Denver’s stars campaign for Cousins; Elway will need the magic he summoned for Manning

Dec 24, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) shakes hands with Denver Broncos wide receiver Bennie Fowler (16) after their game at FedEx Field. The Redskins won 27-11. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Von Miller made his feelings clear immediately after the Broncos were rolled in Washington last December: he wanted Kirk Cousins — the man that just gashed them for 299 yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters — to be Denver’s next quarterback.

“Kirk’s a great quarterback; I’ll say that every day of the week. A lot of teams would kill to have a quarterback like that,” Miller said. Keep in mind that the the Broncos’ season hadn’t yet finished, and that Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch were not only still on the roster — but in the same locker room that day. That’s how bad the Broncos’ quarterback situation was, and is, and even the always-sunny Miller wasn’t even bothering to run cover for it anymore — he had his heart set on the Broncos’ next signal-caller.

“I’m with everybody else,” Miller continued. “Like I said before, a lot of teams would literally kill to have a quarterback like that. The list is long, but we’ll cross that bridge if we ever get to it.”

Miller said “literally”, but meant “figuratively”, of course. But now that the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in the driver’s seat in the free-agent chase for Cousins, it’s worth wondering how Miller — and many of his Broncos teammates — will feel if (when) Cousins signs somewhere else?

On Tuesday, Cousins had a bit of fun with his situation on Twitter. The 29-year-old quarterback is clearly enjoying his moment in the sun as the league’s hottest free-agent by light-years, and went fishing for compliments.

Cousins received plenty of them, including one from Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who replied to Cousins by touting the possibility of throwing passes to a pair of perennial Pro Bowlers — himself and fellow Bronco Demaryius Thomas — pleading his case as plainly as Miller has for the last four months.

Sanders has talked about Cousins before. Talking to the Houston Chronicle in February, Sanders wasn’t afraid to add two Miller’s recruitment pitch, saying, “I think Kirk is a good player. Everything I’ve heard about him, he’s a leader who will come into the room and fit in well if we’re able to get him. Obviously, we would love to have him.”

Sanders and Miller aren’t alone. At the NFL Draft Combine last week, general manager John Elway said that “We’re going to explore all options in free agency and see where that goes.”

Despite intriguing quarterback options in the draft — USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson — Elway still intends to see if he can land his man is free agency rather than gamble on drafting a quarterback after missing on Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch already. Broncos’ players courtship of Cousins is a particularly damning condemnation of Lynch, who seems to have already lost both the respect and the faith of his teammates, given their comments — and Lynch’s standing as the No. 3 quarterback all season long.

Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall hinted at that frustration during Super Bowl week, when he told the NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano, “In my opinion, we’ve already drafted a quarterback [in the] first round a couple years ago. We’ve tried that. I think [Elway’s] going to go get a free-agent quarterback. I think he’s going to go spend some money and fix the position, because it’s kind of a toss-up with these rookie quarterbacks,” before slyly grinning when responding to Siciliano’s query regarding who Marshall might choose. “I mean, it’s a couple guys out there, you know. We played against a guy in Week 16 that was pretty good.” That “guy”, of course, was Cousins.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, the Broncos are “all-in” with their pursuit of Cousins, even if many NFL observers feel that the Vikings have already lapped the field. That must be news to Miller’s ears. During Super Bowl Week, Miller appeared on “The Dan Patrick Show” and continued his full-court press, saying he’d “Play it cool. I talked to him before. He knows exactly how I feel about Kirk Cousins and what he would mean to our team… He’s the hot quarterback on the market right now.” Patrick asked Miller if he had an opportunity to speak to Cousins himself, and Miller answered in the affirmative. “Yeah, I’ve had a conversation with Kirk, Miller replied. “Yeah, we need Kirk. I would like to have Kirk… Kirk could take us over the edge, but that’s the National Football League. It’s a lot of teams that need Kirk. It’s a lot of teams that need a great quarterback. Whatever team he ends up with will be a different team.”

Flash-forward to Tuesday, when Miller joined ESPN’s “First Take” and took another opportunity to pile on the praise for his favorite quarterback, saying of Cousins’ potential franchise-altering talent, “He’s just that type of player. He not only would be a difference-maker to my team, but any team he goes to in the National Football League. It’s an instant upgrade, leadership, he can throw and make all the passes on the field. So, yeah, when you get a guy like that, you’re automatically in Super Bowl contention.”

Miller made sure to butter Elway up, too — after all, that’s the man who needs to pull a rabbit out his hat once again, like he did in the summer of 2012 when he landed Payton Manning. “I think the decisions that John has made have put us in championship position,” Miller told hosts Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman. “You can’t go out there and just spend all types of money every year. John has been great with that. Our front office has been great with that. Me and Mr. Elway, we’re tied at the hip, whatever decisions that he makes, whatever direction he takes the organization, I’m right there with him.”

It’s worth noting that the Broncos weren’t considered the favorites for Manning, either. Elway, through charm, the bond of quarterback brotherhood — and a dumptruck full of money — was able to seal the deal with the greatest quarterback to ever hit free agency, surprising the league with savvy that belied his limited years in his role.
Elway’s more experienced now, and he’s got another Super Bowl ring to prove it. His players are hoping that “The Duke of Denver” has yet another comeback in him — and they’re letting him know they’re more than willing to help.
Cousins will become a free agent in seven days. Denver’s holding their collective breath until then.