The thing that baffled me the most was their certainty, their staunch and steadfast belief that Kirk Cousins was a bum, period. Critics looked past his glimpses of excessive competence and downplayed his paucity of meaningful experience, concluding that Cousins’ NFL destiny was as a clipboard-holder, at best.
I wasn’t positive Cousins could take his skill-set, overcome his habit for bad interceptions and become a bona fide starting quarterback. But I definitely thought it was possible and wanted to find out. Robert Griffin III’s performance through the preseason only confirmed my belief that Cousins deserved a shot and gave Washington the best chance to win.
Coach Jay Gruden clearly was correct in naming Cousins as the starter. It’s safe to say Washington has its quarterback of the future. He’s the one who led the NFL in completion percentage and threw 23 touchdowns against three interceptions in the final 10 games. During the four-game winning streak that clinched the NFC East, he threw 12 touchdowns and one pick.
I suppose skeptics still exist, needing to see more than one exemplary season. They can point to fools’ gold such as Matt Cassel and wonder if Cousins fits the profile. Cassel was a New England backup for three years before Tom Brady went down with a season-ending injury in the 2008 opener.
Cassel threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. The Patriots packaged him and linebacker Mike Vrabel in a trade with Kansas City, netting a second-round pick they used on defensive back Patrick Chung. Cassel was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010 but has been overwhelming disappointing since he left New England. His career quarterback rating is 79.3, which ranks 70tth among passers with at least 1,500 attempts.
We could spend the rest of our lives trying to break the code for quarterback predictions, sorting the Cassels and Scott Mitchells from the Bradys and the Kurt Warners. The stakes are such that teams willingly spend multiple first-round picks to find “the one.”
Since the 2005 draft, Cleveland and Tennessee have selected three quarterbacks in the opening round. Five teams have drafted two QBs in the first round during that span, including Washington (Griffin and Jason Campbell) and Jacksonville, which took Blaine Gabbert and Blake Bortles three years apart.
In 2013, Minnesota selected Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round and Oakland selected Derek Carr early in the second round. Bridgewater just led the Vikings to the NFC North title. Carr just threw for 3,987 yards, completing 61.1 percent of his passes, with 32 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
Cleveland could’ve taken Bridgewater or Carr with the 22nd pick, but instead went with Johnny Manziel, another setback for the moribund franchise. Manziel’s immaturity and inability to re-create “Johnny Football” magic has doomed him to uncertainty in the NFL.
In that regard, he joins another Heisman Trophy-winning, spread quarterback from the state of Texas: RG3.
Griffin played a vital role in Washington’s success this season by refusing to be a distraction. Since his demotion in August, RG3 has kept his head down and his mouth shut, suffering the ignominy with class and grace. He didn’t grumble during a 2-4 start as Cousins threw eight interceptions and six touchdown passes. Griffin played the role of good teammate, cheering and encouraging players who actually suited up and saw action.
Now, RG3 and Manziel seem headed elsewhere next season. Speculation on their landing places almost rivals the guessing-game on upcoming coaching hires, but both players have been linked to the Cowboys. A pair of fans at Sunday’s game wore No. 10 Dallas jerseys with “RGIII” on the back. And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who remains an unabashed fan, nearly drafted Manziel with the 16th pick in 2013.
It appears that Griffin will have more suitors than Manziel, whose off-field drama makes him less attractive. Based on his Rookie of the Year season in 2012, RG3 is worth a flier for many QB-challenged squads. Conversely, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King estimates that 25 teams probably wouldn’t put in a waiver claim for Manziel.
While those two contemplate their future organizations, Cousins can look forward to a huge payday and building upon his first full season as an NFL starter. If he doesn’t get any better, he can be an upper-echelon quarterback with 2015 as his norm. Especially in this scheme with these playmakers.
Breaking the franchise’s single-season record for passing yards is “a reflection of our entire offense,” he told reporters Sunday. “You couldn’t put up a statistic like that without phenomenal play calling, preparation, coach’s game planning, really talented weapons to throw to and getting the protection I got from the offensive line.”
He left off the trainers and the cooks. But he surely meant to credit them as well. His humility and team-first attitude – along with his eye-opening performance – have made him the unquestioned team leader.
No one saw that coming, yours truly included.
I’m just amazed at everyone who said it was impossible.