Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Plenty of attention this year has been on the Jets positioning themselves to potentially select their quarterback of the future in the draft. With the sixth pick in hand and the consensus top five QB prospects all having thrown their name into the hat for April's draft, they seem to be well-placed to make this happen. However, could another viable option soon become available?
It's rare for a top quarterback to hit the open market, but it's not impossible that it could happen with Kirk Cousins. Washington currently controls his rights, but they'll have to decide whether to franchise him again, sign him to a long-term deal or let him hit the open market.
While the latter of those options might seem the least likely for a player who was third in the league in passing yards in 2016, his numbers regressed this year and the team ended up with a losing record. So far, in three years as a full-time starter, Cousins has started just one postseason game -- a 17-point loss to the Packers 12 months ago.
Tagging Cousins again would tie up almost $35 million of cap space, while a long-term deal is going to be even more expensive, given that Cousins reportedly already turned down an offer including $53 million in guarantees. Will that kind of financial outlay prove worth it or handcuff the team for the next few seasons?
Head coach Jay Gruden gave a lukewarm assessment of Cousins' performance in 2017 and there's a suggestion that the overriding sense within the organization might be that Cousins hasn't shown he can elevate a team to postseason success without a strong supporting cast around him. The possibility has even been floated that Cousins could be let go, elevating back-up Colt McCoy into the starter role.
While the situation remains unsettled for now, the possibility of Cousins hitting the market is alive. From the Jets' perspective, should this be a move they are all over, or should they exercise caution?
Without question, Cousins provides the Jets with an upgrade over the level of quarterback play they've typically employed over the past decade or so. However, his 2017 season was statistically worse than Josh McCown's, and his 2015 season wasn't considerably better than Ryan Fitzpatrick's so it's difficult to ascertain how much of an upgrade he would have provided in those seasons.
However, Cousins won't be 30 until the preseason, so the short term rewards of having an affordable veteran option -- which in Fitzpatrick's case weren't sustainable beyond the first year -- have to be weighed up against the stability that bringing in an established starter in his prime would provide.
Cousins' 2016 season was outstanding, but he regressed in 2017. In particular, he went from being the league-leader in deep passing yardage to almost dropping out of the top 10. While many have attributed this to a downgrade in his supporting cast, could you really say that McCown's supporting cast in 2017 was any better?
That's the main concern with Cousins and the reason his own team may be wavering on whether to make the long-term commitment. A long-term extension could pay Cousins over $25 million a year, and his agent is rumored to be seeking $30 million, which would make Cousins the highest-paid player in NFL history. Cousins is definitely above average and probably good, but perhaps not great. Not yet, at least.
If a team is not convinced he can win without elite personnel around him, then the decision becomes difficult. Clearly Washington is wrestling with that dilemma themselves, hoping not to fall into the trap that teams like the Bengals, Raiders, Ravens, and Dolphins seem to have, where they thought they'd found their quarterback only for things to take a turn for the worse once they made that commitment.
While the Jets should think very carefully about making this move if the opportunity presents itself, we shouldn't be underestimating how much cap space they have squirrelled away this off-season. Even if Cousins' asking price jumps to the $30 million-per-year range, they could theoretically afford to pay him that and would still have plenty of money remaining to ensure he has a better supporting cast around him than McCown did this season.
That might only be sustainable for a few years, but if it got the team back into the playoff mix, re-established a winning culture within the organization, and extended the tenure for the Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles regime, it's a move that could potentially be seen as a success.
For that kind of money, you'd better be right, though. That's why Washington is going to take as much time as they can to make a decision which -- if it ends up in Cousins' release -- is certain to sow seeds of doubt among those other teams with interest.