This story originally published on January 6, but has fresh relevence as the Redskins are running out of time to decide what to do with Kirk Cousins.
Is Kirk Cousins worth seven to eight times more than Colt McCoy? That's the question some at Redskins Park are asking, according to a source with inside knowledge of the situation.
The Redskins major question as Cousins again approaches free agency is no longer about ability. It's about cost.
The Redskins backup for two seasons now, McCoy will make a little more than $3 million in 2017. Cousins stands to make nearly $24 million in 2017 if he plays under the franchise tag.
Price will determine a long-term deal for Cousins. Undoubtedly, the Redskins starter will have teams interested across the NFL, and former agent Joel Corry suggested a multi-year deal for Cousins could land near Andrew Luck's 2016 contract. That deal included nearly $90 million guaranteed over a six-year, $139 million span.
Since he was named the starter in 2015, Cousins has put up impressive stats, passing for more than 9,000 yards in two seasons, completing 68 percent of his passes and throwing 54 touchdowns to 23 interceptions.
While Cousins has established himself as an NFL starting quarterback, one question inside Redskins Park is how much of that success can be replicated while saving a tremendous amount of money.
McCoy's career numbers are not impressive, but as a young passer he played on some awful teams in Cleveland and San Francisco while dealing with concussions and injuries.
In his only real shot in Jay Gruden's pass-first, quick-read system, McCoy played in five games during the 2014 season with four starts. In only three games did McCoy take all of the snaps at QB, but in those games he passed for 890 yards, an average of 296 yards per game, while completing 70.5 percent of his passes.
Project those numbers over 16 games, and McCoy would get to 4,736 passing yards. In 2015, Cousins' first full year as starter, he broke the Redskins season passing record with 4,166 yards. This past season, Cousins broke that record and nearly reached 5,000 passing yards, ending just short at 4,917 yards.
Granted it’s just a projection, and McCoy has a significant injury history, but his yardage totals would look to be similarly productive with Cousins’ 2015 and 2016 seasons. On the flip side, in those three full games, McCoy threw three touchdowns and three interceptions while being sacked 15 times. Project those numbers, and it's 16 TDs with 16 picks and a preposterous 80 sacks.
McCoy does not have the same arm strength as Cousins, but the former Texas Longhorn star is more adept at making plays with his feet and off-schedule, something Gruden said he wanted to see more of from Cousins.
Unlike last year, there is no more debate if Cousins is a legit NFL starter.
Now, Washington must decide if they should pay Cousins like some of the best in the league, or if the team can get 80 to 90 percent of the production at a fraction of the cost.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of the hot take, the more preposterous and outrageous suggestion gets the buzz.
The latest fallacy of a sports debate started when Jordan Rodgers - best known for being Aaron Rodgers' brother and a winner on The Bachelorette - said he would take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton while talking on ESPN Radio. Rodgers laid out his reasons, mainly that Cousins is an accurate passer while Newton's game depends to much on athleticism. Rodgers:
You know what gets figured out? Athleticism. What happened to Robert Griffin? Athleticism. Teams caught up to him. They figured how to scheme him. You know what never gets schemed or what never gets stymied? Going through your reads and completing balls. That is what Kirk Cousins does: completing the last two years 67 and nearly 70 percentage of his throws. Going through your reads, there is always an answer. And if you consistently, from a mental standpoint as a quarterback, go through your reads, you always give your team a chance to win. And I will take consistency, leadership and accuracy over athletic potential any day of the week.
So there's that. Then Tiki Barber decided to get involved. Some highlights from Barber's rant via his radio show:
- Kirk Cousins will sit in the pocket and find his guy and read a defense and know pre-snap where he’s going to go with the ball, and if something breaks down, then he finds his checkdown back. Those two guys who they had in Washington were fantastic in giving him support in that role, so yeah, of course you take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton, even though Cam Newton was the MVP.
- With Cam Newton, you’re getting year-to-year volatility. With Kirk Cousins, you haven’t had that. It’s been pretty consistent.
- If you’re choosing one and you’re building out for the next five or six years, who are you picking? I think it’s pretty easy to pick Kirk Cousins.
Looking at statistics, the claims of Rodgers and Barber can be validated in some capacity. In six seasons, Newton has only thrown for more than 4,000 yards once in his rookie year. Cousins has done it both years he's been the starter, and nearly went for 5,000 in 2016.
And Cousins completes way more of his passes. The Panthers QB's best completion percentage came in 2013, when he connected on 61.7 percent of his passes. Cousins completed nearly 70 percent of his throws in 2015, and 67 percent in 2016.
Dig a little deeper though, and some things are obvious.
The Panthers run a prehistoric offense, where running the ball is the focus. In 2016, Carolina ran the ball 28 times per game, the 7th most in the NFL. That was actually a significant decrease from 2015, where Carolina ran the ball 33 times per game, by far the most run heavy offense in the NFL.
The Redskins were on the other end of the spectrum. Washington ran the ball less than 24 times per game in 2016, and ranked 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL in rush attempts.
Consider that the 'Skins play a pass-first offense, and Carolina does the opposite, and that explains much of the yardage differences. Cousins had nearly 100 more throws in 2016 than Newton, 606 to 510, though the Panthers QB missed two starts. In 2015, when Newton won the MVP and the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, Cousins still threw nearly 50 passes more over the course of the year.
Another consideration on the stats: Newton goes deep. All the time. Cousins and the Redskins move the ball well, but are not reliant on the vertical passing game like the Panthers. Remember, about halfway through the 2016 season, many stories questioned why the Washington offense was under utilizing DeSean Jackson. That changed as the year progressed, but anybody that watches football recognizes the difference.
Rodgers even provided the context. "Any time you talk about the completion percentage being as high as Kirk’s is, it means he’s consistently getting to his third and fourth read and check-downs. That’s how you have that high percentage."
Oh yeah, Newton is arguably the best running quarterback in NFL history. Deadly in short yardage situations, Cam has 48 rushing TDs in his six-year NFL career. Cousins has shown flashes of good wheels, the touchdown run in Detroit comes to mind, but is nowhere near the runner Newton is. Nobody is.
All of this is not to talk down Cousins. The Redskins passer has proven to be a worthy NFL starting quarterback, and he could continue to improve over the next half decade. He is smart with the football and quick in his reads. In Washington or elsewhere, Cousins will make a ton of money, and deservedly.
But ranking Cousins ahead of Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, just seems silly. Rodgers and Barber laid out their reasoning, but in actuality, it's hard to believe.
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