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A guide to the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes

Kirk Cousins free agency

Kirk Cousins is set to officially become a free agent next week. In today’s NFL, quarterback is the one position where a high level of play is vital to any chance of success.

However, this is also a team sport. Cousins has thrown for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive years in addition to 52 touchdown passes and just 25 interceptions in the last two seasons.

It was the defense that held the Redskins back during the Cousins era. They gave up over 30 points seven times last year. It is very difficult for any quarterback to overcome that.

Still, Cousins’ numbers combined with the fact that he will be just barely 30 years old by the time the 2018 season starts make it easy to see why Cousins is one of the more highly coveted free agents in recent memory. There is a case to be made for him ending up with each of his four most serious suitors.

New York Jets: Money

The shelf life of a professional athlete is much shorter than that of the rest of us mere mortals. No athlete should ever be blamed for simply taking the most money when they have a choice about where to play.

Cousins may very well do that, but that is the only reason he would end up in New York. All you need to know about where the Jets stand at the moment is that Vegas set 3.5 as its over-under win total for last year. The Jets overachieved and still won only five games.

Cousins is very good, but he is not Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. His addition alone does not turn a bad team into a team that is a lock to make the playoffs and perhaps go further.

The Jets desperately need to find their long-term answer at quarterback, but Cousins already knows what it’s like to be a productive player that is held back by a bad supporting cast.

However, New York easily has the most financial flexibility of the four teams said to be most interested in the soon-to-be ex-Redskin. There has even been some chatter about the Jets offering Cousins a fully guaranteed contract. If it really is just about the money for him, he will be wearing green this fall.

Arizona Cardinals: Face of the franchise

With the exception of a few really talented holdovers like Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona is basically starting over as a franchise. In fact, they do not have a single quarterback under contract for next year for rookie head coach Steve Wilks. So, Cousins is obviously appealing.

Teams should always draft and acquire players with their quarterback in mind, but some are not that smart or simply don’t have the luxury of a proven commodity at that position. If Cousins goes to Arizona, he has the benefit of a largely blank slate. It is reasonable to assume that Cardinals management may even ask him for input regarding free agency and the draft. The entire franchise rebuild would revolve around Cousins. Arizona is the only place that could offer him that type of scenario.

There is already some semblance of a system in place with the other three teams. After the Redskins spent the last handful of years refusing to give him a long-term commitment and building around him in a way that made no sense, it is not difficult to see why this situation could intrigue Cousins.

Denver Broncos: Bring a proud organization back

Like the Jets, Denver also went 5-11 last year. Not all five-win teams are created equal though.

Unlike the Jets, Denver has two outstanding pass catchers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Also, despite getting a little long in tooth, the defense is still very good in Denver and was top-10 in most categories last year.

However, when you use three quarterbacks and have the second-worst turnover margin in the NFL, you are not going to win many games. Cousins alone would solve a lot of Denver’s issues.

Again, this is different from the Jets. They got decent quarterback play last year and still went 5-11.

Kirk Cousins free agency
Photo from Fox Sports

There is also the Elway factor in Denver. At his core, Elway is still a legendary quarterback. Do not let the suit or the fact that he is now running the franchise he once played for fool you. Elway can relate to Cousins in a way no other executive can.

Cousins is not a legend yet. However, Elway will no doubt try to convince him that he knows how to turn him into one. Peyton Manning was a legend before he ever came to Denver, but a similar sales pitch has already worked once for Elway.

Lastly, if Cousins were to go somewhere other than Denver, his roadblocks to a division title could include Rodgers twice a year, Brady twice a year for at least a couple more years and the loaded NFC West. With reigning division champion Kansas City already overhauling its roster, no such roadblocks exist in the AFC West.

The Broncos’ playoff drought only stands at two seasons. However, for a franchise that has spent most of the last quarter-century in the mix for the playoffs and Super Bowl every year, it feels like 20. Cousins just might be the safest and quickest way to get this franchise back on track. Thus, he would no doubt receive the red carpet treatment in Denver.

Minnesota Vikings: The best shot at a Super Bowl

Minnesota’s roster is so good that career journeyman Case Keenum was able to guide it within a game of the Super Bowl. The defense is young and good. It ranked in the top 10 against both the run and the pass last year.

Most of those pieces will be back next year. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have both emerged as top-flight pass catchers. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook had 354 rushing yards in just four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury last year. Assuming he comes back healthy, Minnesota’s offense could be even more lethal next year.

Kirk Cousins free agency
Photo from Pro Football Talk

Keenum nearly doubled his career touchdown pass total last year. He is also in position for a huge free agency payday. However, his performance in the NFC Championship, along with a few boneheaded throws that let New Orleans back in the divisional playoffs, were apparently enough to ensure that payday will not come from Minnesota.

Cousins with the Vikings immediately puts Minnesota in the first two sentences of any Super Bowl conversation for the upcoming year. At least in the short term, it is the only realistic destination that offers that for Cousins. So, the pitch writes itself.

There will always be teams desperate for a decent quarterback in the NFL. What makes the chase for Cousins so interesting is that wherever he ends up says a lot more about Cousins himself than the teams vying for his services.


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