- - Monday, July 17, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington’s latest quarterback drama has entered the final act. Barring an unforeseen plot twist, the upcoming season will represent Kirk Cousins‘ last in D.C.

He’ll be gone, but the debate will continue.

Just as decision-makers within the organization reportedly are split on Cousins‘ value, so too are fans around town and voices around the league. He’s either a near-elite QB and deserves to be paid as such, or he’s an above-average starter in a superior system with talented targets.

As expected, the Skins and Cousins didn’t reach a long-term deal by Monday’s deadline. Critics, including yours truly, say letting Cousins leave for San Francisco or some other locale in 2018 would be a colossal mistake, the last in a series of miscues regarding the fourth-round pick. Supporters of the decision might not agree with the way it was handled, but they applaud the determination to not pay him like a franchise quarterback.

“He is what he is,” an anonymous NFC pro scouting director told NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks. “He is a solid starter capable of winning games when surrounded by talent in that system, but I don’t think he’s a difference maker. … I would have a tough time paying $25 million for a guy that I don’t believe can carry us to the Super Bowl.”

A couple of things about that view don’t make sense.

First, very few quarterbacks by their lonesome can haul a team to the first Sunday in February. Signal callers can’t block a pass rusher or make a hole. They can’t break a tackle or get open downfield. They can’t split the uprights on a pressurized kick as time expires.

Quarterbacks are particularly helpless when they’re standing on the sideline. They can’t rush the passer, stuff the run or play lockdown defense in the secondary. They can’t stop the opponent from converting third downs and chewing up the clock. They can’t force fumbles and pick off passes.

Waiting for a QB who can overcome your team’s glaring weaknesses is like counting on a lottery ticket to overpower your atrocious money management.

If anyone is going to receive $25 million-plus per year – so goes the argument – it should be guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. They’re the type most capable of putting a team on their shoulders and carrying it. Second-rung quarterbacks shouldn’t get first-tier paychecks.

OK. Let’s say Cousins isn’t worth that much. Let’s say $20 million per year, the Skins’ last reported offer, puts him where he belongs in the pecking order.

Is it smart to let him depart over a difference of, say, $6 million per year? Would the savings be enough to solidify other spots on the roster? Would the improvement elsewhere compensate for the drop-off at quarterback?

No, no, no. Methinks the Skins would exemplify behavior that’s penny wise and pound foolish.

Cousins isn’t Brady, Rodgers or Brees. But he plays sports’ most important position and does so well enough to be in Top 10-territory. He’s the first quarterback in over 20 years to lead Washington to back-to-back winning seasons. He has proven himself not once, (4,166 yards, 69.8 completion percentage and a 29:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the “show us” 2015 season), but twice.

Last year’s performance fell short of the playoffs but included 4,917 yards as triggerman for the NFL’s third-ranked offense (403.4 yards per game). Washington was second in passing per game (297.4). The success guaranteed Cousins will be paid as an elite quarterback, whether his current team agrees with the designation or not.

The Skins want to make their valuation in a vacuum. But they’re responsible for creating the current conditions.

They made their bed hard, paying Cousins $44 million over two years on consecutive franchise tags, unprecedented for a QB. Now they must lie in it, losers in the big proposition when Cousins bet on himself. He won and the team must pay if it wants to keep him (provided he wants to stay, which understandably isn’t a given).

Opinions of Cousins‘ ability on the playing field vary, but everyone agrees he’s dissecting Washington at the negotiating table.

Never has a team been so out-leveraged, setting the market with back-to-back franchise tags. Cousins is willing to hold out for a long-term deal that reflects the market, giving him all the flexibility and leaving none for the team.

He has first-and-goal from the 1 with unlimited cracks at scoring a touchdown; the Skins hope he’ll settle for a field goal.

The decision was evident Monday but the debate goes on. It will continue whether the parties reach a long-term deal after the season (highly unlikely), or Cousins goes to a different team.

He’ll get his mega contract one place or another. And no matter where he plays in 2018, count on doubters and believers squaring off anew.

Cousins might relocate, but arguments over Washington’s judgment will stick around.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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