Kirk Cousins will definitely have a new home next season as Washington has acquired Alex Smith to take over at quarterback. We’ve known for a while that Cousins and Washington weren’t going to work out a long-term extension, but Tuesday night’s trade sent shockwaves through the NFL.
Cousins will hit free agency and should be the top target of every quarterback-needy team. The 29-year-old is coming off his third-straight 4,000-plus yard season. In his three years as a full-time starter in Washington, Cousins has completed 67.0 percent of his passes for 13,176 yards, with 81 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. That’s good enough for a passer rating of 97.5, which puts him in very good company.
Now it’s time to examine where Cousins could end up next season. Below is a ranking of the five best landing spots.
5. Cleveland Browns
I know, the Cleveland Browns will always be the Cleveland Browns, but maybe there’s actually some hope by the lake. The Browns have two of the top four picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, along with three second-rounders and two third-rounders. Combine that with more than $100 million in cap space and Cleveland has a chance to build something special.
As of now, most believe the Browns will spend the draft’s top pick on a quarterback, but if they could convince Cousins to come it would open things up to a ton of possibilities. They could trade down and stockpile even more picks, or they could go out and get two of the best four players available. Say, for example, Saquon Barkley and Bradley Chubb, or a dominant middle linebacker like Roquan Smith.
The Browns could strengthen the wide receiver position in the second round, while also building depth along both lines, giving Cousins the protection and weapons he would need.
Yeah, it would be a rough go in Cleveland but there’s a chance for a truly special rebuild there. New general manager John Dorsey just has to knock it out of the park.
Landing Cousins would be a great step.
4. Arizona Cardinals
With Carson Palmer retired, the Arizona Cardinals are in desperate need of an upgrade at quarterback. The issue here will be cap space, which the Cardinals don’t have much of. Until free agency opens we don’t know exactly what kind of cap room Arizona will be working with, since there are a ton of ways to fix the situation. Right now we’ll just say it’s not great.
The Cardinals also could be in rebuild mode after a disappointing 2017 season. That might not be the situation a 29-year-old guy like Cousins wants to walk into.
New head coach Steve Wilks is a well-respected defensive coordinator and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has worked with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. Maybe the new blood in Arizona would entice Cousins to head out West, but he’d need to be convinced the franchise won’t need a full-scale teardown and long build.
3. New York Jets
The New York Jets are another team with a ton of cap space entering free agency, and they have the sixth pick in the draft. They have to head in a new direction at quarterback entering 2018, and Cousins would certainly be that.
Cousins has raved about the Jets new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates. Bates worked under Mike Shanahan with the Denver Broncos, and Shanahan was the coach in Washington when Cousins was drafted. Bates and Cousins met back in 2012 when the former was with the Chicago Bears. Jets head coach Todd Bowles promoted Bates from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator this offseason.
With all that cap space and three of the top 50 picks in the 2018 draft, the Jets have a chance to really build something this offseason. Cousins would be the first piece of that puzzle.
The challenge of bringing a New York franchise back to prominence seems like something Cousins would embrace, especially if he was working with someone he trusts. He clearly trusts Bates.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Yes, I know Blake Bortles just led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game, but imagine what that team could be with a better quarterback. Cousins is simply better under center than Bortles and could elevate the team to championship heights.
Bortles’ 2018 contract is only guaranteed for injury, but becomes fully guaranteed on March 16. Jags owner Shahid Khan has indicated Bortles will be his quarterback of the future, but a Pro Bowler just became available. That could change things.
Cousins would have to consider Jacksonville if an offer was on the table.
The Jaguars boast an elite defense loaded with young talent along with young skill position guys like running back Leonard Fournette and receivers Keelan Cole Dede Westbrook and Allen Robinson (who seems likely to re-sign). Jacksonville also gave up just 24 sacks in 2017, the third-lowest mark in the NFL. The Jags protected their quarterback, something Washington failed to do (41 sacks allowed).
1. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos desperately need a quarterback and John Elway loves luring veterans to down. We saw him do it with Peyton Manning, and he’s also brought in other key free agents like DeMarcus Ware, Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and more.
Cousins would be stepping in to another ideal situation, with an outstanding defense that ranked third leaguewide in yards allowed during the 2017 season (290.0 per game). The only real piece missing is a quarterback, after Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch all struggled.
C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker should be solid at the running back position, while Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders would give Cousins adequate targets on the outside. If those guys aren’t enough, the fifth pick in the 2018 draft could be used on a guy like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, or Saquon Barkley if he was still available. Meanwhile, the Broncos have a solid chunk of cap space to use on Cousins and still make some upgrades.
This destination would make the most sense if Cousins wanted to win now. The Broncos are a ready-made contender that just needs a competent signal-caller.