When the Washington Redskins selected Michigan State Quarterback Kirk Cousins with the 102nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, I was as shocked as the next guy. Even Cousins himself reacted with surprise: “I was trying to forecast which teams would be looking at a quarterback, and didn’t see the Redskins thinking along those lines.”
Were they hedging their bet on RGIII by drafting a backup as the Redskins had done nearly twenty years prior by taking Gus Frerotte late in the same draft in which they took Heath Shuler third overall? Was Mike Shanahan bringing in some competition to drive Griffin in training camp? The talking heads in the media wailed on and on about how the Cousins pick was made at the expense of filling other holes on the team. They explained that Robert Griffin the Third would be insulted by this move and how it brought needless drama to a team who finally had a franchise quarterback for the first time since Lawrence Taylor ended Joe Theismann’s career.
Since the day he arrived in Redskins camp, Kirk Cousins has allayed any and all concerns.
The affable Michigan State product instantly gained the respect of his teammates. He had no illusions about wrestling the starting job away from RGIII. He came in every day and prepared himself to play at a moment’s notice, but never at Griffin’s expense. There was never any tension or drama. When Cousins was finally called on to play, in December, with the season on the line, facing the eventual Superbowl Champions, Cousins finished an 84 yard drive with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. Still needing two points to tie, the 4th round pick took the ball on a quarterback draw to send the game into overtime. Perhaps Cousins’ heroics inspired the special teams unit, because the Redskins won the game in overtime thanks to an excellent punt return by Richard Crawford and a 34 yard field goal by Kai Forbath. After the game, praise for Cousins came from all directions. Notably from receiver Joshua Morgan who said “He’s ice. Like they used to say about Larry Bird, he got ice water in his veins. That’s the best thing you can say about Kirk. He was coming like nothing was even going on.”
Cousins started the next game at Cleveland and impressed the critics. A player with a bigger ego may have let the success go to their head. They might have pushed for a trade so they could start, but not Cousins. He gladly handed the reins back to Griffin who led the team to wins against division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas.
Not only does Cousins’ play on the field illustrate his value as a backup quarterback, but he always says the right things. When Cousins, a devout Christian, was recently asked about the possibility of a gay teammate in the NFL, plenty could have gone wrong. It’s a controversial topic in sports, but Cousins avoided the politically charged question the same way he avoids the blitz. The quarterback explained that, like Jesus, he wants to love everyone equally, and the question of sexual orientation wouldn’t be an issue. In a recent interview Cousins was asked about starting the season as the Redskins quarterback. Showing characteristic team first spirit he had no illusions that he’d keep the job when Griffin was healthy. “He may be ready by mid-August. He may be ready mid-September, mid-October. “Cousins explained “I don’t know. That’s not my job. My job is to get myself ready and when called upon, deliver.”
And deliver he has.
It’s cliche to say that depth at quarterback is crucial in today’s NFL. Truth be told, it’s always been important. When confronted with a good example of a backup QB, one can’t help but think of the bad examples. My mind jumped to Buffalo Bills QB Billy Joe Hobert, a former college star at Washington, who was called upon to replace Todd Collins in a week 7 game against the Patriots. Hobert was awful, looked unprepared, and after the game he willingly admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read the playbook. He was cut immediately after the game.
In Cousins the Redskins have a great backup quarterback. Not only is he someone who they can count on to play at a high level if the need arises, he’s someone who sets the tempo in practices, commands respect in the locker room and diligently prepares himself and the team to play on Sundays.
When the Redskins traded up from 6th overall in the 2012 NFL draft, in addition to giving up the 6th pick, they gave up their second rounder in 2012 and first rounders in 2013 and 2014. By any measure, that’s a king’s ransom, but it was worth it to nab a player of Griffin’s caliber. Some day, I believe that Kirk Cousins will help us get back some of those picks and restore the balance. As much as I respect Cousins’ contributions to the Redskins 2012 season, I know that some day a team will want him as their starter. Tom Brady’s backup, Matt Cassel was traded to Kansas City for a high second round pick. Michael Vick’s backup, Matt Schaub was traded to Houston in 2007 for two second rounders and an exchange in first round picks. There’s a precedent set for dealing quality backups with starting potential to QB needy teams. The day will come when Cousins approaches free agency and we’ll need to trade him for picks or get nothing in return. When that day comes I’ll be happy for the extra picks, I’ll be glad for the example he set, and I’ll wish him luck as a starting quarterback.
I just hope the Redskins won’t have to face him.