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The 5 O’Clock Club: Farewell to Kirk Cousins

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Parting ways

On Wednesday 14 March, at 4:00 p.m. EST, the Redskins formal employment relationship with Kirk Cousins will come to an end after nearly 6 years. Hundreds of billions of bits & bytes of data and ‘virtual ink’ have been poured into the analysis of that relationship on Hogs Haven over the years. No doubt, a lot more is yet to come.

But at some point in the next week or so, Kirk will become the focus of another fan base.

No doubt that fan base will be thrilled. That front office will be giving one another high-fives all around. They will have won the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes. They will have signed the number one free agent of 2018. They will be off-season champions!

Unhappy burgundy & gold campers

There will be a huge number of Redskins fans who comment on this site who will bemoan the loss of Cousins. Journalists around the nation will point to the failure of the Redskin front office to keep Cousins and mark it down as another sign of the team’s failure and dysfunction. They will declare the new team — be it the Vikings, Broncos, Jets, Cardinals, Bills, or some other surprise team — to now be in position to make a serious run at their division and conference championships.

I’m not on the bandwagon

I won’t be joining in with those commenters or journalists unless Cousins surprises us all by signing a deal worth less than $26m per year.

I don’t expect him to do that.

My expectations have been set by the sports media — television and internet news — who have spent quite a while now convincing me that Kirk Cousins is set to get the NFL’s biggest contract. They have convinced me that his “floor” is around $27.5 million per year, but that he could end up with a deal as rich as $30 million per year if he plays his cards right — and he seems to have played all of his cards right for the past 6 years.

Journalists, analysts and fans look at the Redskins and shake their heads, and say, “The team that knows him best is letting him walk away!” They point to that as proof positive that the Redskin front office doesn’t know what it’s doing.

I look at the expectations of journalists, analysts and fans, shake my head and say, “The team that knows him best is letting him walk away!” I see this as an indication that the team that gives Cousins a record-breaking contract may not understand what it’s doing.

F*@# Bruce Allen & his “nepotism” and cronies

Those journalists, analysts and fans (I’ll shorten that to ‘other people’ or ‘others’ from here on out, I think) start with a basic belief: the Redskins are an incompetent organization filled with people that don’t know what they’re doing. For many people, this is dogmatic — a principle that is incontrovertibly true and can’t be questioned. There are writers on this website that subscribe to that dogma. There are certainly readers on this website that subscribe to it. Journalists around the country accept it at face value.

I question it for a lot of reasons. I’ll give just a few here to give you a taste of where I’m coming from, though I understand that the acceptance of my views will be akin to a conversation between a committed atheist and a Charismatic Christian — not a lot of open acceptance of opposing views in that room.

Anyway, here are three reasons why I don’t think the Redskin front office is totally incompetent.

Free agent spending habits

First, let me point to the fact that the front office has changed its former habits of spending big money for aging veteran free agents in an attempt to ‘win’ the offseason. The front office has shown with the signings of DJax and JoNo that it is unafraid to spend money for a talented player in the prime of his career, but they haven’t made a “Hayesworthy” move since... well... since Haynesworth. That’s one sign that the front office isn’t totally incompetent.

Excellent, conservative cap management

Second, I’d like to point to the Redskins excellent cap management since 2013. After working through the $36m cap reduction imposed by the league for the team’s refusal to participate in league-wide collusion on players’ salaries in the uncapped year of 2010, the front office — and Eric Schaffer, in particular — has been a model of good contract and salary cap management.

There have been some bad free agent personnel decisions in the past five years (Hatcher and McClain spring to mind), but the contracts in those cases allowed the team to get out relatively unscathed. By comparison, I’d point to the contract situations for Mo Wilkerson and Ndamukong Suh.

What really bad contracts look like

Suh was signed by the Dolphins just 3 short years ago, in 2015. Today, the Dolphins are in a salary cap bind (currently $7m OVER the cap, according to OTC), and they are considering cutting Suh. If they do, the Dolphins will have a $22 million dead cap hit. By contrast, Jason Hatcher was paid less than $9m for his two seasons with the ‘Skins, including his $4.5m dead cap hit.

2015 was a big off-season for defensive linemen. Mo Wilkerson signed a 5-year contract that off-season as well. He was cut by the Jets after three seasons of bad attitude and poor production, resulting in a $9 million dead cap hit for Gang Green. The Redskins may decide to cut Terrell McClain this off-season. If they do, they will have ended up paying him $7.4m for one unproductive season. If the ‘Skins hold onto him for 3 years, like the Jets did with Wilkerson, then he will have cost the team $5.1m per season, and result in a $1.25m dead cap hit.

These are probably the two worst contracts by the Redskins of late, and they show a lot of prudence in their structures, providing some upside while limiting the downside risk.

What happens when you borrow cap money now to pay back in the future

For years, Jerry Jones, General Manager, has done whatever he wanted with contracts, knowing that Jerry Jones, team owner, won’t fire him. The bigger the contract, the more dramatic and frequent the re-structure. There was nobody that Jerry couldn’t sign or re-sign.

That bill came due in 2016, when the Cowboys lost 6 key defensive players plus DeMarco Murray in free agency because they couldn’t pay them, and couldn’t pay for veterans to replace them. Even this year (2018), two full years after Tony Romo started working as a TV analyst, he counts for $8.9m against the Cowboys salary cap. By the way, now that the Cowboys have used the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence, they have less than $3.2m in cap space remaining, with free agency starting in three days. Jerry Jones has been using the salary cap like a credit card for years, but he hit the credit limit in 2016, and it’s forcing him into difficult personnel decisions. Queue the ‘Dez Bryant needs to take a pay cut’ articles that we’ll be seeing this off season.

The Redskins, despite using two consecutive franchise tags on Cousins, and paying premium money to Josh Norman, Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Williams, and Jordan Reed, have a very solid salary cap position for the 5th consecutive year. They are, in fact, one of the most well-managed teams in the NFL in terms of how they structure contracts.

Even when the team has had a swing-and-a-miss, like with Terrelle Pryor, the contract structure has been low-risk. The Redskins are actually pretty prudent with their contracts, and haven’t made any huge contractual blunders in free agency since 2012. That’s the second factor I’d point to in saying the front office isn’t totally incompetent.

Valuing draft picks

Third, after living through the RG3 experience, the team has shown an understanding of the value of draft picks. From 2014 onward, the front office has put a real value on draft picks and building the roster by having as many picks as possible every April.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... they traded away a 3rd round player in Fuller and a 2018 3rd round pick for Alex Smith. I read the papers. But that deal is notable primarily for being unusual.

My Google skills are a bit limited at times, but the only trade involving Redskin draft picks since 2014 that I could remember or find with Google was the acquisition of Derek Carrier mid-2015 for a draft pick — a pick that the team recouped by trading Carrier to the Rams last year.

2014 saw the last ‘payment’ for RG3 in the form of a #1 draft pick.

I’m not going to argue that the Redskins have made the best pick possible with every selection in each draft since 2014; all I’m trying to say is that they have demonstrated an understanding of how valuable each draft pick is, and they have tried to use the draft as the primary vehicle for building the roster. The 2016 draft looks to be the weakest of the bunch, but from 2014 onward, the front office has tried to use the draft the right way.

The Redskins traded back in 2015 and ended up with 10 picks, 5 of whom are currently on the roster. Kyshoen Jarrett likely would have brought the count to six players if it weren’t for his career-ending and life-changing injury.

The Redskins made 7 picks in 2016, and 10 picks in 2017. Amazingly, all ten draft picks from 2017 are on the Redskin roster.

The team will have 7 picks in 2018 following the completion of the Alex Smith trade.

That’s 34 draft picks in the past four seasons (‘18 inclusive) for the Redskins.

When you put the trade of Kendall Fuller + draft pick for all-pro franchise quarterback Alex Smith into that context, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to say that it’s prima facie evidence that the Redskins don’t value youth or draft picks.

The record of this front office shows an overall commitment to good stewardship of the team’s draft capital following the failed RG3 trade. That’s the third factor I would point to in saying that the front office isn’t totally incompetent.

So, if the front office actually has some level of competence, why are we losing Cousins?

This is one of those logic circles. The argument goes like this: If the front office were competent, the Redskins wouldn’t be losing Kirk Cousins. Since the Redskins are losing Cousins, it proves that the front office is incompetent.

But this is the same group of people that has fixed the error of it’s ways on paying big money to unworthy free agents, has demonstrated excellent salary cap management habits, and appears to value its draft picks and be committed to a build-through-the-draft philosophy based on the evidence from 2014 to today.

So, what happens if we don’t automatically assume that the Redskins FO is filled with idiots?

Why would they let Cousins leave?

If you assume for a moment that letting Cousins leave is not due to front office incompetence, then there seem to be only two explanations possible for what is transpiring:

  1. The Redskins believe that Cousins will not sign a contract for the amount of money that they feel comfortable paying him based on their assessment of what he brings to the roster; or
  2. The Redskins believe that there is no offer that would entice Cousins to stay at this point. That ship, for whatever reason, has sailed.

Let’s consider the first situation for a moment

If the Redskins have sat down and assessed the roster and Kirk’s place in it, and set a value on his contribution, then told Cousins what they believe (by way of telling him what kind of contract they are comfortable offering him), and — following that process — they have gone out and traded for Alex Smith, then there is only one conclusion: the front office believes that Cousins is not worth as much money as he wants and demands.

If that is the case, then the front office today — in 2018 — has done the job it needs to do. It is letting an over-priced free agent go to play for another team. They have replaced him with a player that they believe can do the job, for an amount of money that allows them to build a better overall roster.

That’s exactly the sort of decisions that pro sports teams make every season. It’s what the front office is supposed to do. The argument from opponents isn’t whether the front office is doing its job (clearly, evaluating free agents and deciding whether to pay them or not is what they do), but whether they’re right or not.

As fans, we get attached to our team’s players, and we don’t like to see them leave, but every front office, every year, lets go of players that are popular with the fans.

Remember, I said that for the purposes of these few paragraphs, we’re assuming the front office isn’t incompetent. But I hear your objections, and I understand them.

I heard the same objections last year. Hell, I made a lot of the objections last year! This is the front office that let three popular and productive players walk in free agency in 2017 as well.

Unpopular 2017 free agent decisions

Desean Jackson - Media reports said that the team ‘pushed’ to re-sign Jackson, but were unwilling to meet his price. He signed a 3-year, $33.5m deal with Tampa Bay that cost the Buccaneers $12.5m against the salary cap last season.

In return, the Bucs got 14 games, 50 catches, 668 yards and 3 TDs from the player who put up over 2,650 yards and 14 touchdowns in 39 games for the Redskins.

Pierre Garcon - Media reports indicated that the Redskins liked Garcon and what he added to the roster, but felt his price tag would be too steep. He signed a 5-year, $47.5m contract (including a $12m signing bonus) with the San Francisco 49ers.

In return, the Niners got 8 games, 40 catches, 500 yards, 0 TDs. Granted, Garcon missed half the season with injury, but that’s part of the risk assessment when evaluating a 30-year old receiver.

Chris Baker - Media reports indicated that the Redskins didn’t want Chris Baker back at any price. Instead, he signed with Tampa Bay on a 3-year, $15.75m contract with $6m guaranteed.

This week, the Bucs cut him after just one season. They really didn’t like him very much.

Suddenly, I feel a lot better about the Redskin front office decision making on free agents

The Redskins let three popular players walk in free agency last season; one because of his ‘attitude’, and two because they were perceived by the front office to be worth less than the players themselves believed themselves to be.

Ultimately, none of the three had a successful 2017 season. Jackson was unable to produce at previous levels or was poorly utilized by the coaching staff, Garcon got injured halfway through the season, and Swaggy’s attitude got him shitcanned from his new team after just a single season.

Maybe the personnel decision makers and the guys in charge of contracts at Ashburn really do know something about NFL rosters and contracts.

If they weren’t wrong about Jackson, Garcon and Baker, then maybe they’re not wrong in their evaluation of Cousins

Let’s go back to the idea that I put forward earlier:

“The team that knows him best is letting him walk away!”

If the Redskins personnel people aren’t just bumbling around in the dark, then that seems to raise some questions.

In particular, is another team about to make a big mistake on Kirk Cousins?

The Redskins know Kirk Cousins better than anyone. If they don’t think he’s worth $27.5m per year or more, maybe he really isn’t.

Next week, when another franchise signs some kind of historic contract with Kirk — be it the total dollar amount, the APY, the percent guaranteed, or some unique structure — people around the NFL world are going to be chuckling up their sleeves and pointing at the Redskins front office, asking how they could have possibly let him get away.

Perhaps they should be asking the question that I heard Daniel Jeremiah ask this week.

Appearing on NFL Network, Jeremiah posed a hypothetical situation for the Vikings, saying that Minnesota might be able to entice Cousins to join with the Purple People Eaters by offering him $30m per year and a realistic chance to reach the super bowl. Jeremiah then suggested that the Vikings front office, who probably have the alternative of re-signing Case Keenum for $15-$18m per year, need to ask themselves if Cousins will bring the extra $12-$15m value to the team in the form of more wins.

That — it seems to me — is an outstanding question for a team that has options, as the Vikings seem to.

Reports from the Combine suggested that Cousins might not be seeking the biggest payday in history; there was a suggestion that he would be looking for something different: a fully guaranteed deal of around 3 years. He wants, as one reporter phrased it, high guarantees for security, plus another bite at the apple.

If these reports are true, this would make Cousins the same sort of rent-a-quarterback that the Redskins have had as a starter for the past three seasons. Short term and expensive.

It means that Cousins will be able to hit free agency again in three years, when he is in his prime as a quarterback — about the same age that Alex Smith is now. It means that the franchise that signs him, after shelling out $90m to have him for three years, would face the prospect of losing him to the highest bidder in 2021.

Any team that is going to sign Cousins is apparently going to have to do it, at least partly, on his terms. High dollar, high guarantee, short duration... he’s gonna get something he wants.

Any team that tries to attract him has to ask themselves: “Is it worth it?”

And they should also wonder, “Why wasn’t it worth it to the Redskins?” Yes, the easy answer is that the Redskins front office simply screwed the pooch, but that might be too easy. It could be that they made a business decision based on careful evaluation. It could be that another front office is about to make the kind of mistake that the Jets made with Mo Wilkerson, the Dolphins made with Ndamukong Suh, and the Cowboys made with Romo and Bryant.

In the race to sign the biggest name in free agency, a team may end up overpaying. In a rush to ‘win now’, a team may overcommit salary cap to one position. In the effort to succeed today, some team may unreasonably mortgage their future.

It’s easy to see why the Redskins, who paid Kirk Cousins $44.67m over three seasons as the starting quarterback (and average salary of $14.89m per season) don’t want to pay him more than double that amount, potentially fully guaranteed, to be the starting quarterback for the next three seasons.

Teams should be asking: “If the Redskins didn’t think he was worth this contract, why do we think he is?”

Yeah, but you’re forgetting the other scenario — the one where Kirk just doesn’t want to play in Washington

I haven’t really forgotten.

Let’s say that the reason the Redskins went out and got Alex Smith was because the Kirk Cousins ship had sailed. He just didn’t want to be here.

If that’s the case, then, of course the team had to go get a new (or, in this case, second-hand) quarterback.

But it begs the question: Why wouldn’t Cousins want to stay?

It’s a good question, and I’ve read (literally, I think) thousands of opinions about the answer. Most of them seem to come down to the same idea; that is, Cousins wants to leave because he feels ‘disrespected’.

Why does he feel that way? Well, I don’t have a scientific survey to back me up, but from reading opinions here and elsewhere for the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that about 90% of people who claim that Kirk was ‘disrespected’ say that he feels that way because of the Redskin front office’s repeated “low ball” offers.

I don’t really disagree with them that Kirk (or his agent) has consistently been of the opinion that he could get more money than the Redskins were offering, so every offer that the ‘Skins made over the years (I’m relying on media reports and comments from Kirk here) was rejected.

It seems that Kirk and McCartney were right. They can get more money than the Skins offered.

I have a funny view of the world that not everyone appreciates. Just because Kirk and his agent are right that he can get more money, doesn’t make the Redskins front office wrong for believing he’s not worth it, and not being willing to pay it to him.

We’ve got a lot of evidence that the Redskins have always liked Kirk, but never believed he was worth the amount of money that he wants and believes he can get.

What have Redskins decision makers said about Cousins?

It wasn’t so long ago that Scot McCloughan, who no longer had a dog in the fight, suggested that Kirk wasn’t “special”.

“He’s a good player,” McCloughan told Mike Pritchard and Cecil Lammey. “Is he special? I don’t see special... He’s won games. I know his record overall is not over .500. I know he has not won a playoff game. But he’s competitive. He works his tail off. He’s so methodical. Every day he has planned out. He’s always in the building, he’s always watching tape, he’s always talking to coaches, he was talking to me. From the standpoint of the tangibles, they’re excellent. You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35 to 40 times to win the game. You want to have a running game, have a good defense, good [special] teams, and then let him do what he does.”

Following the end of the season, when given the chance to unconditionally support his quarterback at little cost to himself, Jay Gruden hedged:

“When you’re 7-9, you know it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding,’” Gruden told reporters. “Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, you know we’re 7-9.”

And Gruden indicated that he was out of patience with Cousins and his agent.

“I think something has to be done. I personally don’t want to go through another one-year deal, and just [keep going] one year, one year. I think you want to have a quarterback in here that’s going to be here. And hopefully that is Kirk, and if not, we have to move on and do what we have to do as an organization.”

So, the Redskins see Cousins as a quarterback who has a sub-500 record as a starter, has never won a playoff game, and isn’t special. On the positive side, he’s seen as methodical, a hard worker, and smart.

McCloughan said very straightforwardly that, with Kirk, he sees a player that has to have talent around him. By definition, that means that he’s a guy who a team shouldn’t break the bank for, because they need to keep some money back to pay for the talent they need to surround him with.

So, if you’re a team — say the Vikings or the Broncos — and you believe you’ve got a super bowl winner built, and you need a quarterback for a year or two to get you there — Cousins may be your man.

But when Nick Foles can do the job of winning a superbowl for $7m guaranteed over two seasons, do you really have to pay Kirk’s price?

If Case Keenum can get his team to the NFC Championship game for a $1.9m salary, do the Vikings need to pay Kirk’s price?

If you’ve got a complete team that can win with any competent quarterback, why do you need to pay for the most expensive quarterback?

And if Scot McCloughan, a respected NFL talent evaluator who spent two years with Cousins, thinks Kirk isn’t special and needs a talented roster to win with, then why should Cousins get paid the kind of money that makes it difficult for a franchise to build that winner around him?

Why would the Redskins pay him top dollar, not leaving themselves the cap flexibility to give him the roster he needs to win?

Maybe Kirk feels disrespected by the front office because he over-estimates his real value

It seems that the Redskin personnel evaluators, who spent pretty much every working day for six years with Cousins, have always seen him as a starting caliber quarterback who needs a good team with a complete defense and a good running game to be a consistent winner. If that’s the case, have they necessarily been unfair to Kirk by offering him the kind of money that you pay to that kind of quarterback?

Or have the personnel evaluators and contract people been doing their jobs diligently?

Maybe the Redskin front office guys really are idiots

It’s possible that the Redskins front office really is a ship of fools, captained by the Chief Jester. To believe that, you have to think that everyone in the organization is basically clueless.

Jay Gruden, his coordinators and assistants: Clueless.

Doug Williams, Senior VP of Personnel: Clueless.

Alex Santos, Scott Campbell, Eric Shaffer and all the personnel staff and scouts: Clueless.

If that’s what other people think, maybe they’re right. Maybe Cousins has always been an MVP quarterback who was mishandled, misevaluated and misunderstood by the Redskins franchise.

Maybe he should have been given an above-market deal to get him to stay.

Maybe now the Redskins are paying the price for never understanding or appreciating Kirk Cousins and rewarding him in the way he deserved.

Maybe his next team isn’t going to regret the contract concessions they make to sign him.

Maybe.

Poll

Which franchise is going to be the biggest winner in the Kirk Cousins free agency sweepstakes?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Vikings
    (199 votes)
  • 13%
    Broncos
    (90 votes)
  • 8%
    Jets
    (53 votes)
  • 2%
    Cardinals
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    Browns
    (10 votes)
  • 39%
    Redskins
    (262 votes)
  • 3%
    Some other team
    (26 votes)
659 votes total Vote Now