The Cousins Conundrum

USA TODAY Sports

It seems to be a near certainty that the Redskins will eventually trade Kirk Cousins, but when should they actually pull the trigger on a deal, and what can they expect to get in return?

Many NFL experts and fans wondered why a last place team with multiple holes that had just traded four draft picks would spend a precious pick on a backup player who would never amount to anything more than an understudy to RG3. What those same experts and fans failed to remember was that they do not possess the prowess for offensive talent evaluation that Mike Shanahan does. Very few do, and in this case only Shanahan correctly identified Kirk Cousins as a potential first-round talent. Barring another catastrophic RG3 injury, the Redskins will eventually look to cash in on this draft-day steal with a trade. It's really only a question of when they will and what the compensation will be. If you don't believe me, then take it from this response from Cousins himself during a recent interview on ESPN 980.

"When I was drafted, I was told pretty much right away that ‘hey best case scenario is that you play very, very well in the opportunities you're given and we're able to get a lot of draft picks for you'...Best case scenario is that I'm able to help the Redskins in the sense that I leave giving them a lot more then they had to take to get me."

When to trade him:

As Ken previously pointed out it would be a Gob Bluth like huge mistake to trade Kirk Cousins anytime soon. He is valuable to this team for all of the reasons that Ken explained, but at what point is his value to the Redskins outweighed by his value as a trade chip?

Clearly not any time in 2013, because he is acting as a cheap insurance policy to the entire season with RG3 still on the mend from major knee reconstruction. 2014 might not be the most ideal time either, as the draft will takes place just16 months after the aforementioned surgery, and it wouldn't make a lot of sense to trade Cousins until we know that Griffin is 100% healthy again.

Maybe more importantly is the fact that the 2014 draft is absolutely loaded at the quarterback position, and because of this QB-needy teams might be less inclined to surrender valuable draft picks for Cousins. There are nearly 20 college QBs that are already generating a lot of buzz. It looks as if up to five of these signal callers could be selected in the first round and as many as 7 could be taken in the top 50 picks, which would be a NFL draft record. Despite how it might seem after the 2012 draft these types of QB classes do not come around that often. The last great class before 2012 was the 2004 class of Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger.

All the signs seem to indicate that trading Cousins just prior to the 2015 draft would be the best option. After all, his contract does expire at the end of the 2015 league year, so the clock would theoretically be ticking anyway. The only problem with that course of action is that the QB market will be flooded with up to 20 starting and second string free agent quarterbacks in March of 2015. However, upon further inspection it becomes clear that this group will likely not have an effect on Cousins' trade value. Take a look at the table below to see what the age difference between Cousins and this group of QBs will be in 2015.

Players # of Players Average Age in March 2015 Age Difference With Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins 1 26.56 0
2015 FA QBs 20 29.58 3.02
2015 FA QB Starters 10 28.51 1.95
2015 Likely Available FA QB Starters 6 29.58 3.02
All Other NFL Starting QBs 21 31.39 4.83

The teams in search of new QBs will be more attracted to Kirk Cousins because of his youth, potential and lack of wear and tear. Also, many of the best players in that group will not even hit the market, because smart teams just don't let good quarterbacks walk. The spring of 2015 is the best time to trade Kirk Cousins, because there will be less desirable QBs on the market and it allows us to keep him until RG3 is fully recovered. This is when his value to the Redskins should begin to diminish and when his value to the rest of the league will be at its highest.

Trade Compensation:

The best way to determine what the Redskins will get in return for Kirk Cousins is to look at how Cousins compares to other backup quarterbacks that have been traded. Let's first examine how these former bench warmers fared when they got a chance to shine in the regular season and how their production stacks up against what Kirk Cousins did in the regular season last year.

Overall Regular Season Statistics Prior To Trades
Player QB Appearances Starts YDS YDS/Attempt YDS/Game CMP % TD INT QB Rating
Kirk Cousins 3 1 466 9.71 155.33 68.8 4 3 101.6
Kevin Kolb 16 7 2,082 6.53 130.13 60.8 11 14 73.2
Charlie Whitehurst 2 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0 0 0
Matt Schaub 18 2 1,033 6.42 57.39 52.2 6 6 69.2
A.J. Feeley 7 5 1,154 6.87 164.86 57.1 8 6 79.3
Matt Hasselbeck 6 0 145 5.00 24.17 44.8 2 0 83.3
Jeff Lewis 5 0 79 2.26 15.8 52.6 0 1 41.3
Rob Johnson 6 1 368 10.51 61.33 71.4 2 3 88.8
Mark Brunell 2 0 95 3.52 47.5 44.4 0 0 53.8

As you can see our own Captain Kirk compares pretty favorably to the players in this group. He is above average in every category, and he has the 2nd best completion %, yards per attempt and yards per game. Cousins also boasts an impressive 101.6 QB rating, which is the highest in the group by a wide margin. The other quarterbacks put up these numbers over the course of a combined total of 62 appearances, which included 15 starts. It only took Kirk Cousins 3 appearances and 1 start to best them. In that lone start, Cousins proved that he was destined to be more than a career clipboard holder by passing for 329 yards with a 104.4 QB rating en route to the all important road win against the Browns.

You could argue that it's not fair to look at regular season numbers alone, because many of these players did not get an ample opportunity to perform on that stage. So, let's review their preseason stats then, shall we? Please note that preseason stats for games prior to 2000 are not available, and that as a result several players had to be omitted from this list.

Overall Preseason Statistics Prior To Trades
Player QB Appearances YDS YDS/Attempt YDS/Game CMP % TD INT QB Rating
Kirk Cousins 4 560 7.67 140 57.5 3 2 84.3
Kevin Kolb 13 1,633 5.92 126 59.4 5 2 79.3
Charlie Whitehurst 14 1,031 5.43 74 52.6 5 7 61.5
Matt Schaub 13 1,255 6.50 97 57 11 6 82.7
A.J. Feeley 9 664 5.77 74 58.3 6 3 81.2

Once again the Captain makes it happen, and comes out on top. Cousins' most impressive preseason performance was in a 2nd half comeback bid against the Chicago Bears. His comps in this table played in 49 preseason games across 14 seasons, and on paper none of them ever had a game as good Cousins did against the Bears. His 264 yards, 3 TDs and 154.1 QB rating in that game are the highest ever posted by any of these players in a preseason contest.

So, what will the Redskins actually get for Cousins when they finally pull the trigger on a trade? In order to figure it out, I used Jimmy Johnson's trade value chart to compare the value obtained in return for Cousins' peers when they were traded. You may not like Jimmy Johnson, but you have to admit that he knew how to make a trade (see Herschel Walker). Future year draft picks involved in these trades were devalued according to a formula used by ESPN's Mike Sando, because like your math teacher always said "A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow".

Player Drafted By Trade To Experience Before Trade (Years)
Trade Value Chart Compensation (Points)
Kevin Kolb Eagles Cardinals 4 390
Charlie Whitehurst Chargers Seahawks 4 270
Matt Schaub Falcons Texans 3 800
A.J. Feeley Eagles Dolphins 3 190
Matt Hasselbeck Packers Seahawks 3 580
Jeff Lewis Broncos Panthers 3 289
Rob Johnson Jaguars Bills 3 1446
Mark Brunell Packers Jaguars 2 283.4
AVERAGE N/A N/A 3.13 531.05

If we were to assume that we would only receive the average level of compensation in a trade for Kirk Cousins, then according to history we should expect to receive 531.05 points on the trade value chart, which is equivalent to 37th pick in the draft. Not a bad return on investment for last year's 102nd pick. However, since we have shown that Cousins is quite possibly one the best backup quarterbacks in recent memory, and likely the best in the league today, I think it is safe to assume that we will get more bang for our buck.

Cousins has already accomplished a great deal and he will continue to do so in his remaining time with the Redskins, and because of that the compensation received in exchange for his services will more closely resemble what was received in the Hasselbeck, Johnson, Schaub and Kolb trades. The average value of those trades is 804 points. That is equivalent to the 21st pick in the draft. The Redskins have been on the wrong end of quarterback trades for what seems like an eternity, but if Griffin stays healthy they will finally have the assets to turn the tide in the very near future.

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