When Kirk Cousins was drafted by the Washington Redskins, he was shocked. “I was trying to forecast which teams would be in need of a quarterback, and I didn’t see the Redskins,” Cousins said. He saw the Buffalo Bills. And they probably saw him. But as general manager Buddy Nix noted: the team missed out on selecting the quarterback prospect it was interested in. So Cousins went to the Redskins. And with the former Michigan State standout heading to Washington, a feisty controversy broke loose.
Drafting two quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, within the first four rounds (the first time a team has done so since 1989) – how is that supposed to work out? For many experts, it simply won’t. From their point of view, head coach Mike Shanahan has just created another potentially team-crippling controversy at quarterback. Let’s see why.
RGIII is the undoubted starter, the immediate face of the franchise. It’s his unique mixture of athletic ability and witty Saturday Night Live smarts that keeps fans on the edge of their seats. After wearing out 21 starting quarterbacks in only 19 years, he is what Washington was starving for: a charismatic leader to reinvigorate the entire franchise. And the Redskins paid an awful lot to get him. They traded away three first-round picks and a second-round selection, basically mortgaging their entire future on Griffin’s success.
Having said that, you would expect them to use the few draft picks they have left to address their other urgent needs (and there are quite a few) – or surround RGIII with some offensive weapons to ease his transition to the NFL. The Redskins drafted Cousins instead, spurring a national debate. “What in the name of Sonny Jurgensen was Coach Mike Shanahan thinking when he also used a fourth-round pick to acquire quarterback Kirk Cousins?”, Washington Post columnist Jason Reid asks. “The pick is a head-scratcher”, writes ESPN’s Andrew Brandt, calling Shanahan’s decision “mystifying”. Skip Bayless even says: “This just made me sick in my stomach”. His main argument is that drafting Cousins puts unnecessary pressure on Griffin. Pressure that could eventually hurt his development or his relationship with the fans if he struggles at some point during the season and the crowd begin calling for Cousins to start.
But let’s take a step back from Bayless’ usual strong opinions and try to analyze what the selection of Cousins really means for the Redskins – and for Cousins himself.
Redskins. In 2011, Washington was one of the worst teams in the NFL – especially when it came down to their quarterbacks. Rex Grossman struggled with interceptions and was replaced by John Beck, who eventually lost his three starts and was forced to hand the reins back to Grossman. The ongoing quarterback controversy marred the Redskins’ season. So I don’t blame Washington for entering the draft looking for more than one quarterback. Apparently, they did not feel comfortable with the back-ups they had and therefore went on to get somebody they could develop: Kirk Cousins. Shanahan, who talked to Cousins frequently during the Senior Bowl, ranked the former Spartan as the third best quarterback in the draft. And when Cousins began falling down the draft boards, the Redskins made their move. “I thought it was a steal for us at that position,” Shanahan said. And I agree. Cousins has the instincts and the skills to pick up Shanahan’s offense immediately. He might even help RGIII to settle in by learning the system together. And as far as the hierarchy goes, the Redskins wasted no time to address the pecking order. “Any time you get a quarterback like Robert in the second pick of a draft, he’s your franchise quarterback. He’s going to be your quarterback for the next decade. Kirk knows he’s going to be a back-up”, Shanahan said immediately following the draft. And Cousins understands that. “The important thing to note is that we’re not competing against one another, we’re competing with one another”, Cousins said on “The Dan Patrick Show”. But still: is a back-up quarterback really worth a fourth-round pick? Yes. If Shanahan thinks Cousins can help the franchise in case RGIII gets hurt, then he was right to draft him. It would be foolish to leave the team shorthanded at quarterback if Griffin can’t play – and as much as I like RGIII, there are still concerns about his durability over a 17-week season. “Hopefully, that doesn’t happen,” Shanahan told reporters. “But you want to be prepared.” If you don’t, you might just end up like the Indianapolis Colts. You still wonder if they could have avoided last seasons’ mayhem by not letting the gap between Peyton Manning and the team’s backups grow so wide. Another possible upside for the Redskins: If they develop Cousins into a potential starter, they can trade him later on to regain some of the draft picks they invested in moving up to select Griffin (like the Philadelphia Eagles did with Kevin Kolb).
Cousins. This is not what Kirk Cousins expected. He knew he would not start during his rookie-season, but he expected to learn the pro game behind an experienced starter. He probably expected to be in Philadelphia or Buffalo by now – and ended up in Washington. But what does that actually mean for him? Some say, the Redskins are a bad fit for Cousins if he ever wants to start. But I disagree. Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, are great at developing quarterbacks – and even if Cousins has to move even further back on the depth chart and let Grossman be the number two in 2012, this draft could turn out well for him. There is a lot to learn from his experienced coaches and Cousins knows that. He has the right mindset to be patient, always work hard and improve as much as he can (heck, he’s even seing a neuropsychologist to gain a competitive edge) till he gets his chance. “I’m going to take one step at a time, go in for rookie minicamp, pick up on the playbook, and work as hard as I can to make the team, and then have an impact on that team down the road. Certainly, there’s a lot of hope in Robert Griffin and him being part of their future. But I’m excited to be a part of their organization, too, and help that team win football games”, Cousins said in an interview. “I want to show them what I can do in practice and during preseason games. And I think during my four years, I’ll get my chance. My job is to help the Redskins win football games, however that may be. I’m going to keep an open mind, because I know my opportunity will come sooner or later and the way the NFL works, your window of opportunity is very small, but when you get that opportunity you have to make the most of it. I know mine’s going to come at some point, I just got to be ready when it does.” And getting ready for whenever he is called up should be – and very likely is – his only focus right now. His hopes that “the more people get to know about me, the more they find that is to like”, he told me during the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And this seems to be true in Washington, too. “The more I learn about this kid, the more I think he’ll be a good yin to RG3’s yang”, writes Post columnist Sarah Kogod.