- - Sunday, December 25, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

More than four years ago in Chicago, Kirk Cousins told everyone that he would be the Washington Redskins starting quarterback.

In a preseason game against the Bears nearly four months after Mike Shanahan ruined Cousins‘ day by calling him and telling him the Redskins had drafted him in the fourth round — behind star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin IIICousins put on a performance that should have told everyone he was more than just a fourth-round pick.

He completed 18 of 23 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-31 preseason loss to the Bears.

Few people were paying attention, though. They were in the initial stages of RGIII blindness.

Not Bears analyst and former quarterback (and fellow Michigan State alum) Jim Miller, who told everyone, “Kirk Cousins, let’s put it this way. I hate quarterback controversies, but after how (Cousins has) played so far, people are going to say that.”

Not everyone said that. I did, though, when I wrote, “Don’t believe the hype. There’s a quarterback controversy in Washington.”

Did I see the demise of RGIII coming? No, but you saw that day that Cousins was an NFL starting quarterback. And you saw it again Saturday in Washington’s 41-21 win over the Bears in Chicago.

He completed 18 of 29 passes for 270 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, plus he rushed for 30 yards and two touchdowns.

Nearly every time he touched the ball, Cousins broke or tied a Redskins passing record — some of his own that he had set last year.

He is now at a record 4,630 passing yards for the season. He threw a touchdown in his 18th consecutive road game, tying Joe Theismann for the longest streak of road games with a passing touchdown.

These are records that have been in existence for decades. Jay Schroeder had the Redskins single season passing record since 1986 until Cousins broke it last year. Theismann set the road game touchdown record from 1982 to 1985.

Do you know how many starting quarterbacks between then and now have gone under center wearing a Washington Redskins uniform? The number is 27 who have come and gone since those records were set.

Yet here we are, more than four years after Cousins put everyone on notice about his ability, and we are still, as Jim Miller and myself said, in a quarterback controversy in Washington, except now it is between Kirk Cousins and, I don’t know, let’s say Joe Montana. Or Tom Brady. Or any other nearly impossible standard to measure him against.

I know why Jim Miller said he didn’t like quarterback controversies. They can get messy. Most of them are far removed from the fond memory of the competition between friends like Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. Some are very ugly, like the Jay Schroeder-Doug Williams debate from 30 years ago.

This one — Cousins vs. Superquarterback — reeks of some ugliness among the Redskins fan base, a combination of RGIII resentment and worse agenda-driven claims. Those claims should stick in the throats of the Cousins bashers — like these words probably did for Cousins more than four years ago after he went out there in Chicago and made the case that he was more than a fourth-round backup.

“I think that this is Robert’s team,” Cousins told reporters after his preseason Chicago performance in 2012. “The coaches have made that very clear. It’s my job to do the best I can in my situation and in my opportunities. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

This is Robert’s team. How many times would he have to parrot that party line for the next three seasons? How sick do you think it made Cousins to say that over and over again? Sick enough that those words still stick in his throat, if and/or when he would have the option of leaving this franchise?

It’s possible that Sunday’s season finale against the New York Giants could be the last time Washington (8-6-1) fans see Cousins at FedEx Field in a Redskins uniform — not likely, but possible.

As the whole world, free and otherwise, knows, he is playing under a $20 million franchise tag this season with no team commitment beyond that. It’s likely that, if the Redskins and Cousins fail to make a long-term contract deal this off season, he will play under the franchise tag again next season, this time for $24 million (no one is going to have to hold any bake sales for Cousins years from now).

But it is possible Washington (owner Daniel Snyder, president Bruce Allen, general manager Scot McCloughan) could balk at that and get out of the Cousins business, as insane as that sounds.

It’s crazy to think that Cousins, after what he’s done the past couple of seasons, isn’t the Redskins‘ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

Then again, it seemed just as insane on that August day in Chicago in 2012 to think that he was.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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