By Jason Keidel
Since I’m from New York City, I’m supposed to see the endless wisdom of Kirk Cousins playing for the New York Jets.
As if the Jets don’t already have a haunted history, still looking for their first great quarterback since Joe Namath, we’re now supposed to rubber-stamp Cousins swathed in Gang Green. It begs a couple questions.
Why is Cousins, in his absolute prime at 29, a free agent to begin with? And why, if he’s so great and so coveted, did his home franchise, let him walk? The moment Washington had the reasonable chance to replace Cousins, they did, trading for Alex Smith. You could argue Smith isn’t much better than Cousins, and is three years older, yet the Redskins jumped on the chance to get him.
What does that say about Cousins that the one club that has all the film, all the friendships, and all the experience with Cousins couldn’t wait to part ways with him? Sure, they handcuffed him with the franchise tag the last two years, but only because they hadn’t found his replacement. His own boss, team president Bruce Allen, called him Kurt Cousins.
By the way, you’re not hearing much outrage from the media or the masses — or Redskins fans — aghast at the idea of losing Cousins. Most pundits like Cousins, but feel he’s largely a system quarterback, about as good as the parts around him. Cousins is not Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, or any transcendent QB who literally lifts and transforms his team into a Super Bowl contender.
Cousins was good enough to be franchise tagged. He’s certainly among the top-20 quarterbacks in the NFL. But the Jets will be asked to break the bank for his services, and make Kirk Cousins the highest-paid QB in the world. Why? The Jets are more than one season from becoming a playoff club. And yes, they have the cash, about $80 million in cap space as of this month. But just because you have the money doesn’t mean you have to spend it, and spend it poorly.
We can agree, however, that Cousins would be perfect for a club that’s loaded everywhere but under center. He could parachute into Minnesota, Jacksonville, Arizona, or Denver and hit the ground throwing. Since the Jags just signed Blake Bortles to an extension, that leaves the Vikings and Broncos. If Minnesota is sold on Case Keenum, and franchise tag him, then we are left with Arizona and Denver. (Forget the Dallas rumors. Not even the Cowboys are flamboyant enough to pair Cousins with Dak Prescott, his sophomore slump be damned.)
The Cardinals have a solid roster. Ageless marvel Larry Fitzgerald is returning in 2018. David Johnson, the best all-around back not named Le’Veon Bell, should return from the knee injury that sidelined him in 2017. Their defense is still stout, despite losing Calais Campbell to the Jaguars a year ago. There’s a little uncertainty on the sideline, however, with Bruce Arians retiring, and his replacement, Steve Wilks, about to coach his first NFL game.
So how about Denver? Von Miller — who leads a robust Broncos defense — has openly courted Cousins. No NFL executive understands the rigors of playing QB than team czar John Elway, one of the five best ever to take a snap. Denver has recent history with making things work with gifted, discarded quarterbacks. Not that Cousins is Peyton Manning, but with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas on the outside, Cousins could make serious hay with that offense.
Renowned NFL personnel man and former Cowboys VP Gil Brandt thinks the Vikings are the spot for Cousins. But they just came within four quarters of the Super Bowl with Keenum. Plus, the AFC, where the Broncos call plays, presents a far less perilous path to the Super Bowl than the NFC, home of the Super Bowl champion Eagles. In the NFC, Cousins would also have to worry about the ever-dangerous Seahawks, Panthers, Packers, and Saints — all of whom could contend for a ring in 2018. In the AFC, it’s New England, Pittsburgh, and, that’s about it. (That is, unless Bortles has a stunning makeover in Jacksonville.)
For all the talk of the Patriots, Steelers, and other AFC blue bloods, the Broncos have a remarkable history of success. Indeed, in the 35 years since Elway was drafted (1983), the Broncos have had just six losing seasons. It helps to have Elway and Manning over many of those years, but they’ve also won with Jay Cutler and Jake Plummer, neither of whom are better than Cousins.
Kirk Cousins would do well in Denver, one of the most stable teams and systems for the ultimate system quarterback.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.