*Editor’s Note: This article was written on March 1st. Scot McCloughan has been fired since then, but the premise of the article remains.
The Kirk Cousins story is fascinating in numerous ways. Living the life of a tumultuous Redskins fan has allowed me to see this situation unfurl up close and personal. While listening to D.C. sports-radio and fervently reading the Washington Post the last 2 months, I have witnessed a befuddled and unsettled fan-base emerge. No, no, not that normal demoralized fan base of the Snyder era where the Redskins lacked answers at every crucial component of a thriving franchise; quarterback, head coach, and general manager. What the last two years have shown is promise, hope, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Where there was once questions, there were now answers.
….so wait, what happened? How did we get here? The answer seems simple, right? Just sign the man to a long term-contract you say? A team that has failed to have a true franchise quarterback (sorry Jason Campbell) in almost 25 years, is right in front of you? The Redskins just posted back to back winning seasons for the first time since the 1996 and 1997 seasons, with this guy Kirk Cousins at the helm? I pose all these statements as questions, not because I am unsure of them, but because the Redskins organization appears to be. The Redskins finally seemed to have their shit together, they answered the 3-peat question of quarterback, head coach, and general manager to the tune of Kirk Cousins, Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan. With the constant “will they won’t they?” story that is Kirk Cousins contract some of the old skeletons from the Redskins closet have been dragged out. So let me give you a little context.
First came Jay Gruden, a promising offensive coordinator from Cincinnati, who helped develop an Andy Dalton led offense into a juggernaut. Jay had a proven track-record as an offensive guru and was eager to prove himself as a head coach. Originally brought to Washington to be the savior for a fizzling RG3, he quickly realized that only Jesus could bring the once second overall pick from the dead. Jay found his own savior, for what would have most likely been a short lived head coaching stint, in a quarterback also drafted by the Shanahan regime.
Cousins is a former 2012 fourth round pick that was selected in the same draft as RG3 by the Shanahans as “insurance”. Realizing Kirk was the deserving starting quarterback wasn’t the difficult part for Jay though, the challenging part was breaking up the BFF’s Robert and Dan. You see when Robert fell out of favor with the Shanahan’s at the end of the 2013-2014 season, he buddied up even closer with Dan Snyder, the tyrannical power who has been ruling the Redskins like Sauron with the One True Ring since 1999. At the end of that season, Mike Shanahan was fed up with Robert’s antics, the blame-game he played with his teammates, the cryptic messages he gave to the media, having Pops come into the locker room after a loss, oh and did I mention of his complete inability to read a defense? Yeah, that one was a pretty big deal too. On the surface, the Shanahan’s drafted Cousins as insurance to RG3, or at least that’s how they sold it to President of Football Operations, Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder. But they actually were very impressed with Kirk’s skill set and knew he could develop into a good quarterback. So after a fucking disastrous 2013-2014 season, to put it lightly, Mike Shanahan was ready to try something new at the quarterback position. But what? Oh I don’t know, perhaps the quarterback he actually liked, Kirk Cousins? The Eye of Sauron sees all though, and this did not fly with Snyder.
Here we come to our first piece of evidence as why Kirk may not want to stay with the franchise. Shanahan wanting to move on from RG3 onto Cousins, led to an eruption within the organization and from everything I read during that time, it got downright dirty between the Shanahan’s and Snyder/Allen. Seeing this type of dysfunction and turmoil in an organization probably raised a couple red flags in Kirk’s eyes and who can blame him? Could you imagine your manager and the CEO at your company being at odds over promoting you to a position? You would probably feel disrespected and not appreciated and that can burden someone for quite some time. Now, Cousins is a professional and I’m not saying this is the reason that he wouldn’t sign long-term with the Redskins, I’m just pointing out it could be a factor. The feud eventually ended with the firing of Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan, because Dan Snyder gets his way, he is the owner (Sauron) after all. Dan wasn’t quite ready to break up with his friend who he traded 2 first round picks for and at the time a lot of people (people who don’t study football for a living) agreed with Dan. The flaws and faults that are so damning to the 2017 Cleveland Brown RG3, weren’t so clear to Dan and frankly the Redskins fanbase in 2014. People were still enamored with the electrifying rookie campaign that RG3 had and he was supposed to be the savior of Washington D.C., Black Jesus, right?
“Wrong!”-Trump. So began Gruden’s first season which I have anointed as the “The Great Quarterback Carousel of 2014-2015”. This occurred during my senior year of college, so granted a lot of things were a blur, but I vaguely remember a combination of starting quarterbacks including RG3, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy none of whom could establish any type of consistency as a starting quarterback. Whether it be due to injury, turnover-syndrome, or simply a lack of production, none of them could gain a foothold on the starting job. Cousins seemed to throw a guaranteed two interceptions per game and every time it appeared he was on the cusp of a great outing, he would make a mistake then proceed to self-destruct. So the questions lingered and the direction of the franchise had more rerouting than me on a road trip with Google Maps. The 2014-2015 Redskins finished 4-12 and were a combined 7-25 the last 2 seasons, a common theme of Dan Snyder’s tenure. But as they say, it is always darkest before the dawn.
“Look to my coming, on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn, look to the East”- Scot McCloughan. Ok that was actually Gandalf, but the two could draw a lot of parallels. They were both experts at their craft, McCloughan had helped create the core of the 2012 49er’s championship run (GM from 2008-2009) and then he did it again building the foundation of the perennial contender Seahawks (GM from 2010-2013). But like Gandalf, McCloughan also had his battle with demons that detracted from his success. McCloughan’s demon happened to be alcohol, something that millions of people throughout America suffer with, but these people aren’t the head honcho of an NFL organization. At first his plight was not public knowledge, it wasn’t something he would ever openly talk about. But after his surprising resignation from the Seahawks at the end of the 2013 season (he was pushed out), the stories began to trickle out and the image came into focus. “There’s an old joke in the NFL that everyone is either born-again or alcoholic. Scot McCloughan isn’t born-again.”
So Gandalf and Scot McCloughan were cast into the shadows by their respective demons, perhaps never to be seen again.
It seemed like the Redskins and Scot McCloughan were desperate for each other. The Redskins were in complete disarray, needing someone to right the ship. McCloughan, after a two year hiatus from the league and kicking his demons to the curb (to an extent?), was eager to prove he was still one of the best in the business. So like the born again Gandalf the White riding his badass stallion to the rescue of Aragon at Helms Deep, when all seemed lost, here came McCloughan to the Redskins
“In Scot we Trust”
This moniker quickly developed among the D.C. faithful. For the first time since Snyder took office, we had a man with the position of “General Manager” attached to his name. Scot was going to be the guy that finally had the balls to stand up to Dan Snyder when it came to player personnel, he was going to fix all of the Redskins problems, he was going to get so many “football players” we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.
Enter the 2015-2016 season. The Redskins picked up a contract option to keep RG3 around one more year. Anointed the starting quarterback at the beginning of training camp, it was looking like he would get one last chance. Then, something funny happened. On August 31, 2015 Jay Gruden announced that Kirk Cousins would be the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins for the 2015 season.
Holy shit, I wish I was a fly on the wall when Jay told Dan that was going to happen.
Enter the Cousins/Gruden/McCloughan era. It wasn’t a painless path that brought them all together, so why should the start of their tenure be? The Kirk Cousins led Redskins started 2-4 and in their seventh game found themselves down 24-0 to rookie Jamesis Winston’s Buccaneers. This is a familiar feeling for a Redskins fan, this felt like a marquee signature game to another lost season. Then a not so familiar thing happened… we fought back. God must have turned a switch on in Kirk’s head, because after this exact moment, he has been on the fucking warpath. He led the Redskins back from the jaws of defeat to top the Buccaneers 31 to 30, on a throw to Pierre Garcon for a game sealing touchdown. It was the largest deficit the Redskins had overcome for a win in franchise history. This game spawned the famous “YOU LIKE THAT?!” and the rest they say is history.
…….Well it would have been in a functional franchise. Kirk went on to have a fantastic season and helped the Redskins clinch the NFC East for the first time since 2012 (Robert who?). He led the NFL in completion percentage at 69.8%, threw for almost 4,200 yards and had 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The Redskins fell to Aaron Rodger’s Packers in the first round of the playoffs, but that was okay, the quarterback of the future may have just been found.
And here we have discovered a second piece of evidence, the 2015-2016 offseason.
“Oh shit, Kirk Cousins rookie contract is up” – Redskins organization, circa January 2016. The NFL is a quarterback-hungry league, many teams are begging for an answer at quarterback, even one that is shown brief glimpses (hey Brock Osweiler, hey Matt Flynn). How about a quarterback that put together a full season resume such as Cousins? Teams are salivating.
Haha well…. not the Redskins. The Redskins were in no rush in negotiating a long term contract with Cousins, they were content with tagging him and letting the market dictate his price. With other free agents such as Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick looking to sign new contracts, the Redskins would play the wait and see game. Did I mention that the NFL is a quarterback hungry league? The Houston Texans signed Brock Oswieler to a 4 year $72 million (with $37 million guaranteed) contract, after appearing in 8 games for the eventual Superbowl champion Broncos.
Let me pause while the Redskins front office spits out their water. I would also like to pause while I hug Houston’s front office and remind them that hindsight is 20/20.
$18 million a year, Brock frigging Osweiler is getting paid $18 million a year. This is for an 8 game showcase that he had on a team that probably could of won the Superbowl if I was quarterback with that dominant defense. This set the precedent for what a long term contract should look like for Kirk, at the MINIMUM. Kirk put together a full season, and I’m sure many would agree (especially now), he looked better than Osweiler doing it.
Now this is where things get tricky when looking at the Redskins front office. Because at the time we thought Scot would be the one with the most influence and decision power in this situation. Redskins fans were led to believe that Snyder and Bruce Allen had backed off a bit, and were letting Scot do his thing. Damn we were naïve, because we believed the same thing when Shanahan was brought in. We were finally being run like a real organization right? Well…. recent reports from the last two months regarding the front office dynamic have been released and it appears we have been bamboozled, and Snyder is still the egotistical, power-mongering bastard that we all know and love (not), along with his yes-man sidekick Vinny Cerr- errr I mean Bruce Allen. More on that when we get to Exhibit C. Whoever was running the front office (Snyder) and was in charge of negotiating this contract (Allen), botched it and I mean BOTCHED it. Now I took a negotiating class in college so I like to think I know a thing or two, but it doesn’t take 3 hour college credit to know that you don’t lowball someone so hard that it’s virtually a bitch slap in the face.
So what does the Redskins front office do? They lowballed the living shit out of Cousins.
Now Cousins and his agent I imagine would start the negotiation at around $22 million a year and would look to settle in the range of $18 to $20 million. He probably expected the Redskins to start around $16 to $17 million and they would meet in his settlement range. So when I read reports that the Redskins were offering $14-16 million a year and that was their ceiling, my jaw dropped. Do they not see what Brock was just paid? Do they know what the market for an above average starting quarterback is? Do they know Kirk was drafted and developed by this team? Did anyone in the front office complete the eighth grade?
These are all questions I ask myself. But Kirk and his agent probably had a good laugh to themselves, took the $20 million franchise tag, and said you know what, I think I’ll just bet on myself so I can get a real payday next year. Maybe the very religious Cousins thought “frick off” in his head, but I don’t want to sully his name. We seem to be seeing a theme of disrespect towards Cousins stemming from the front office, emitting a feeling that he is not wanted here, and that the Redskins thinking they can do better (queue Marvin’s Room). Cousins just had an unbelievable season and the Redskins said “ehhhh yeah that was okay, but let’s see if you can do it for two seasons in a row!”
So he did.
And oh my have the tables turned. The 2016-2017 Kirk Cousins Revenge Tour
Again hind sight is 20/20, but Cousins should have been signed in that 2016 offseason. The majority of the fanbase wanted him to be signed, but were content with the franchise tag because we are all procrastinators saying “we can worry about it next offseason”. Well here we are, now in March of 2017 and he is probably asking for around $24 million a year. Joke is on you Redskins! Cousins caught the Redskins with their pants around their ankles, while he ran around the field throwing for nearly 5,000 yards in 2016, laughing to himself the whole time while tussling Scot’s hair on the side.
Cousins had a disappointing end to the season with a loss to the Giants in a potential playoff clenching game. But he orchestrated a high octane offense and carried a pitiful defense on his back to an 8-7-1 record. Back to back winning seasons ain’t a bad stat for your first two years as a starter.
So how do the Redskins prepare for an offseason negotiation? Why with more scandal and dysfunction of course! It all started at the Senior Bowl a few weeks ago, when Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden addressed the media, asserting that they want “Kurt (god damn it Bruce, get it right)” Cousins to be the quarterback of the future
While this was great to hear, people also wanted to hear it from our beloved General Manager Scot. So the questions began to roll in, why had Scot not also claimed Kirk as the long term answer to the media? Sometimes you shouldn’t ask questions if you aren’t ready for the answer. The answer: Scot McCloughan is barred from talking to the media. He wasn’t allowed to speak at the Senior Bowl and the reports are he won’t be able to speak at the NFL combine. Wait hold on a second, a general manager of an NFL organization is not “allowed” to talk to the media? Are you fucking kidding me? Allegedly Allen wants him to be “locked in on talent evaluation.” Oh I’m sorry I didn’t realize that around 30 minutes of total talk time would be such a huge distraction for Scot. You would think after being a fan of this circus for 23 years, I would stop being surprised, but they never cease to amaze me.
So with that the rumors began to swirl, there is speculation that Allen is jealous that McCloughan is getting all the credit for the teams turn-around. Chris Cooley, former player for the Redskins made a claim that Scot was hitting the bottle again and that’s why he is not allowed to speak. The Redskins organization runs in a similar fashion to a boy’s high school locker room.
All of this has contributed to a perfect storm, a storm we have never seen anything quite like before.
A player wielding total power and control. This is the most compelling part to the whole story.
For so long the corporate component of the NFL (the front office/owners) or “the man” has been a behemoth deity sitting upon a golden throne, tossing down pennies while they take baths in a ruby-studded tub full of gold. Ok maybe that’s a little far, but you get my point. NFL players make a hell of a lot more money than I ever will, but it often feels as if they are pawns in a chess game being used to make the rich owners even richer. Stories like CTE breaking a few years ago, emphasize this point. The well-being and safety of players were being taken for granted to ensure the best product was kept on the field. It often feels like the owners and Player’s Union are forever at odds and the owners always win (Brady v. Goodell anyone?). Contracts always seem to favor the team’s side, not the player. The league is a cruel mistress.
Is it a bird, is it a plane? No that’s Captain Kirk Cousins coming to defy the standards in a 2000 GMC Savanna!
Kirk holds all the power. He is the vigilante superhero the players deserve and need. As I write this, the Redskins just slapped the exclusive franchise tag on him for the 2017-2018 season. This is the second year the Redskins have used the franchise tag on him. Now you might say, wait a second Evan, doesn’t the franchise tag represent “the man’s” control over the players? I would reply to that with, well Kirk is now guaranteed to make $44 million combined in 2 years and if any team were to ever slap another franchise tag on him (the third of his career) he would be paid $35 million (if used in 2019, more if it were to be used in the future) for one year. So to clarify, he will not be getting franchise tagged again because that is an absurd price tag and after this year he could create a bidding war and play for the suitor of his choosing. And the way he has been treated by the Redskins front office, he won’t be giving any hometown discounts.
He will be in his prime at 29 next offseason, play the most coveted position in football, and he will be able to choose where he plays if the Redskins can’t lock him down this year.
God damn it must feel good to be Kirk Cousins
The play of Cousins and the ineptitude of the Redskins front office has created this, we are all just witnesses. It’s not too late for the fairy tale ending that the Redskins were hoping for, just like the Great Eagles swooping in and rescuing Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom to make a happy ending, we could still see Cousins/Gruden/McCloughan riding off into the sunset with a Lombardi trophy. The road just got bumpier and the destination just looks farther away.
It is said all the time, but is still the most overlooked statement by fans, the NFL is a business first and foremost and it will forever remain that way. And it happens that the Redskins run more akin to a circus rather than a business.
As the great Wu-Tang-Clan declared “Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M, get the money, dollar dollar bills y’all.”