Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Kirk Cousins Accident

Published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

During the 2015-16 season, Washington QB Kirk Cousins started every game, threw for a team-record 4,166 yards, led the NFL with a 69.8% completion percentage and totaled 34 touchdowns (29 passing, five rushing), best in franchise history.  There were ups and downs, but Cousins was spectacular down the stretch and in several critical games where Washington’s uneven season hung in the balance.  Cousins, 27, displayed the expected growth from a fourth-year pro; he wasn’t expected to break records and entrench himself as the team’s starting quarterback.  But, in cranking out those aforementioned statistics and leading the team to nine wins and a division title, that’s 
exactly what he did.

Cousins’s season was an accident; merely suggesting such a thing three years ago, when Cousins was a curious fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, would have been predicting a disaster.  Prior to that draft, Washington had shipped a treasure trove of picks to St. Louis so it could select Robert Griffin III - the sexy, charismatic and gifted Heisman Trophy winner - second overall.  By 2015, Griffin was supposed to be the franchise quarterback.  He should have owned the town, stuffed his resume with multiple Pro Bowl selections and, like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck, been considered one of the next generation of great signal callers.

That was the plan.  Of course, if you’re of adequate age, you know that life knows no plan it can’t upset.  Griffin, shall we say, didn’t work out.  His career in Washington was undone by ego, pride, injury, mismanagement, selfishness and unnecessary distractions – by player and organization. It’s ironic that his departure from Washington will coincide with the directionless Rams leaving St. Louis for Los Angeles.  Maybe Griffin’s a match for the Rams in the City of Angels.  That would be fitting.
Meanwhile, Washington’s moving forward with Cousins (a lucrative new contract seems a formality).  On the surface, it’s an unbelievable story – equally sad (because of the Griffin element) and joyous.  But when franchise history is considered, Cousins’s accidental ascension makes total sense.

Heralded, blue chip quarterbacks and the ‘Skins just don’t work.  I call it “The Curse of Sammy Baugh.”  Here’s a list of quarterbacks selected by Washington in the first round: Sammy Baugh (1937), Jim Hardy (1945), Harry Gilmer (1948), Jack Scarbath (1953), Ralph Guglielmi (1955), Don Allard (1959), Norm Snead (1961), Heath Shuler (1994), Patrick Ramsey (2002), Jason Campbell (2005) and Griffin (2012).  Baugh is one of the greatest players in NFL history; the others barely managed middling NFL careers…hence “The Curse”. 

Conversely, Washington plucked Sonny Jurgensen, a fourth round pick, from Philadelphia in a 1964 trade.  Billy Kilmer was acquired via trade after stints in New Orleans and San Francisco.  Joe Theismann, a fourth round pick by Miami, played three years in Canada before Washington traded for him in 1974.  Doug Williams, the one-time Tampa Bay quarterback, was signed after the USFL went belly-up in 1986.  And Mark Rypien was drafted in the sixth round.  These cast-offs, reclamation projects and late-round fliers did okay: Jurgensen’s in the Hall of Fame, Kilmer led Washington to its first Super Bowl, Theismann’s an NFL MVP and Williams and Rypien are Super Bowl MVPs.  With that historical context, it makes perfect sense that Cousins, the 102nd selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, would ultimately beat out Griffin, the can’t-miss prospect selected 100 picks earlier.

My wife and I attended a Rolling Stones concert last summer.  After Mick, Keith and the boys finished the song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want - a classic that includes the line, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need” - my wife quipped, “This song reminds me of how I ended up with you.”  I choose to attribute the remark to her fountain of sarcasm.  Regardless, the tune still resonates because it speaks to a common experience: Life has a way of bypassing our frivolous wants and delivering our needs.  Maybe Washington’s search for a quarterback followed a similar path.  Griffin was the quarterback they wanted; Cousins is the guy they needed.

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