Kirk Cousins is insanely valuable, and half the league should try to sign him
Cousins is really good. He might even be one of the best NFL free agents of all time. So why don’t fans seem to want him?
Kirk Cousins is good.
I swear, it’s true.
Kirk Cousins is good. He might be really good. He might also be one of the most valuable players ever to hit the free agent market.
No position in football is more important than quarterback. You can’t possibly be reading this article and believe anything other than that.
You’re going to bring up the final four NFL teams this year led by Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and the 40-year-old social media virgin. See! NFL teams don’t need quarterbacks anymore! We saw it this year!
Sure, because one year of “proof” offsets everything else we’ve seen for 20 years. Because every team can just pair a below average quarterback with a top three defense and depth at every position. Because the Eagles and Jaguars didn’t barely survive last-minute drives and the Vikings didn’t need a miracle just to make the final four. We were a few plays away from Brady, Ben, Brees, and Ryan leading the NFL’s final four teams, just like every other year. Just like everyone expected.
Quarterback is the most important position in football, and you probably couldn’t even decide which position’s next. QB is probably the most important position in all of sportsdom. No other sport sees one player touch the ball on every single play or carry such a heavy weight in the game’s outcome.
Quarterbacks are also scarce. I ranked the 32 starting QBs in November. That list included Josh McCown and Jacoby Brissett as top-20 quarterback options. It included Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Stanton, Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, Brett Hundley, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Peterman, Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, and whoever the Browns started that week. Heck, I didn’t even mention Jared Goff or Case Keenum just now, and those guys would’ve been a punchline six months ago. That’s almost half the league that started a flaming pile of poo at the most important position in sports for a real stretch of the season.
A final look back at the fantasy football and the NFL gambling season and the lessons we can learn going forward
Hey, let’s do a quick math problem.
Question #1: How many competent, reliable NFL quarterbacks are there right now on the face of the earth? Maybe 20? Dare you to come up with a list of 25.
Question #2: How many NFL teams are there?
So the most position in sports doesn’t even have enough candidates to fill all of the starting spots, let alone add depth to a position that saw significant injuries this season to Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, Carson Palmer, and others.
All of that makes any reliable NFL quarterback insanely valuable. That’s why Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford signed deals for $260 million. It’s why Jimmy Garoppolo looked good for one month and signed the richest deal in NFL history, and no one even batted an eye. If Garoppolo is even a top-15 quarterback, he’s worth it.
And that’s the other problem. Remember your economics class? This is a supply and demand problem. Competent NFL teams demand competent quarterback play. And there’s a huge scarcity of supply.
Kirk Cousins is not that exciting. What is he, the twelfth best quarterback in the NFL? Maybe eighth best? What’s exciting about that? What’s exciting is that Kirk Cousins is the eight or twelfth best quarterback in the NFL! In a 32-team math problem with only 20 or 25 solutions, he’s a better solution than half of them!
You might scoff at eighth and twelfth best quarterbacks, but how often are guys like that available in free agency? Who are the best free agent quarterbacks of all time?
Drew Brees saved a franchise. Who else?
Peyton Manning is probably next, and he was 36 and coming off a neck surgery so severe no one knew if he’d ever be healthy again. If not Manning, it might be Rich Gannon or Kurt Warner. Or Brad Johnson or one of the Brett Favre comebacks. Journeyman late-career guys , all just looking for another chance. No one on that list was a slam dunk signing. You know why?
BECAUSE SLAM DUNK QUARTERBACKS ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY.
Which brings us back to Cousins. Just how good is he?
Cousins threw for 4093 yards this season, seventh in the NFL. He was top 10 in passing TDs, yards per attempt, and completion percentage, and he’s ranked top ten in those categories each of the past three seasons. During those seasons, Cousins eclipsed 4000 passing yards and 25 touchdowns while keeping his interception percentage below 2.5%. Those round numbers denote a productive NFL quarterback that limits mistakes.
That season, the 4000/25/2.5 one I just mentioned, has been done only 69 times in NFL history. Here’s a complete list of quarterbacks with at least three 4000/25/2.5 seasons: Peyton, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Ben, Ryan, Rivers, Palmer, Stafford, Cousins. That’s it. Not Russ or Luck or Newton. No Favre or Warner. Not Alex Smith (LOL). The Vikings have only three 4000/25/2.5 seasons in franchise history. The Bears, Bills, Browns, Bucs, Eagles, Jaguars, Jets, Panthers, Rams, Ravens, and Texans have NEVER had one. Think about it. Think about those teams. Who’s their quality productive quarterback that limits mistakes? Who was it?
Just by virtue of being a productive, durable, above average quarterback that’s actually available in free agency, Kirk Cousins might be one of the top 10 NFL free agents of all time.
And it’s possible he’s almost as valuable a free agent as Drew Brees once was.
It sounds ludicrous, but check out the numbers for Brees and Cousins at the time of their free agency:
Closer than you expected, huh?
Cousins is more accurate and less error-prone with a much better yards per attempt and yards per game. Brees was a slightly better winner … and a better receiver, I guess. Those per game numbers are awfully similar. Cousins gets to play in a league more suited to passing and got Sean McVay, but Brees had LaDainian Tomlinson so let’s just agree the degree of difficulty wasn’t exactly at its peak for either of them.
Brees was younger than Cousins at the time of his free agency by three whole years, and that’s important. But he was also coming off surgery on a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and wasn’t even considered a sure thing at the time. Miami picked Daunte Culpepper over Brees, and I think we all remember how that one turned out. Drew Brees was an 89 on Madden the year of his free agency. He was considered about equal to Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Delhomme, Marc Bulger, and Chad Pennington.
Both Brees and Cousins had made exactly one Pro Bowl at the time of their free agency. Neither had won a playoff game. It’s not as outlandish of a comparison as you think.
Only eight players in NFL history have thrown for more yards in a season than Kirk Cousins did in 2016. Only Brees and Stafford have done it more than once. Captain Kirk’s numbers this season compare pretty well to current-day Brees, non-MVP Matt Ryan, or pick-a-year Matt Stafford. Look, here’s Cousins and Stafford:
Cousins is more accurate and far less error-prone, and now he’s the better receiver (two receptions for -3 yards, wyd Stafford??). Stafford throws more yards per game but on a lot more attempts. Both have one Pro Bowl appearance and no playoff wins.
Maybe pick-a-year Matt Stafford or non-MVP Matt Ryan don’t excite you that much. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t.
Stafford and Ryan were both top-three draft picks. They’re both signed to deserving nine-figure contracts. They’re not going to win every game on their own, but they’ll win some! They’ll have some fourth-quarter comebacks, and they probably won’t be the reason their team lost. Put Stafford or Ryan on the Jaguars or Vikings last year. Do we have a different Super Bowl?
And again, Stafford and Ryan cost their team a top-five draft pick. The Eagles and Rams traded away several years of picks for their QB. So did the Texans and the Chiefs, and those moves were for guys that hadn’t even played in the NFL and might not even be any good. Kirk Cousins is available for free! He costs zero draft picks!!
Quarterbacks don’t have to be Aaron Rodgers to be insanely valuable. If Ryan or Stafford were available in free agency, either would be one of the best NFL free agents of all time. But they’re not, and that’s precisely the point! Quarterbacks like Stafford and Ryan are not available in free agency!
Kirk Cousins is such a valuable free agent that over half the NFL should be preparing to at least consider a real offer for him right now.
Don’t believe me?
Green Bay, Atlanta, and Seattle are definitely out. MVP contenders in their prime will do just fine, thank you. Philly is out too, between Wentz and another year of Foles.
The Bears, Bucs, Rams, Chiefs, and Texans are out. They have too much invested into a young signal caller and need to see where this goes. Carolina, Detroit, Oakland, San Francisco, Indy (?), and Washington (LOL) are out, too. They each have a very expensive, palatable quarterback option.
Every other team should at least consider adding Kirk Cousins.
It would be shocking to see the Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, or Saints go after Cousins, but with quarterbacks all on their last legs, wouldn’t their teams be better off with Captain Kirk on a nice long-term deal? The Titans and Cowboys probably need to stick with their guys at least one more season to make sure they know what’s there. But you’d feel better about both teams heading into the season with Cousins, right?
That’s six teams that should consider Cousins, even though they won’t. Now add in the other 11 teams for whom Cousins would be an immediate and massive improvement:
- New York (both versions)
Look at that list. Cousins would be Miami’s first genuinely competent quarterback since Dan Marino. He’d be the best Buffalo QB since Drew Bledsoe or Jim Kelly. Let’s run through the list again and think about the last time these teams had an in-prime top-15 quarterback for at least three years:
- Arizona — Jake Plummer, 1997–2002
- Buffalo — Drew Bledsoe, 2002–04
- Baltimore — Joe Flacco, briefly?
- Cincinnati — Carson Palmer 2004–10
- Cleveland — Bernie Kosar, 1986–91
- Denver — Peyton Manning, 2012–14
- Jacksonville — Mark Brunell, 1997–2002
- Miami — Dan Marino, 1983–98
- Minnesota — Daunte Culpepper, 2000–04
- New York Giants — Eli Manning, 2004–2016
- New York Jets — Chad Pennington? Boomer Esiason? Ken O’Brien? Joe Namath?!
Eight of those teams haven’t had a quarterback as valuable as Kirk Cousins in about 15 years. Eight! That’s a quarter of the league! And that’s not even counting teams like the Bears, Rams, Bucs, and Texans who belong on the list but are too busy trying out young options.
Around 40% of the league hasn’t had as good a player in sports’ most important position in 15 years. Heck, Cousins would immediately be the best quarterback in history for a few of those franchises.
Think of it another way. How many quarterbacks would you definitely rather have leading your team than Cousins this year?
Brady. Rodgers. Russ. Brees. Ryan. I think that’s it.
Wentz is hurt. Roethlisberger and Rivers have slipped. Luck might be broken. Newton too.
Heck, Brady and Brees are 40 and 39. Rodgers and Russ seem to get nicked up every year. Ryan might have just had that one epic MVP year. You’d definitely take every one of them over Cousins for one game right now, but he might be a more reliable option by next January.
Kirk Cousins is good. He’s not great yet, but he could be, and he’ll be a great signing for any team lucky enough to nab him.
He’ll be expensive. The way the NFL market works, you can expect Cousins to sign a deal averaging around $28 million a season, highest in NFL history. That’s fine. Ryan Tannehill will make $19 million this season. Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton will make $18 and $16 million. Minnesota’s pupu platter trio made $18 million last year. Quarterbacks are expensive.
So Cousins costs an extra $10 million than your crappy backup option. What exactly would you like your team to do with that extra $10 million? Does it involve putting on some sort of entertaining January weekend show, because your team probably won’t have anything else to do.
The salary cap this season is $177 million, so a team signing Cousins will spend approximately one-sixth of their cap to have a top 10 or 12 quarterback.
To put it another way, half of the NFL can use Kirk Cousins at the most important position in sports, they’ll still have 85% of their cap to fill out the roster around them, and players like Cousins are available in free agency approximately once every decade.
So what exactly are teams waiting for?