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Concannon: Where will Kirk Cousins land?

| Thursday, March 8, 2018

In today’s NFL, the quarterback is, by far, the most important position on the field. Teams know this and make even non-elite quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr hundred-millionaires to keep them on their teams. Never in the modern era of the NFL has a team let an excellent, healthy, starting-caliber quarterback entering his prime walk out the front door via free agency; they present too much value to let them go.

Enter the geniuses in Washington’s front office. Kirk Cousins has surpassed 25 touchdowns and 4,000 yards passing each of the last three seasons, leading 11 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter over that span. The vast majority of teams would have offered him massive guarantees to keep on the roster.

Instead, the Redskins chose to disrespect Cousins for years, placing franchise tags on him two years in a row without offering him the big guaranteed money that he deserved. This season, franchise-tagging him was no longer an option, and Cousins spurned the Redskins in favor of free agency. So who will win this unprecedented Kirk Cousins sweepstakes? Let’s start with the major players according to recent reports: the Vikings and the Jets.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings boasted an elite defense last season, making a run all the way to the NFC championship game with journeyman quarterback Case Keenum under center. Their luck ran out in the NFC championship, when Keenum struggled and their offense ground out a 38-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Some theorized coming into this offseason that the Vikings would keep their roster together and make another run at the Lombardi Trophy with Keenum running the offense, since they came so close last year. When asked if Case Keenum could continue his breakout success, here’s what Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said.

“You think he can, but you’re kind of guessing,” Zimmer said. “ … Is he the guy who played for the Rams or the guy who played for us?”

It is really hard to remember a time when a head coach openly disparaged his starting quarterback like that. To say Zimmer is noncommittal on Keenum as the Vikings’ starter is an understatement. This team has a defense built to compete right now, and with the emergence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the team has the weapons to make a deep run. Expect them to look to add Cousins and compete for the Super Bowl right away.

New York Jets

The Jets won five games last year despite a horrid combination of Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg under center. The franchise has had quarterback woes for years, using Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and even a washed-up Brett Favre as their starters since 2008. This is a franchise that needs stability under center to have any chance of competing, and Cousins can offer the team exactly that.

After shedding Muhammad Wilkerson and Matt Forte’s contracts off their roster last week, the Jets are currently sitting on $90 million in cap space that can go towards signing the former Redskins star. NFL insiders are reporting that teams are making Cousins offers in the three-year, $90 million range with heavy guarantees. The Jets are one of the only teams with space to make that deal and not have to worry about cutting players or restructuring other players’ deals, making them a favorite to make Cousins a money offer no other team can match.

The Field

Just because the Vikings and Jets are reported to have the inside lane on Cousins does not mean no other teams are in play. The Broncos and Cardinals both have solid rosters and a need at quarterback, but both teams would need to make moves in order to create sufficient cap space. The Broncos’ team president is two-time Super Bowl winner John Elway, who can offer a pretty unique pitch compared to all the teams mentioned previously and is someone that I’m sure Cousins would love to have as a mentor.

Ultimately, this is going to come down to what Cousins’ priorities are. It seems likely that the Jets will make him the largest offer, but the team’s offense is sorely lacking weapons and the addition of Cousins would not turn them into a contender. The Vikings and Broncos have less cap space, but scary defenses and weapons that offer Cousins a legitimate shot at his first deep playoff run as early as next year. I’ll be on the edge of my seat next week waiting for his decision, as it could help shape the landscape of the NFL for years.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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