- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden, in between fits of being “tickled,” told everyone this week where this team is when it comes to its relationship with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“We’re still in the evaluation process,” he told reporters.

Really? Evaluating what?

Evaluating how much the Redskins will have to pay him?

What else is there to evaluate? That he won’t be your starting quarterback next season?

If that is the case, then the next evaluation would seem to be who will quarterback this team then and into the future. The next evaluation would be how this damaged fan base would react yet again to another start over.
The next evaluation may be who the coach is, and who will make the future evaluations?

If Gruden is evaluating Cousins at this point of the season, then he is evaluating his own future as well, because the two of them are tied together and have been ever since the coach sat down the favored son, Robert Griffin III, and declared, “This is Kirk’s team.”

No one really believes at this point that there is an “evaluation” of Cousins going on, other than the evaluations that happen between coaches and players every week. Gruden said as much when he answered, “I think, as a coach, you’re evaluating everybody all the time, not just your quarterback.”

I’m not criticizing Gruden. He has been in a defensive mode for so long about Cousins that it becomes second nature to speak in terms like, “We’re still in the evaluation process,” and, “We’ll go from there.”

Really? Go where? To a place where Cousins is not your starting quarterback?
The truth came out in the same sentence where Gruden said he was still evaluating Cousins, when the coach said, “I’m tickled to death to see how much he’s progressed.”

“Tickled to death”? Gruden let his guard down for a moment. Does Gruden seem like a guy who is “tickled to death” very often?

He has a right to be. This could very well have went the other way. Cousins could have very well continued to be the slump-shouldered quarterback looking for a place to hide on the bench, one interception after another, last season. He was on the way to that evaluation when he opened the season with five touchdown passes and six interceptions and a 2-3 start.

But then Tampa Bay happened — the comeback from 24-0 — and the day Cousins made “You like that!” his battle cry. Since then, it has been 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a narrative where we are now talking about Cousins possibly passing his way into the team’s record books.

With 3,306 passing yards, Jay Schroeder’s longtime single-season passing record of 4,109 yards in 1986 is within reach. Cousins has 314 completions and will likely break the 327 completions at the top of the single-season list by Jason Campbell in 2009.

He has done all this without any running game to speak of for support.

Evaluate that.

Cousins, ever the diplomat, addressed the “evaluation” question this week.

“I think it’s my job to prepare, look forward to the next challenge,” he said. “I think when the season is over, then I look back and say ‘What did I do well? What do I need to improve upon?’ I think the big picture, it’s the team’s job to evaluate, the coaches’ job, your guys’ job. For me, I just focus on the next game, the Bills, trying to finish what we started and finish strong.

“There will be plenty of talk in the coming months about how I did over the whole span, but I feel like I’m still in the middle of it. People remember how you finish, so regardless of what I’ve done the first 13 games, they’re going to remember the last three.”

Cousins has learned a lot in the four seasons of turmoil he has been in the middle of at Redskins Park. He is right about the idea of people remembering how you finish — that they are going to remember the last three.

Not Gruden, though. In private, he has probably already evaluated his quarterback. Cousins saved his job.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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