By Dan Steinberg
Former Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan joined a Denver radio program Thursday to discuss Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield, two quarterbacks facing uncertain — and potentially intertwined — futures over the next few months. Cousins is due to become a free agent March 6 if the Redskins don’t apply the franchise tag on him for a third consecutive year. Mayfield is expected to be a first-round draft pick in April, and some NFL analysts predict the Redskins will select the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma to replace Cousins, should he depart.
When asked during his appearance on 104.3 The Fan’s Cecil & Pritchard show to evaluate Cousins, McCloughan, who was hired by the Redskins in January 2015 and fired in March 2017, prefaced his response by noting he wasn’t around Cousins as much as he was fellow quarterbacks Brett Favre, Russell Wilson, Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith during previous front-office stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s a good player,” McCloughan told Mike Pritchard and Cecil Lammey. “Is he special? I don’t see special. But also, we were still building a roster around him to make him special. Jay Gruden does a great job play-calling. [Former Redskins offensive coordinator-turned-Los Angeles Rams Coach] Sean McVay did a great job play-calling to put him in positions to be successful. He’s talented. Talent is good at quarterback in the NFL. He’s won games. I know his record overall is not over .500. I know he has not won a playoff game. But he’s competitive. He works his tail off. He’s so methodical. Every day he has planned out. He’s always in the building, he’s always watching tape, he’s always talking to coaches, he was talking to me. From the standpoint of the tangibles, they’re excellent. You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35 to 40 times to win the game. You want to have a running game, have a good defense, good [special] teams, and then let him do what he does.”
The Redskins are 24-23-1 since Cousins was named the starter before the 2015 season. Cousins has thrown for 81 touchdowns and 36 interceptions during that span, while throwing for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past three years.
“The thing about him that’s unique, and you don’t really see it too often, he’s a pretty good athlete with his legs,” McCloughan continued. “He can make plays moving around the pocket and running for first downs. He’s got a strong enough arm, there’s no doubt about it. He’s been through adversity. When he was there, he got drafted the same year that Robert Griffin [III] got drafted. And Robert was the guy, and of course he deserved it. He was offensive [rookie] of the year, and Kirk got to sit back and just wait and wait and wait. He wants to play. He’s highly, highly competitive. He comes across as a real nice guy, like Alex Smith did in interviews — and they are. But they’re both highly competitive, and they want to win. But they want that stability, too. They want to know they’re in some spot where it’s not just a one-year deal, one-year deal, one-year deal. He wants a long-term deal.”
Cousins admitted as much during his question-and-answer session with fans earlier this month.
“There’s a part of me that would like to get settled, but I haven’t even gone there yet and thought about what if, what if that happens,” said Cousins, who added that looking at potential free-agent suitors is “a moving target because a lot of these teams haven’t finalized their staffs.”
McCloughan, though, is confident Cousins has a good idea of what’s out there if his future isn’t with the Redskins.
“I can promise you this,” McCloughan said. “He has done his homework, probably too much, about each roster, who his receivers are, who his backs are, who his O-linemen are, who the coach is. Not just the head coach, but the coordinator, position coach, the system they run. I promise you he has notebook after notebook for each team. He is very, very intellectual about knowing what’s best for him. He understands he’s getting older, he’s been in the league a little bit. He wants to win. I know that. Personally, knowing him, it’s not about the money. It’s about the right fit, where he knows he has stability, he has good coaches, he has good players and he has a chance to be successful. I don’t blame him. He’s put himself in that situation with what he’s done the last three years.”
Washington could provide Cousins the stability he desires with a long-term contract offer that blows him away, or retain him on the cost-prohibitive franchise tag for another year, but there’s a good chance he’s playing for another team in 2018. If McCloughan were in charge and Washington was in the market for a quarterback in the draft, he’d grab Mayfield. (During an interview on Fox Sports Radio in October, he said Mayfield reminds him of “a shorter version of Brett Favre.”)
“I was lucky enough to have been around Favre, and I’ve gotten to know Baker pretty well just by watching him,” McCloughan said Thursday. “There’s some off-field stuff, but nothing too hairy. College kids are college kids. It’s not like he’s doing anything really bad. But he is a competitive guy. He wears it on his sleeve from the standpoint of emotions. . . . He plays with strength throughout his body, and the fact that he’s just a football player — it’s impressive. It’s a really good class this year coming out in the draft for quarterbacks. But I know this, if I was going to play one game tomorrow, he’d be my guy — hands down.”
McCloughan isn’t sure what the Redskins will decide to do with Cousins, but he knows the quarterback has all the leverage.
“The thing about it is, when I was there, we tried to get a long-term deal done and were unable to do it,” McCloughan said. “He’s respected in the building, he’s a really good football player, he’s a leader, he’s a smart guy, he does everything right, but he has all the leverage now. . . . If they tag him for a third time, that’s $34 million for one season. It’s good if you’ve got a guy that you know can win a world championship for you, but it affects the other guys, teammates, because of contracts. You’re investing so much money in one position, you’re going to lose some good players, some good young players, and that, from a GM standpoint, that’s how you have to look at it. You’d love to have him. I’m sure they’d love to have him back for another year. He’s had three solid seasons in a row, but it’s a huge investment, and it’s going to affect the team.”