The rumors persist that the Vikings are going to make a push to sign Kirk Cousins. Right or wrong, Cousins is certainly an option for the Vikings to explore. Let’s take a deeper look into Cousins, and the pros and cons he could possibly bring to the Vikings.
A Disaster Waiting to Happen?
I’m going to start with the cons here, because there is one big red flag that leaps out to me about Kirk Cousins.
The Washington Redskins have watched and evaluated Cousins every practice and every game, off-season, pre-season, regular-season, and even one post-season game, over the past five years since he’s been on their roster. They know how he is in the locker-room, on and off the field better than anyone.
After all that, they decided 33-year old Alex Smith was a better quarterback, and decided to pay him, and not Kirk Cousins, to be their quarterback.
Let that sink in. The Redskins, who know Kirk Cousins better than anybody, chose by most accounts a mid-tier QB in Alex Smith, who is also 4 years older, over Kirk Cousins. That is a red flag. A big red flag.
One reason may be Cousins’ record against teams that finished the season with a winning record. 4-19. That’s right, 4-19. Since Cousins became the starter in Washington, he’s only beat teams that finished the season with a winning record 4 times. That’s a .174 winning percentage, and that is not getting it done. That sucks. As much as anything, you want your quarterback to deliver in big games- that’s what it takes to win championships- and so far Cousins hasn’t done that.
The other thing that seems to mesh with that is that despite being the face of the franchise quarterback, and highest paid player on the team by far, he was not a leader among players. There were stories last year, and previous years, that there was some in-fighting and bickering between Cousins and other players, with Cousins blaming them for poor performance and vice-versa. That’s not good.
The Redskins are a leading candidate for most under-performing/disappointing team last season, and a bad locker room atmosphere is often a cause. Whatever the reason, the fact that Cousins was QB for a couple seasons in Washington that fell short of expectations, does not speak well for his ability to lead and rally the troops.
Overall, the Redskins have been a .500 team since Cousins took over the starting job at QB.
Bottom line, Cousins has never shown the ability to deliver in big games or against good teams. He plays well against bad teams, and struggles against good ones. That’s a pretty clear track record at this point, and I don’t know how John DeFillipo or any other coach changes that. If Cousins continues that track record, he would be a disappointing disaster for the Vikings- and their rare open window for a Super Bowl championship.
But He Could be Good?
On the other hand, Cousins has compiled some decent stats with the Redskins, but not
outstanding. His best stat is probably his total passing yards, which has exceeded 4,000 in each of his three seasons starting with the Redskins. But a deeper look into his stats reveals a lot of mediocrity, particularly in key situations.
In terms of passing efficiency stats (basically those that measure production per attempt), Cousins has been declining in each of the past two seasons. Things like completion % and ANY/A (adjusted net yards per attempt), QB rating and QBR have declined over the past couple years, and interception % went up last year, as did sack % - basically doubled- as the Redskins suffered some key injuries to their offensive line.
Case Keenum outperformed Cousins last year in just about every stat.
And, unlike Keenum, Cousins underperformed in key situations. On 3rd downs, Cousins was ranked 31st of 41 QBs ranked last season by Pro Football Focus (PFF) by passer rating. In the red zone, Cousins has also underperformed, with an 83.3 and an 83.8 rating in the red zone the past two seasons.
By contrast, Case Keenum had a 97.2 rating in the red zone last season. Looking at a list of elite QBs like Brady, Rodgers, Brees- and Carson Wentz last year- they all have QB ratings in the red zone of at least 100, year after year. Cousins has had one season- 2015- with a red zone passer rating that high since he became a starter.
A general look at Cousins’ play suggests he’s a bit like Sam Bradford in terms of pocket elusiveness, but, like Bradford, can make some big-time throws on occasion. However, he also has a relatively high interception rate compared to what the Vikings have seen from Bradford and Keenum over the past two seasons.
So How Can That Be Good?
Well, none of this suggests Cousins would likely rise to be anything more than an above average quarterback at best, well short of elite. Combined with the fact that Cousins will command elite salary, and he does not appear to be a quarterback that can win the big games the Vikings need to win to realize their Super Bowl potential, and he looks like a poor option.
But, like Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, perhaps Cousins can benefit from a change of scenery. The Vikings don’t have the offensive line the Redskins had when they were healthy, anchored by Trent Williams at left tackle, and Brandon Scherff at right guard, and probably won’t next year either, even if they draft a starting RT that plays well, and moving Mike Remmers inside to guard.
But the Vikings do have a better receiver group than the Redskins had last year, and a dramatically better defense. And, Dalvin Cook will be returning at RB. It’s possible as well that the Vikings may be able to tailor a scheme that fits better with Cousins’ strengths than the Redskins were able to do.
So, given all that, it’s possible that Cousins could see a jump in performance similar to what Bradford and Keenum did after joining the Vikings. But it’s also likely that a certain amount of the improvement was courtesy of former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and who knows how well John DeFillipo will do in that regard.
But at the end of the day, Cousins has yet to show he can deliver consistently in big games, and seems to be the sort of leader Sam Bradford was (i.e. not so much). I’m not sure that’s worth $25 million or so a year on the Vikings salary cap.
Should the Vikings Sign Kirk Cousins ?
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