Sunday, February 25, 2018

Decisions, Decisions

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This is a reluctant topic.  There has been a conscious effort in recent months to not infect this column with the seemingly never-ending saga of Washington QB Kirk Cousins’s contract situation.  The Cousins-abstinence is rooted in issue-fatigue – mine and likely yours, my loyal reader.

What else can be said?  “Will he or won’t he sign a long-term deal in Washington?” is a question that’s been picked over like a carcass on the Serengeti.  But there is something else to this story - I think.  That’s the gamble here.

To ardent fans, the facts are as familiar as Taylor Swift’s hits are to teenage girls.  Cousins, a 2012 fourth round pick, earned the starting job in 2015 (after Robert Griffin III fizzled), the last year of his modest rookie contract.  He played crazy-well - 29 touchdown passes, a franchise record 4,166 passing yards and a division title.  The sudden and unexpected performance spike – he was benched after a rash of turnovers the year before – created major market valuation issues for player and team. 

The result was a one-year franchise player contract for $19M-ish in 2016.  Cousins repeated his 2015 performance, but his game, objectively speaking, is among the top 10 to 15 quarterbacks, far shy of elites like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.  In the NFL, though, the highest paid quarterback is usually the last pretty good one to sign a deal.  But with salary cap constraints and the goal of building championship rosters, overpaying at any position, and especially at the pricey position of quarterback, comes with consequences - hence Cousins’s valuation challenge and a second, one-year, $24M franchise tag this year. 

The stalemate is no one’s fault.  Cousins can’t be scorned for seeking maximum value (no football player can) and the franchise’s caution at making Cousins the highest paid player in league history is understandable.  Cousins and Washington reside at the unprecedented confluence of a pretty good (not elite) quarterback and exponentially increasing, salary cap crippling positional pay.  The waters ahead are largely unchartered and wrought with risk.

That’s Kirk Cousins’s dramatic six-year career in 250 words - but it isn’t over yet.  Another round of contract drama awaits this offseason and that is where this story still has some juice.   

Cousins holds the cards at this point…sorta.  It is hard to imagine Washington tagging him again at the 2018 market rate of $34M.  It could, but under that scenario salary cap realities would cause Cousins’s surrounding talent to regress.  That benefits no one.  Similarly, if Cousins seeks every blood-soaked dime, he’ll either force Washington’s hand – again, not the best outcome for either party - or have to accept the uncertainty of the market – both in value, location, fit and legacy.

What we have here is a dilemma.  There are options for both player and team, but none is ideal and all have risks.  If this, then that.  But…if…or…maybe.  Coin flips.  Rolls of the dice.  Rock, paper scissors.  Ouija boards.  Tarot cards.  Psychics.  Follow the head or the heart?  Oh the consternation.  And for every road taken, there are those left unexplored – hindsight’s brutal playground.   

Feels a lot like life, eh?  Do I accept this job or that one?  Chase the promotion, or not?  Stay in this relationship or move on?  Send the kids to this school or that one?  Stocks or bonds?  Move or stay put?  Buy or rent?

There is rarely an attainable, slam dunk alternative at such significant pivot points.  There’s what you did and the reasonable, defendable, understandable thing you didn’t (do).  Washington and its quarterback have arrived at such a place.  Both have invested significantly – six years - in the other.  
Both are acquainted with the others’ strengths and imperfections.  The familiarity breeds some contempt, but it also creates comfort and a rare opportunity for a synonymous relationship between a player, team and fanbase.  And to make that opportunity reality, all that’s required is a contract a little north of the team’s and a little south of the quarterback’s desire.  What it will take is a shared goal and equitable compromise – and restrained ego and pride.  Such is football.  Such is life.

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