The Denver Broncos haven’t played a football game in more than six weeks. Neither has free-agent-quarterback-to-be Kirk Cousins. Yet, Cousins is seemingly the only thing on the mind of Denver sports fans.
The official start to NFL free agency is one month away — March 14 — and Cousins is going to dominate headlines until that time (or at least until the March 12 “legal tampering” window opens).
Cousins is expected to fetch a pretty penny — think upwards of $90 million in guaranteed money after Alex Smith will earn $71 million in guarantees on an extension with Washington and Jimmy Garoppolo will get $74.1 million guaranteed with San Francisco. (Neither can sign until the league year officially begins March 14.)
The Broncos, desperate to find an answer at quarterback after two middling years with Trevor Siemian (and to a lesser degree Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler) are among the leading candidates to chase Cousins.
All-Pro linebacker and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller has been vocal about his desire to bring Cousins to Denver. While making the rounds for Super Bowl LII media he went so far as to say that he believes Cousins “could take us over the edge,” meaning Cousins could get Denver back into the playoffs and contending for a Super Bowl. Miller has continued to lobby for Cousins ever since, even courting the QB with rainbows.
But Miller and Broncos country aren’t the only ones clamoring for Cousins.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter listed the Broncos among four teams he says will in the running for Cousins, but added the caveat “amongst others.”
Our own Ronnie Kohrt has been beating the Cousins-to-Denver drum for some time, and on multiple occasions has written about why the move makes sense for all involved.
But there’s a “Ronnie K” (or two) in almost every market that has cap space and the need for a franchise quarterback.
So what are folks in other markets saying about the Cousins-to-_________ scenarios in their towns? Take a look…
To start, the Browns have to decide that they don’t like their current QB (2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer) or use one of their two top-four picks (Nos. 1 & 4) in this year’s draft on a franchise quarterback.
The Browns signing Cousins would signal one of two things: they either don’t like any of the quarterbacks in this class enough to take him in the Top 5 or they simply aren’t willing to wait on one of them to develop into their longterm future.
The problem is, Cleveland has shown zero ability to draft and develop a quarterback. The infamous “Browns QB jersey” meme is evidence of that. So, why would they burn another top pick on someone who is going to flame out? They shouldn’t. And that’s why Cousins, a proven commodity, makes sense in Cleveland.
To boot, Cleveland has more money to spend on Cousins than any other team. With more than $100 million to burn in 2018, not to mention those two high draft picks, the Browns can give Cousins the mega-deal he desires and surround him with with talent they won’t have to pay big money for another five years. (Think Cousins and Saquon Barkley on offense, Minkah Fitzpatrick on defense.)
Labbe says the biggest thing holding back the Browns is their woeful record over the past decade. Cleveland hasn’t won double-digit games since 2007 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002. They are 1-31 over the past two seasons. How Cousins views Cleveland will ultimately decide if they’re a legitimate suitor.
Here’s where the Browns have a real problem if they do want Cousins. He will have choices and he’ll have better choices than a team coming off an 0-16 season … the NFL is a league flush with cash and teams can find ways to find money. Cousins is going to get offers from more intriguing situations — situations where he could go to the playoffs. Even if you project an absolute best-case scenario next season, the Browns can’t offer that.
The other thing we don’t know is what Cousins will prioritize. If it’s money, the Browns are in contention. But he’s made money. He made a shade under $45 million the last two seasons alone. Would it be unthinkable that, if the money isn’t all that different, he would prefer a situation where he could win with a franchise more stable than Jimmy Haslam’s? Would he relish an opportunity to stick it to Washington and lead a different team to the postseason?
So, that’s the bottom line in Cleveland. They can pay Cousins as much or more than any other team. But does he want to play for the league’s biggest loser?
In mid-January Mehta went straight to the source to find out just how badly the New York Jets faithful want Cousins. A social media poll asked which top free agents (not just quarterbacks) fans most want the team to sign. Of the 120 “Gang Green” fans polled, 57 percent (68 votes) think Cousins is the answer to someday, finally, maybe knocking Tom Brady and the Patriots off their perch atop the AFC East. Second place wasn’t even close. Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell received 11 votes (nine percent). Here’s why, according to Mehta:
Cousins’ landslide “victory” is a reflection of just how badly Jets fans want a competent quarterback. Cousins, who has had three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons, is 24-24-1 as a full-time starter. He’s had a better than 2-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in each of those three seasons. He played well this season despite a rash of injuries to core offensive players (offensive line, running backs, tight end).
Like Cleveland, the Jets have money to spend. GM Mike Maccagnan will have around $100 million at his disposal this offseason — plenty to make a move on Cousins. Mehta says Maccagnan could be facing an all-out revolt if New York doesn’t put themselves front and center in the bidding war.
It’s unclear how high the bidding for Cousins will climb, but the Jets absolutely need to be serious players for his services … or they should just pack it in and fold up shop. If they’re not going to make a real run at this guy, who absolutely is good enough to turn the Jets into a sustainable winner, then it might be time for the organization to go north of the border and be annexed by the CFL.
The biggest thing holding back the Jets, Mehta suggests, is their lack of depth elsewhere on the roster.
Cousins would solve the Jets’ biggest need, while allowing Mike Maccagnan & Co. to address other deficient areas in free agency (don’t worry, they have ample cap space) and the draft. The team needs include (but are not limited to) edge pass rusher, cornerbacks (plural), offensive play maker(s), offensive line, defensive line.
New York dumped talent last year, almost expecting to go 0-16, only to finish the year a surprising 5-11. They are slated to pick right behind the Broncos at No. 6 in this year’s draft. They won’t be able to fill all those needs in the draft, so they may be faced with a tough choice to go all-in on a quarterback with their free-agent money or to spread it out across the rest of the field.
The Bills are the final team Schefter mentioned by name as a leading suitor for Cousins’ services. The folks at Buffalo Rumblings have offered opposing views about Cousins’ fit with the Bills. Those against the move cite the financials as the biggest reason a deal won’t get done. Marino, however, makes a compelling argument for why Buffalo makes sense for Cousins and vise versa.
The Bills would provide Cousins a relatively stable franchise, with an owner, general manager, and head coach that appear to be aligned for the foreseeable future. Some of the other teams connected to Cousins cannot say the same, most notably the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets. The Bills also come of [sic] the team’s first playoff appearance in 17 seasons, when the perception of the team is the most positive that it has been in years.
Buffalo finished 9-7 in 2017 and played Jacksonville close (a 10-3 loss) in the Wild Card round. One has to think that a Cousins-led team would be able to produce more than a field goal in the playoffs — even against that solid Jacksonville defense. Marino says they have the weapons on offense, just not the quarterback.
LeSean McCoy is still one of the top running backs in the league, while Kelvin Benjamin would serve as a big-bodied number 1 receiver. Charles Clayand Nick O’Leary are talented tight ends, who could be reliable targets for Cousins in the same fashion as Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis.
Of Schefter’s four primary suitors, Buffalo may have the most to offer — save for playing in Buffalo and having to face Brady and the Pats twice a year.
Minnesota appeared in the NFC Championship Game, yet their quarterback situation is very much up in the air. Between Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, the Vikings have in-house options they could choose to retain. (Keenum did nearly lead them to the Super Bowl.) However, the temptation to sign Cousins might be very high after they came so close to being the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl. The Viking Age (Fansided) is pushing rumors that Minnesota is Cousins’ preferred destination. Minnesota isn’t flush with cash like the Browns and Jets, but the Vikings would be a tempting landing spot if winning matters to Cousins.
Anyone other than hardcore NFL fans might have forgotten in 2017 that Arizona had a football team. At 8-8, the Cardinals were as “average” as can be, yet it almost felt like they didn’t exist. With so much noise going on in the NFC West — the Rams’ rise, the Seahawks’ (relative) fall, and the Jimmy Garoppolo saga in San Francisco — the Cardinals really flew under the radar. However, now that Carson Palmer has retired, Arizona should very much be in the mix for Cousins this offseason. AZ Central says they were hot for Alex Smith before he was traded to Washington, so it makes sense that Cousins would be high atop their list. The Cards would need to restructure (or cut) quite a few expensive contracts to free up enough money for Cousins, making their path to the QB a tricky one.
Like Arizona, Denver will have to massage their cap situation to make a serious run at Cousins. The money can be made available, but to do so could cost the Broncos some playmakers that might be valuable in making their argument that Denver is a place he can not only get paid but win.
Broncos general manager John Elway is as competitive as they come. A 5-11 finish last year has left a bad taste in his mouth. Cousins offers the best chance for Denver to get back to Elway’s belief that the team shouldn’t just “win now” but “win from now on.”
Elway hates losing. He’s 1-1 in high-priced QB free agency negotiations (1-0 after Peyton Manning, 1-1 after Brock Osweiler). Expect Elway to put everything he has into making Cousins a Bronco. Considering Denver is just two years removed from a Super Bowl win, losing Cousins to any of the other teams on this list would be a major blemish on Elway’s record as GM.