We love quarterback controversies in Washington, D.C. And while I have no intention of starting one, Robert Griffin III’s return from knee surgery has created uncertainty regarding his ability to begin the 2013 season under center for the Washington Redskins. Of course, if Griffin is unable to start in Week 1, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will.
Cousins, a Michigan State alum entering his second season, shined last year in limited action. He engineered a game-winning drive against the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens before leading the team to a 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns in his first start the following week.
Now, before moving ahead, it should be noted I am on record as saying there is no reason for Griffin to start Week 1 considering the severity of his injury and the fact it happened in January. If the decision were mine, Griffin would be back after the Week-5 bye and start the game in Dallas on Oct. 13. Nevertheless, Griffin, and his often discussed return to health, will not be the will be the focus here.
See, in all this speculation concerning Griffin, Cousins is an incredibly intriguing subplot. For a team that has struggled immensely in recent years to find a capable starting quarterback, Cousins provides a luxury the Redskins could have only dreamed of two years ago: a backup more than capable of starting in the NFL.
And after watching the likes of Rex Grossman, John Beck, Tim Hasselbeck, Danny Wuerrfel, Shane Matthews, Tony Banks and other unimpressive signal-callers behind center in recent years, Cousins potentially provides the team with a dilemma I cannot recall it having; a dilemma with more complications than many might think.
To begin, as we saw last year, Cousins has value to the Redskins as a backup. While the team was criticized for drafting two quarterbacks in 2012, it is conceivable that the Redskins would not have either the Baltimore or Cleveland games without Cousins. Simply put, Cousins has value being on the roster.
He has value on the trade market, as well, that exceeds the fourth-round draft position, and he showed last year that the Redskins got an exceptional value for the pick. Clearly, that value could increase with more impressive play.
Now, the Redskins don’t have to make a decision regarding Cousins immediately. Still, the clock is probably ticking a little quicker than some might think. Further, the Redskins do not yet have the luxury of the information they would like to make an informed decision.
Remember, Cousins is signed with the team through 2015 and will be an unrestricted free agent when his contract with the team is up, meaning the team probably has to make a decision regarding Cousins after this season or next. In other words, if the team goes into 2015 without either signing Cousins to a long-term deal or trading him, the likelihood that he walks without the team receiving compensation is high.
Now, I’d argue the decision to move Cousins for high-round draft picks would be an easy one if there was greater certainty surrounding Griffin.
While Redskins fans should be optimistic about the future of a healthy Griffin, the dynamic quarterback’s rookie season showed a healthy Griffin is no sure thing. Further, there is little data regarding quarterbacks like Griffin who rely heavily on their ability to make plays outside the pocket.
In other words, if Griffin’s injury woes persist, Cousins’ value to the Redskins increases.
Of course, another variable here is Cousins himself.
The quarterback has on numerous occasions, tactfully, yet firmly, stated his desire to be a starting quarterback. Clearly, he understands his current role as Griffin’s understudy, but he has greater aspirations. Further, this particular situation is unique in that Cousins is not younger than Griffin, a la Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre or Steve Young to Joe Montana.
Cousins and Griffin were drafted the same year, and there will come a time when there isn’t room for both. Will the Redskins have all the information by then to make the right decision?
Time will tell.