won't divulge that.
B/R: What was the best piece of advice?
KC: Good question. I'd have to think about that for a minute. I think some of the best pieces of advice for me was when I talked to some of the great players who have had success in this league how much they emphasized the importance of rest, that you can't just go 100 miles an hour all 12 months of the year every day and just keep going. That is a recipe for burnout.
So what I gathered from them was some level of rest in their routine and in their preparation, especially out of season, that enabled them to recharge the batteries so that when it was time to play at a high level their bodies were ready.
B/R: Is that a mental rest or a physical rest?
KC: I would say both. When I say "bodies," it's mental and physical, an ability not just to rest but to unplug and recover, both mentally and physically. At the quarterback position I would say mental is just as important as physical. Then there's that emotional component too.
B/R: I've talked to Drew Brees and a lot of other guys, and they said they spend the first month going over every play of the previous season, jotting down their notes, examining good, bad, indifferent, whatever it was. So like a week of that, then go over the notes, then read through it again.
B/R: But then it's like them having to put it away at some point in time.
B/R: Does that come in July just before the start of camp, or does that come in that time between OTAs? Have you figured that out?
KC: A little of both. I'm still figuring it out. I don't know that I have all the answers. But a little bit of both; there's always a balance. I never want to fully get away for an extended period of time where I feel like I lose my touch, but I also do value getting away. So it's a balance, but I've always tried to operate by the old adage of work hard, play hard.
When I am working, don't be distracted. Be all in. When you decide to rest and unplug, then truly do that and don't have one foot still in the football world. It helps me to have that dichotomy where I'm truly working hard or playing hard, but not mixing the two.
B/R: I've noticed your ability to manipulate certain throws. Do you have unusually large hands that allow you to do that?
KC: No, I think they are pretty standard. Quarterbacks tend to have long fingers.
B/R: Right, and pitchers in baseball.
KC: So I know that I'm fortunate enough to have hands that are big enough, but I don't know that they are unusually large.
B/R: Do you remember what they measured at the combine?
KC: Yeah, I think I was 10. What was funny was Russell Wilson and I trained together at the draft, and you would think height would correlate with hand size. He's shorter than me, but his hands were actually bigger.
B/R: Like catchers' gloves almost?
KC: Yeah, he had hands where it made sense that he can grip the football and throw the ball very, very well, where his height isn't as impactful because he has good hand size. That is an important part of playing the position. I would be interested to see if Drew Brees' hands are big too for his height.
B/R: Dan Marino's hands were the same size as mine, and I'm four or five inches shorter than him.
KC: See, he could spin it. He was the best ever maybe at throwing it.
B/R: No question.