Saturday, January 28, 2017

From Chaos, Kirk Cousins Delivers Stability

Appeared on in November 2015

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The list of Washington quarterbacks since Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann’s leg on Monday Night Football 30 years ago is long and mostly undistinguished. The post-Theismann 1980’s included the likes of Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Stan Humphries and Mark Rypien. That’s not a bad list (it does include two Super Bowl champions), but none were long for the job and no one is contemplating sculpting their heads or fitting them for yellow jackets. The 1990’s started with Rypien and degraded from there.  Names like Rich Gannon (back when he was just a journeyman), Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, John Friesz and Jeff Hostetler cycled through. I’ll forgive you for barely noticing or trying to forget. 

In 1999, lovable owner Daniel Snyder procured his pigskin toy and Washington’s quarterback attrition rate spiked. Sixteen years later, it’s a running national punchline. Silly us for not recognizing Snyder’s dubious ouster of Brad Johnson, a steady and professional winner, for Jeff George, a sexy, unstable and divisive force, during the 2000 season as a foreshadowing event. For the record, Snyder’s up to 16 different quarterbacks during his relentless pursuit of mediocrity and 10 since the New York Giants drafted Eli Manning in 2004.

Now that deserves some Eli face.

To borrow a phrase from late great author Elaine Gottshall, the drafting of Robert Griffin III in 2012 was supposed to break the vicious cycle. Experts labeled him a “can’t miss” prospect, a guy whose floor was “long-time NFL starter.” Yeah. I have written much about the Griffin soap opera during my time at  It is chronicled here, here and here for those seeking a stroll down a dark, dank memory lane.  Suffice to say Griffin has proven the experts wrong…in all the wrong ways. 

While Griffin was shooting commercials, promoting a self-serving comeback, tweeting obsessively, developing a personal logo, passive-aggressively influencing the coaching staff and offense and generally playing far below his rhetoric, Kirk Cousins, a guy drafted three rounds after Griffin in the 2012 NFL Draft, was quietly and deliberately working on his craft and earning the respect of a locker room. It hasn’t been a nice, steady progression for Cousins, though. Head coach Jay Gruden essentially put him on ice last year after several multi-turnover meltdowns. But year two under Gruden was immediately different and Cousins’s momentum throughout the offseason was palatable. By August, the inverse slopes of Griffin’s and Cousins’s careers finally intersected when Gruden, despite his steadfast endorsement of Griffin, anointed Cousins the starter for the 2015 season. 

Now if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we assumed this season-long declaration would fall victim to pressure from ownership, Cousins’s mental fragility or the never-ending circus of social media. Griffin would start by Halloween. Then after he proved ineffective or broke down again, Colt McCoy would be handed the keys to the smoking, rusted-out jalopy. It would a quarterback controversy of sorts, one where only the most faithful fans cared to debate the best of the worst. This being Washington, the hot mess behind center would eventually cost Gruden his job and the entire organization would, once again, dissolve into a state of chaos.    

Instead, the unheralded, hard-working, low-profile and zero-drama fourth round pick from Michigan State has managed uneven efforts, continued to grow and, as I type on first of December, solidified himself as the team’s starting quarterback.  It has been a remarkable four-year journey for Cousins, one that has seen him progress from a dutiful backup who always deferred to Griffin into the team’s unquestioned starter.

Through 11 games this season, Cousins is third in completion percentage (68.4%), twelfth in passing yards and seventeenth in quarterback rating. The value of Cousins’s growth and the stability he has provided cannot be understated. You either have adequate quarterback play in the NFL or you are searching for coaches and general managers to handle a top-five pick in the upcoming draft. While Washington’s 5-6 record is unremarkable, it is good enough for first place in the NFC East and far better than any objective analyst would have anticipated in early September. Cousins’s play is the number one factor behind Washington’s unexpected decency. Beyond wins and losses, it has provided a footing for Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan and afforded the brain trust an ability to effectively evaluate the talent on offense.

Anything can happen over the season’s final five weeks, but right now Cousins has displayed enough ability to at least be the team’s near-term solution at quarterback. Considering how this season could have gone and the mockery it could have become, anyone with a shred of interest in Washington football should appreciate the answer Cousins has provided to the seemingly never-ending question at quarterback in the nation’s capital.  

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