By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Friday, August 19, 2016
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins pocketed $2.7M total during his first four years in the NFL. This coming season alone, Cousins will earn $19.953M on a one-year franchise tag.
Despite the unimaginable raise, the prevailing suggestion, given the lucrative quarterback marketplace, is that Cousins should be insulted by the team’s disrespect of his talent.
His accomplishments are inarguable: In 2015, the final year of his rookie contract, Cousins led Washington to a division title, set a single-season franchise record for passing yards and provided a definitive exit from the disastrous Robert Griffin III era. And for all this, Cousins got “rewarded” with a prove-it-again deal. Preposterous. Washington should have showered Cousins with a long-term contract and football riches reserved only for elite quarterbacks. Instead, the organization slapped Cousins with the one-year franchise tag and ultimately failed to reach a multi-year contract extension by the July 15 deadline.
Washington did Captain Kirk dirty.
That’s the rhetoric being spewed by many media spin doctors. The reality is there’s nothing to see here. Two entities assessed a professional situation and made individual business decisions. The world will continue to rotate. Cousins will work hard and, barring injury, start at quarterback this fall. Washington coaches will work intensely to ensure his and the team’s success. Should Cousins thrive in 2016, the process will repeat itself again: Cousins will either play under the franchise tag at an increased 2017 salary of $24M or sign a long-term contract.
While it is rare for franchised players to actually play out the one-year contract and almost unprecedented for quarterbacks to do so, this scenario makes perfect sense for both Washington and Cousins considering the root of the impasse: a volatile quarterback market. This offseason, Andrew Luck set the bar after signing a six-year, $140M contract with Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler, an average signal-caller, inked a four-year, $72M deal with Houston that includes $37M in guarantees.
Where does Cousins fall on the Luck-Osweiler continuum? Well, it’s hard to say, hence the stalemate. The dollars that Luck received provoked Cousins to bet on himself and another big season; conversely, the guaranteed money being commanded by quarterbacks and Cousins’s relatively shallow resume (he’s just 11-14 as a starter), gave Washington justifiable pause.
Nobody blinked during negotiations – so here we are.
Given Washington’s compliment of offensive weapons, its shaky running game and modest defensive talent, it is probable that Cousins will throw often and compile impressive numbers. It is also probable that with each big statistical outing – victorious or not – Washington’s front office will be ripped for failing to lock up its quarterback.
Fair enough. Such debate moves the needle. But not overpaying to reach a long-term deal was absolutely the right move. With a salary cap of $155.3M and a 53-man roster to fill, if a team pays elite quarterback money, it must ensure it will receive elite quarterback play - and even if it does, the inequitable allocation of financial resources produces uneven results.
Some of the best quarterbacks in the league – Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson – won Super Bowls on below-market contracts. After slipping on their rings and scoring big deals, more Super Bowls didn’t always follow. Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco is the most obvious example of the elite quarterback financial trap: After winning the Super Bowl in 2013, Flacco signed a six-year, $121M contract. The Ravens have managed just one winning season since. But he’s not alone: In 2012, two years after winning the Super Bowl, New Orleans signed Brees to a five-year, $100M contract. In the four subsequent seasons, their record is 32-32.
Considering its decades of instability at the most important position in team sports, Washington should feel fortunate to have Cousins. And the hunch is a long-term deal gets done next summer. But there was no reason to rush to pay a relatively unproven asset this year. Every team – athletic or otherwise - needs its quarterback, but individual positions don’t sustain success and win championships, teams do. Washington’s prudent handling of the Cousins negotiations was true to this formula.
Did I just use “Washington” and “prudent” in the same sentence?