May 9, 2012

Space Rocks and Matriculation: The Case for Kirk Cousins

For the record, as I write this, my second monitor is sporting jpegs of rabbits feet, four-leaf covers and a random Redskins cheerleader (which may not bring luck but damn). I am also whispering an agnostic's prayer to beat the band.

With that preemptive apologia in mind ...

What if Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins prized rookie quarterback and potential "franchise saviour," were to mysteriously go missing this summer, never to be heard from again? Or get clonked on the head by a meterorite, contract amnesia and no longer be able to read the free safety?

You know, what if something bad happens, and it turns out RG3 doesn't Captain My Captain the Redskins out of the woods after all?

The question has to be asked. Not in the abstract, but in the practical, the concrete, the "we better have a Plan B in place or we risk some very real, very unhappy consequences."

One thing the Redskins absolutely could not afford to do was head into 2012 and beyond with no one but RG3 or Andrew Luck (I admit it, there were moments I wondered if knucklehead Indianopolis Colts owner Jim Irsay maybe was that flighty) standing between them and Rex Grossman.

You can hear the critics, right? If the Redskins not drafted a second quarterback in April, there would be a host of critics complaining, "so...if RG3 goes down we're back to Grossbeck?!"

I can pretty much guarantee the question was asked at Redskins Park in the days and weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. It better have been asked, because if it was not, the Asbburn Brain Trust would not have been doing their jobs.

Enter former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins... 

If you're reading this, you have probably already heard most if not all of the arguments suggesting the Cousins pick was, for lack of a better word, dumb, e.g., it could undermine RG3's confidence; it could create a quarterback controversy; that the pick should have been used to bolster the roster elsewhere, etc.

Well, I never bought any of them. I'll admit to a mild surprise when the pick happened--I didn't see it coming. But my first reaction was not negative. It was a slow nod of understanding. Which has grown steadily into admiration as the inevitable knee-jerk reaction exploded. The Redskins had to have known they'd get pilloried, but they did what they had to do. I like that.

To me quarterback is far and away the most essential position on an NFL team, and as such you simply can never have too many viable options. The old saw about the backup quarterback being "one play away" from starting is real. Ask Kurt Warner. Ask Tom Brady.

The best soup-to-nuts case I've read so far in support of the Cousins pick is this piece by Bram Weinstein, on his undiscovered gem of a blog Me Talk Athlete.  Here's the gist:
[T]o suggest the Redskins "wasted" a pick on Kirk Cousins is to suggest that they were definitively going to find someone who could have helped their roster in a more profound way. The numbers say (at least from 2008) that the odds are against it. And with Rex Grossman under contract for one year and knowing that he won't supplant RG3, it's safe to say he'll be shopping himself to better scenarios next off-season, thus the Redskins will need a back-up quarterback. And according to the scouts, the Redskins got a steal in terms of talent and value in Cousins selected at that stage of the draft. Reality is, the Redskins may have made one of the shrewdest moves of this particular draft, whether you want to believe it or not.
Take a minute to read the entire piece, and bookmark Bram. Man gets it.

No, Kirk Cousins is almost certainly not ready to play (if by play one means win the job and keep it) in 2012 should misfortune befall Griffin. He may not be ready to play ever--unfairly or not, the truth is he gives off a bit of a Todd Husak vibe to me, and that's not something I'm really in the mood to contemplate.

But make no mistake, they needed to make the pick.

Shanahan has said the Redskins had Cousins rated as the third best quarterback in this draft. Most pre-draft ratings had him going considerably higher than the fourth-round. For a team as bereft of talent at the position as the Redskins have been for a generation, finding that kind of "value" in the fourth round was a gift they simply could not refuse.

Close your eyes and imagine (painful as it might be) that at some point between now and, say, next year's draft, RG3 is suddenly removed from the equation. Likely? Of course not. Possible? Damn right.  

Okay, open your eyes. Not a pretty picture.

The Redskins had to find a second option they believe has a chance to develop into a legitimate NFL quarterback. No, there are no guarantees, and Cousins may not work out. But the Redskins had to take him when he fell to the fourth round.

And looking ahead, if Cousins turns out to be just another guy, the Redskins should plan to take another quarterback next year, in the developmental rounds, regardless of how well RG3 plays and avoids falling space debris. They simply cannot afford to risk being one play away from ... you know.

Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs believed in drafting a quarterback every year regardless of the status of his current starter. He fully understood what the position meant in the NFL. As the only man to have ever matriculated (that's for you, Hank Stram and Ron Jaworski) three championships out of three quarterbacks, perhaps his counsel is worth heeding.

That is all.


PS.  Robert? Please render this whole teapot tempest moot. Look both ways. Look up. Floss. And for chrissakes avoid wood-chippers.