You've heard his name before and you'll be hearing it again. Kirk Cousins, the Washington Redskins' backup quarterback and fourth-round pick from 2012, the same year they traded a king's ransom for Robert Griffin III.
Cousins is merely the latest in a trend of backup QBs to garner the sort of attention that leads to a plethora of trade speculation and rumors, following an opportunity to shine for a brief period.
Those windows open and shut quickly in this league. The Redskins appear to be well aware of that. Many believe it played a big role in the decision to shutdown Griffin and "showcase" Cousins in the final three games of an otherwise ineffectual losing season, the benefits of which only the Rams are reaping.
Mike Shanahan might have cemented the "showcase" idea in what sounded like the beginning of the marketing campaign for his backup quarterback. On an appearance with ESPN 980 after the initial decision, Shanahan talked about Cousins and his potential value, (via the Washington Post).
"If he lights it up, hey, maybe we can bring a first-round draft choice back to this organization, and say hey, who are we gonna take in the first round," Shanahan said. "And I think by him playing and Robert not playing, it gives us a chance to have a few options for our organization that we wouldn’t normally have, and the safety of our quarterback going into the offseason is preserved….And we’re still getting a chance to see a guy that we’ve got a lot of confidence in go out there and play. And his value can only go up. It cannot go down. It can only go up."
It's actually hard to argue with his first point and that might be the most frustrating thing about all this speculation.
These kinds of gambles are not cheap. To repeat the universal truth that every NFL fan should already know: It's a quarterback driven league. QBs are a commodity. The commodity. The difference between good teams and bad ones. There's a low supply and a high demand. This is why risks are taken on unknowns. Fourth-round grades become first-round trades.
There's certainly no ceiling to an initial asking price. Quarterbacks are priceless.
"Priceless like a mother's love, or the good kind of priceless?"
Both... but mostly the latter. It's the good kind of the priceless generally for the team on the receiving end of a truckload of draft picks or the player making $10 million in guarantees. It might be closer to priceless like a mother's love for the team that gained a quarterback, that is, if it works out long-term.
Cousins is hardly the first of his kind. Will he break the trend? Consider those that came before him:
- Matt Cassel, former NE backup - franchise tagged, then traded with LB Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a high second-round pick.
- Kevin Kolb, former PHI backup - traded to Arizona for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a mid-to-late second-round pick.
- Matt Flynn, former GB backup - entered free agency and signed with Seattle for $26 million over three years with $10 million guaranteed, eventually earning $14.5 million of it.
All three are currently with a team other than the one that spent those assets to acquire them.
It's not good company, but it's also not a perfect comparison. The success of those guys, or lack thereof, doesn't doom Cousins to a similar fate. What it does offer is a look at relative value.
The Cleveland Browns shouldn't take the same level of risk on Kirk Cousins. The going rate for him will probably be as high as we think it is, in which case Joe Banner should hang up the phone. Still, some consider Cleveland to be the leading contender for Cousins' new home.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated suggested as much in his Week 15 edition of MMQB:
I continue to think Cleveland, using the late-first-round pick acquired from Indy in the Trent Richardson deal, is a realistic spot for Cousins if he plays very well in the final three games. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants more of a standard dropback quarterback than a run-around guy like Johnny Manziel. If the Browns could use their first first-rounder on another need position (wideout, corner) and the pick in the 20s on Cousins, that would give Turner a chance to get a young veteran ready for opening day faster than he could with anyone Cleveland would pick in a May draft four months from opening day.
King isn't entirely wrong in his assessment either. The thing that seems to have been forgotten here is that Browns already have that sort of "ready for opening day" young veteran on the roster. His name is Brian Hoyer and he doesn't come at the cost of a first-round pick.
I'm not trying to disparage Cousins. In his few starts, he's been sufficient for a fourth-round backup, but not nearly well enough or for long enough to warrant what's being asked.
More than anything else, Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, the entire front office and coaching staff need to get the quarterback position right. It's not optional in this league. They either get it right or find someone who can.
This doesn't mean that you throw everything at the proverbial wall and see what sticks. Browns fans should know by now that won't work. The blind squirrel theory doesn't apply. Instead, every decision at this position needs to be absolutely carefully calculated.
Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden didn't just cost this franchise the pick they were taken with. They cost time. Quarterbacks are an investment in more ways than one.
Hoyer is a cheap investment and offers just as much upside as Cousins, without the risk of turning yet another first-round pick into a sunk cost.
A quarterback shouldn't be traded for or drafted for the sake of it. Even with as deep an incoming class as this is, in the case that there isn't a QB prospect that the front office has the utmost faith in, they need to be willing to wait, use Hoyer as a stopgap, and move forward from there.
This team can't afford more wasted first-round draft picks, whether directly or through trade, especially if they're a QB that's granted an automatic 2 or 3-year honeymoon period just because you're obligated to "see what you have."
Just get it right.