We first got Kirk Cousins wrong in the 2012 NFL Draft, when the Washington Hogs* were understandably accused of having wasted a draft pick on a second quarterback after trading 5 For Robert Griffin III.
One year on, Cousins had led a comeback against the Baltimore Ravens and deputised for Griffin against the Browns, going 26 of 37 for 329 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But there were a couple of snags, namely Mike Shanahan’s choice to stick with RG3 when 14-0 up against Seattle, when Kirk Cousins was right there on the sidelines. Surely a two-TD lead was a safe enough cushion for the former Spartan?
It’s here that the misunderstanding of Kirk Cousins (if Lauryn Hill can use “miseducation”…) really took off, with the team that really wanted him in the fourth round – yet had far more urgent needs- refusing to play him until it was too late against the Seahawks, or indeed when a very precarious-looking Griffin rushed his rehab to be ready for Week 1 of the 2013 season.
We all know how that went, and so does Cousins, who had been drafted as a competent replacement for just that kind of situation. Perceptions of him would fluctuate wildly over the following 18 months, but one common thread would remain: he would always be misused and misunderstood.
Cousins the Good
Whilst the Washington Peanut Salesmen wouldn’t play Cousins, some members of the media- not to mention the fans- went to the other extreme, seemingly unable to get enough of him. A few supporters even went as far as claiming that he was *better* than the man in front of him on the depth chart, whilst stories abounded in the media about him being worth a first rounder. This goes beyond the usual pipe dreams about reserve signal-callers, who, the logic goes, are just a couple of snaps away from summoning their inner Tom Brady.
Darker forces were at play,too, as the African-American Griffin was already in the process of turning into a media pariah. Though he would certainly do a lot to damage his reputation during the 2013 season, the stories circulating during the previous offseason were downright ridiculous: he was portrayed as greedy for having fans send him unsolicited wedding presents, unfaithful because a story leaked of alleged pictures he sent to a Hooter waitress (never verified) and a punk for wanting to play injured.
It didn’t take long to turn the starter into a glory boy, and Cousins into the worker bee who deserved his own E:45 documentary. Doubtless, there were plenty of people who had a more reasonable grip on reality, seeing the MSU graduate as a mid-round QB prospect whose ceiling didn’t seem to be all that high, but who was a decent pair of hands who had done enough to deserve another chance.
Yet perceptions did not change following three disappointing outings for Cousins in 2013- essentially an audition to see if he could replace the now disappointing RG3 in the long-term. The first round pick conversation continued unabated into the 2014 season, with more and more fans and members of the media clamoring for his inclusion in the starting team, not least Joe Theismann, who argued that Cousins “had always played better” than Griffin. A quick look at even Cousins’ more encouraging games (Cleveland 2012 springs to mind) still shows a flawed player, whose mechanics quickly go haywire when the pressure is cranked up. It became all too easy to forget just how electrifying RGIII had been.
All this media attention was seemingly justified once Cousins took over from Griffin against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 of the 2014 season. Cousins went crazy, throwing for big yardage as the Washington Park Ranger Bullies trampled the Jaguars. Jay Gruden himself seemed to drop a few hints to the effect that he was as happy, if not more, to work with Cousins. The former Spartan proceeded to play well against Philadelphia and Seattle, but was disappointing in three outings, including a miserable performance against Arizona where fans started clamoring for Colt McCoy. A bad game against Tennessee later, it was McCoy time in D.C.
Cousins the Bad
From enthroning Cousins as the saviour of the franchise to calling for his head a few weeks later, the fans had gone full circle. For the same rhetoric that had once promoted Cousins had now come back to haunt him, McCoy inheriting the mantle of hidden gem who could grit his team to glory. Even worse, Cousins’ rise had owed more to the fans’ (and possibly his coaches’) unreasonable expectations than his actual talent. Once at the top, he wasn’t expected to play as a fourth-rounder, but as the next Tom Brady. Backup QBs are popular because they haven’t had the chance to draw criticism, leading desperate supporters to project their unreasonable expectations on them, in the hope that they’ll turn into the next hidden Joe Montana. Once their limitations are exposed, however, they’re as food as dead.
Cousins became a victim of the very process that had brought him to prominence: he was promoted beyond his own merits, but was torpedoed once he came up short of these ridiculous expectations. It’s not as if he was terrible, his demotion owing just ad much to the league’s new-found propensity for safe quarterbacking play (far more signal callers are being rated above the 90 mark compared to even a few years ago. Heck, even Austin Davis is making the grade these days) as to the 9 interceptions he threw. What were people honestly expecting, moreover in a team that is in transition anyway? They were just as much in a transition last year as they are now, and yet still chose to gamble on a QB they gave the crown jewels for mere months after his return from major surgery.
Gruden’s choice to roll with McCoy is certainly understandable: he was hoping for a quick turnaround, for the short-term feelgood factor a backup QB can bring. But he did this at the expense of a man his franchise dealt a fourth-rounder, someone who had been brought in to not look bad. It feels like people have never truly treated Cousins on his own merits, and now he gets to watch from the sidelines as McCoy plays a decent game against Dallas, doing things he was more than likely capable of, and was more used to anyway. McCoy himself confessed before the trip to Texas that he still needed to get to know the fiest team offence. And why would he? Someone had been drafted for these emergencies. It is increasingly apparent that this someone may have said goodbye to Washington for good.
*Today’s post will experiment with all the alternative names the Washington franchise should be considering at the moment, seeing as the current one is a derogatory term chosen by an outwardly racist man whose intent was to appeal to Old Dixie, and who also happened to be the last man to desegregate his locker room after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Not all the names will have been in the debate, and some I will have invented for the fun of it. Because the Washington Fired Park Rangers are there to be made fun of. And because George Preston Marshall’s successor is giving him a strong run for his money in the despicable charts. That shouldn’t be possible.