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As I write this, everything about Kirk Cousins’ future is shrouded in mystery: Will he play this season for a measly $19.95 million? Or will he and the team reach a long-term deal that pays out somewhere between that number and Andrew Luck’s recent deal, which pays $23.3 million per year over six seasons but contains $47 million in guaranteed money?
In these dead weeks of summer, this is what qualifies as a real nail biter of a dilemma, and lots of column inches, podcast minutes, sports radio segments, and TV time have been spent on analyzing what’s going to happen. The debate, such as it is, seems to center on a few questions.
What’s best for the team? The easy answer is “a long-term deal,” which would free up some cap space this year and let them carefully plan their next several offseasons with some sense of certainty at the QB position. The primary issue with this approach deals with how good Cousins is, which I’ll get to. The other counterpoint is that most of the major free agents have already signed, so cap space is now of questionable value (although there are always some veterans cut in late summer who might be useful). On the other hand, the team could always structure a long-term deal in such a way that doesn’t free up cap space now, instead guaranteeing Cousins’ 2016 salary at around the same price as he’s getting by being tagged a franchise player, which would allow them to reduce the guaranteed money across the rest of the deal and actually increase future cap flexibility.
What’s best for Cousins? The prevailing wisdom seems to be that Cousins is best served playing with the tag this season and locking in an even bigger deal next year. But that presupposes that A) Cousins continues to play as well as he did last year, and B) he doesn’t suffer a catastrophic injury. And neither of those possibilities feels like a sure thing. In fact, item A is probably its own major question.
Just how good is Cousins, anyhow? Based on the franchise amount, he is currently being paid like a top-15 quarterback in the league. Based on how he finished the 2015 season, he might be much better than that—and this is the school of thought that encourages Cousins to play this year on the salary cap. (If the team needs to franchise Cousins again next year, he’ll be making about $4 million more than he currently is.) The problem is, of course, that no one seems quite ready to believe that the Cousins from the last half of last season is the real guy.
On the other hand, it seems likely that even the worst Cousins performance, on a team with a coaching staff he’s studied with and some solid offensive weapons, will be as good as whatever the next guy you’d bring in could do. That is, if Cousins regresses, he’d probably be an average QB… and there’s not really that much savings for an average QB.
Those three questions, though, ignore the larger question of this ridiculous debate:
Why on earth do I care about this? I don’t mean this in a grander, sociological, the-world-is-burning-so-who-cares-about-sports sense (although that would probably be a perfectly healthy attitude these days). I mean this: Barring injury, Cousins is the quarterback this year for sure, whether he plays on the tag or signs a deal. If he is great, he will be the quarterback next year, whether he plays on another tag or signs a deal. It isn’t my money, nor do I believe that any consumer prices—team shirts, stadium beers, tickets, hot dogs, stale peanuts—are going to be directly affected by Cousins’ deal. There is, in point of fact, unlikely to be any tangible difference to my life (even just my life as a consumer of sports product) regardless of what he does.
For a while that made me feel like the obvious decision was to check out of this conversation entirely, treasure these last few days before training camps start and we all go football-crazy again, and maybe take up a hobby. But then I found my deciding factor.
If Cousins plays this year on the tag, we’re going to have to go through all of this again next year. All the same blog posts, radio segments, podcasts, and self-referential sports columns. It’s like the most banal remake of Groundhog Day you can imagine. And absolutely none of us need that.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.