The post-draft reactions were ruthless. Why on earth, so many wondered, would the Washington Redskins use their third pick in the 2012 draft on another quarterback after they had already selected Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick in the first round?
There was this from one Washington radio personality: “Why is Kirk Cousins on my team?”
And this from the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen: “Let’s be honest, if RGIII’s not on the field … something is seriously wrong … either with him physically or something has happened with his development to the point that it is such a code red situation that they have to go in a different direction. And is [his replacement] Kirk Cousins?”
And this from Will Brinson of CBSsports.com: “Currently debating which pick was worse: Cousins in the fourth round or the Jags punter in the third? Toss up.”
The best reaction of all, however, came from Cousins as detailed in his own book – Faith, Football and Finding Your Way. Here’s what the Michigan State quarterback said when former Washington coach Mike Shanahan called to tell him the Redskins were going to select him in the fourth round: “Really? Are you sure you want to do that?”
Fast-forward 5 ½ years and it is clear that Washington’s mistake was not in taking Cousins in the fourth round but taking Griffin in the first. Cousins, 29, is the quarterback who is making $23.9 million this season after making nearly $20 million last season. Griffin is unemployed after a failed bid to return to the field last season in Cleveland. Injuries played a huge part in RGIII’s demise, but ineffectiveness also played a role. As for Bryan Anger, the third-round punter selected by Jacksonville, he is in Tampa Bay now and of all the punters in the NFL he is definitely one of them.
“I think it has just been such an interesting saga for so many reasons over the last 5½ seasons,” Cousins said Thursday during a conference call ahead of his team’s meeting Monday night with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. “I even think about the fact that I visited the Eagles before that draft and sat with Howie Roseman and Andy Reid and I thought there was a chance we might end up there. They chose Nick Foles instead several picks ahead of me. It’s just very interesting as time passed how things played out.”
Griffin had a great rookie season, leading Washington to its first NFC East title since 1999 while Cousins mostly watched from the sideline. But Griffin aggravated a knee injury in Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle and things were never the same for the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, who was also an elite college hurdler at Baylor.
In his second and third seasons with Washington, RGIII went 5-15 as the starting quarterback and Jay Gruden decided in 2015, his second season as the Washington head coach, that Cousins was the better choice to be his starter. Cousins responded by leading the Redskins to a 9-7 record and a division title in the weak NFC East and he has been their quarterback ever since, albeit not without some controversy and debate.
“I have a lot of respect for him …,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He wasn’t a first-round draft pick. He earned his way in. He earned his way into a starting position and he kept it and he has produced when he has been on the field. He has made plays with his arm. He has made plays with his legs. He is a smart player. He is a good quarterback.”
The numbers agree with that assessment. Since taking over as the starter three seasons ago, he has led the Redskins to a 20-16-1 record while completing 68.1 percent of his passes for 63 touchdowns and only 25 interceptions. His passer rating is 100.1. He has played particularly well in six games against the Eagles, throwing for 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
Despite his success, the Redskins have been unable to sign Cousins to a long-term deal and some would argue they should not because they believe he falls short of elite status reserved for guys such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger.
“He can lead your team to victory at any time and that’s what you’re looking for when you’re looking for a quarterback,” Gruden said. “He still feels like he has a lot to prove and he is still getting better. But I think some of the things he has done statistically and with the ball as far as accuracy and his ability to win games are pretty good.”
The Eagles, of course, are concerned only about stopping Cousins on Monday night at the Linc in the same manner they did on opening day in Washington. They sacked him four times after getting to him only five times total in the previous five meetings.
Washington, meanwhile, is going to have to figure out what Cousins is worth to the team beyond this season. They offered him a guaranteed $53 million before this season, according to their president and general manager, Bruce Allen, but he declined. It is unlikely they will place a franchise tag on him for a third straight year because that would cost $34.5 million. They could place the transition tag on him, but that would cost $28.7 million and allow Cousins to still field offer sheets from other teams.
What’s Kirk Cousins worth? A lot more than your typical fourth-round draft pick, that’s for sure.
Sure there was some disappointment around here when the NFL announced that the 2018 draft would not return to the Ben Franklin Parkway, but at least the league set up a chance for some good theater by predictably going for the big money grab down in Dallas. Some former member of the Eagles must be tabbed to make an appearance in response to Drew Pearson’s fiery second-round soliloquy in Philadelphia. Doesn’t Brian Dawkins have to be the guy?
I do not think referee Pete Morelli and his crew have a bias against the Eagles despite the overwhelming disparity in penalties for and against them the last four times he has officiated one of their games. It’s 40 against them for 396 yards and eight against their opponents for 74 yards. I do think, however, that Morelli is a terrible referee who at the age of 65 should be forced to retire following this season.
This week’s best
Sunday 1 p.m.
Arizona vs. L.A. Rams in London
The NFL still has not sent two winning teams to play each other over in England, but this is the best early matchup of the week. The Rams are the surprise first-place team in the NFC West as the season nears the midway mark while the Cardinals rebounded from a beating at the Linc to put up 38 points in a win over Tampa Bay. It would have been really cool if they played this game in St. Louis.
Dallas at San Francisco
The Cowboys get to keep running back Ezekiel Elliott at least for another two weeks as his six-game suspension remains delayed by the judicial system. Dallas finds itself in a must-win game against a winless 49ers team that has lost its last five games by a combined total of 13 points. The 49ers are the first team in NFL history to lose five straight by three points or fewer.
Atlanta at New England
Thirty-seven weeks have passed since the Falcons’ stunning fall-from-ahead loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but you cannot blame them if they’re still feeling the sting. You don’t get to take a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter in the Super Bowl every day and the fact that Tom Brady rallied the Pats for 25 unanswered points and an overtime victory is still hard to believe even by the quarterback’s Hall of Fame standards.
Washington at Eagles
The Eagles are 32-27 all-time on Monday Night Football and 5-3 against the Redskins. The last time the teams met on MNF was in coach Chip Kelly’s NFL debut in 2013. The Eagles are 6-7 on MNF at Lincoln Financial Field. Washington running back Chris Thompson has gone over 100 yards receiving in two of his team’s last three games, but will not have the support of his family inside the Linc.