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Palladino: Maccagnan Had Better Be Right If He Goes After Cousins

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

While the rest of the world agonizes over how Tom Brady and his 11-year-old son show affection, Mike Maccagnan has to decide whether to kiss up to Kirk Cousins or shower his love elsewhere.

It’s not so easy a decision, considering the pressure on the Jets’ general manager to finally find a quarterback who can win not just one year, but every year for the next five to 10 years. Now that Washington has a trade for Kansas City veteran Alex Smith in place, the Jets could, if they choose, find themselves in the thick of the action to woo Cousins, who is expected to become a free agent. How much could the Jets shell out? How does five years and $150 million, with $90 million guaranteed, strike you?

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That’s a big price for any team, even for the Jets, who are looking at potentially $100 million of salary cap space. And it’s especially risky with Cousins, a solid enough quarterback, but one who elicits no visions of deep playoff runs or Super Bowl trophies.

Kirk Cousins (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Due to plenty of other problems in Washington, Cousins has made the playoffs only once, and he’s two seasons removed from that 2015 one-and-done wildcard game.

He’s by far the best of the free-agent class. But look at the class. Drew Brees headlines it in name recognition, but the 39-year-old is no longer the slinger Saints fans lionized. Former Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo is on the list, but the 49ers will probably lay a franchise tag on him while they negotiate a long-term deal.

Sam Bradford always gets hurt. Case Keenum could be a one-year wonder. And, well, you get the idea.

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Cousins will certainly draw a line of other suitors. The question is whether Maccagnan wants to join the Browns and Broncos in the negotiating scrum. The wisest move might be to let those two battle it out and hope that one wins instead of, say, Jacksonville, Buffalo, or Arizona. Both draft ahead of the Jets, who pick sixth, so getting a veteran quarterback would move either Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, or Josh Allen down a notch or two.

The only problem is that they all have flaws. If Maccagnan deems one of them a day-one starter, then fine. But the guess is that they’re all a year away and one — Rosen — has shown signs of developing a problematic attitude.

That’s not something the Jets need right now.

The Cousins question really comes down to Maccagnan’s perceptive powers. If he really believes Cousins can become an elite quarterback, then the big paycheck will be worth it. But this is a quarterback who has shown no signs of rising to that level. He is hitting his prime years, however.

Maccagnan just has to make sure that he’s not buying into another veteran disaster like Brett Favre. Then again, Favre was well past his prime during his one-year stay in 2008.

Maccagnan can also mull one other factor while he waits for free agency to open March 14: The Reddkins didn’t want the guy.

If Cousins was so valuable down there, the ‘Skins could have franchised him for a third year and worked out a long-term agreement. Instead, they traded for Smith, another decent quarterback, but one who should in no way be mistaken for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or any other “elite” passer.

Then they gave Smith a bundle — a four-year, $94 million extension with $71 million guaranteed.

They clearly didn’t want to pay the incumbent. If one’s own team doesn’t think enough of a 30-year-old quarterback’s talent to keep him, then others should certainly beware.

The Jets, having failed already with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, have to be extra careful. Missing with Cousins would heap embarrassment on an already ridiculous situation that has the ancient Josh McCown sitting atop the depth chart.

Cousins is no sure thing. His projections lie in the eye of the beholder.

In the Jets’ case, Maccagnan is the beholder.

He’d better have a good eye before he shells out the kind of money Cousins wants.

Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino

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