I was caught off guard when I heard the news of the Alex Smith trade. Especially as more details came to light, a 3rd round pick along with a 22 year old corner back in Kendall Fuller. The actual assets traded for Alex Smith I thought were a good deal especially when you take into account that he is 33 years old and on the last year of his contract. What came as a surprise to me is the team that eventually made the deal, it was pretty much expected that Smith was going to be traded but I did not see the Redskins being the ones to make the deal. For starters the Redskins have Kirk Cousins, albeit not under contract, but you franchise him two straight years just to trade for another quarterback and give him 3rd most guaranteed money in the NFL at 71 million behind Luck and Stafford. Now I understand that Cousins will likely take over the title of highest paid player in the NFL and has a chance to get 100 million guaranteed, but he wasn’t worth 100 million two years ago when the Redskins first franchise tagged him. The Redskins spent 44 million for the last two year rather than giving him a long term extension in 2016 when they could have locked Kirk up long term for less guaranteed then he will be demanding now. But this isn’t a blog about the Redskins poor management, or about the deal that Alex Smith got, it is to look at Kirk Cousins as a player and some of the pros and cons of signing a franchise quarterback in free agency.
When reading the last sentence of the above paragraph some people might think that there are no cons to signing a franchise quarterback in free agency, I for one disagree. Any time you shell out the kind of money cousins is going to warrant there will be drawbacks. A lot of people are comparing Kirk Cousins hitting free agency to Drew Brees hitting free agency in 2006, but Cousins is 4 years older and not coming off a serious shoulder injury like Brees. So in reality the only way the two are similar is in the fact that it is two pro bowl quarterbacks hitting free agency. I don’t think teams will look at what Brees has done in New Orleans as what can be expected of Cousins, and since he originally signed in 2006 the money is obsolete. So with that out of the way let’s dive into a few of the cons of signing a high level quarterback in free agency.
- The money. Like I said above, signing Cousins will most likely mean making him the highest paid player in NFL history, which is fine and good if you are a team with an established roster ready to win now and your only missing piece is a quarterback. The Jets aren’t that roster, their offensive line needs a ton of work, their receiving corps is good but you don’t know how healthy Enunwa is going to be or what will happen with Robbie Anderson. Their defense showed flashes of promise but is still one of the youngest units in the league and their secondary was one of the most penalized in the NFL last year. So if they commit the type of money that it will take to sign Cousins, it may hinder your ability to get other top level free agents. I know the Jets have a lot of cap space this upcoming offseason but like I said they have needs at positions other than just quarterback.
- Jets don’t get to draft “their guy”. This is a narrative I have heard floating around a lot and basically means if you sign cousins you are locked into him for the next 5 years meaning the Jets wouldn’t be taking a quarterback in the draft this year. When teams draft a quarterback early like many expect the Jets may if they miss out on Cousins, it’s someone who they can develop and build a system around for the next minimum 5 years. Signing Cousins means you know what you’re getting, Quarterbacks don’t normally improve in their 30’s, and what you’re getting is a very good quarterback but not someone I would consider elite. Now do I trust the Jets to draft and develop a QB into an elite talent? No, I don’t but at least through the draft you get that semblance of hope.
- Doesn’t make you division favorites. Signing a player to the size of contract Cousins will get, you want that to mean that you are going from where you are to contending for the super bowl, or at least contending to win your division every year. The problem with the Jets is that wouldn’t be the case if they were to sign cousins, considering they are in the Pats division. They would be paying top dollar for potentially not top dollar results. This is something fans need to take into account when it comes to looking at the Jets quarterback options. The questions they need to ask themselves is, if we sign Cousins does he make this team a perennial Playoff team.
Now that the negatives are out of the way, it’s time to move onto the pros of signing a quarterback through free agency, and then take a look back and see if the pros outweigh the cons.
- You know what you are getting. This is sort of the counter argument for drafting “your guy” it’s the fact that when signing a QB in free agency you know what you are getting, the same cannot be said about the draft. You can see how Cousins has performed in the NFL, you know his strengths his weaknesses, you know what he can and can’t do and how he will respond in a game situation to adversity. When drafting a quarterback you are picking on what you think they can become and how they performed in college, and what sort of potential you believe they can reach. As it is well document, it is difficult to draft and develop a quarterback into a franchise quarterback, just ask the Browns and the Jets. It is especially difficult to do so when you are at the mercy of the rest of the QB needy teams in front of you like the Jets are. If the Jets had the top pick in the draft I would say no question draft one of the top QBs and rebuild the rest of the roster in free agency. However they are drafting sixth meaning that they could potentially miss out on a top prospect, as a fan that make me nervous, and is a big reason to address the QB position in free agency.
- Kirk Cousins has familiarity with the offensive scheme the Jets project to run. So this is both a reason that Kirk may sign and also a pro from the Jets side because it means that he would be able to fit into the Jets system, and they wouldn’t have to overhaul anything. Jeremy Bates is of the Mike Shannahan coaching tree, and Shannahan is the coach who drafted cousins, they have met before and Cousins has said in interviews he thinks it was a good choice by the Jets. Now obviously I don’t think that Cousins will decide based on scheme familiarity alone but I think the fact that he is familiar with the scheme can be a big plus for the Jets.
- It shows to the team, and fans that you want to win now. Now obviously organizations always say that they want to win now and no team is ever really looking to tank. However some moves made by teams, such as not moving up in the draft for a QB, or not being heavy spenders in free agency, convey the message that they don’t believe they can win anything next year so they are content to wait until they are ready to go all in. Signing Cousins would tell me the Jets are ready for that next step, it would allow them to use their top 10 pick on another position of need and it would also likely mean other free agent signings to bolster the roster. The Jets have been wading around in mediocrity for a long time, and signing Cousins would at least give off the perception that they are ready to win now.
When the off season started I though Cousins was going to resign with the Redskins, so I really didn’t even think the Jets had a chance at him. However I was always intrigued by the prospect of it, I think Cousins is a top 10 QB and I would rather have him than any of the QB’s in this year’s draft. I doubt the Jets will get him just because they are the Jets and they can’t have nice things, but if I were them I would do everything in my power to try and lock him up for the next 4-5 years if nothing else but to increase ticket sales.