By Jason Keidel
You need not be a Teamster or major union delegate to root against the NFL in any labor fight. The NFL is the sports equivalent of The Man, the boot on the collective throat of the employee.
Many pro football players make millions. But we only see the glittering, glamorous side, the Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Antonio Brown, who not only exceed the mortality rate of the average player, but have already made more money than their their kids (and their kids) could possibly spend. We don’t, however, see the practice squad stiff who toils on those frostbitten fields, risking life and limb for a few grand and the chance to say he played on Sunday. We only see the sprawling, two-decade career of Peyton, not the reality that the average NFL career is barely three years.
So in light of the historical imbalance between employee and employer, it’s not only instructive, but downright fun to see Kirk Cousins stick it to The Man. In this case, that man is Dan Snyder, and his Washington Redskins.
Brady may be widely regarded as the GOAT, but only Cousins is being paid like it. The Washington QB just endured another season as a franchise-tagged player. His penance? Suffering through a season in which he will be paid $24 million. Moreover, Cousins is the first QB in NFL history to be so designated in consecutive seasons.
Cousins has become increasingly known as a high-end passer and emotional leader whose battle cry “You Like That?!” has become a kind of comic mantra around the league. Most players celebrate success by using their absurdly strong and flexible limbs, dancing and jumping and contorting in ways that make most of us wince. But Cousins has those three words, first barked by the ecstatic QB as he stormed back to the locker room after an electric win.
The NFL, which normally wields longterm contracts like a scythe over desperate players whose lifestyles — replete with entourages, penthouses, pet tigers and falcons in a gold cage — make them unbearably thirsty for a drink from the team’s monetary well.
One of the reasons NFL seasons rarely begin or end with a players’ strike is they aren’t disciplined enough to endure one. It also explains why the NFLPA gets spanked at the bargaining table every time, with league owners smirking after every collective bargaining agreement. For every Barry Sanders, whose idea of a spending spree is a donation to his church, there are too many players who are getting their next Bugatti in beige to go with the one in brown.
But that doesn’t explain this bizarre, corporate tete-a-tete between Cousins and Washington. If they didn’t feel he were a franchise quarterback, they would not have protected him so ardently. Yet if they felt so strongly that he were indeed the face of the future, they would have locked him up legally and eternally with a six-year contract.
So what are they waiting for? Last year, Cousins finished in the top 10 in nearly every salient statistic. Last year, Cousins was third in the NFL in passing yards (4,917), second in completions over 20 yards (69), third in completions over 40 yards (13), third in first downs (225), third in yards per completion (8.1), ninth in completion percentage (67.1), eighth in passer rating (97.2), and seventh in first down percentage (37.1).
The conflicting impulses speak to two dynamics — the fact that there’s a dearth of decent NFL quarterbacks and Washington’s recent struggles. Not since Joe Gibbs left (the first time) have the Redskins been anything that resembles a model franchise. They burn through executives and quarterbacks like a regular through buffalo wings at the local pub. And since Snyder bought the club they have planted a turnstile in front of the head coach’s office.
That could finally be changing. It seems they may finally have found their man in HC Jay Gruden, who was largely known as Jon’s kid brother before this gig. Gruden has brought stability and competence to the team, and he’s also done wonders with Cousins. And considering the club seemed to be set for another free fall after the failed RG3 experiment, Cousins kept them from jamming the reboot button.
What more does Washington want? Indeed, over the last two seasons, Cousins has grown from quite competent to quite good to spectacular. Perhaps he’s not Aaron Rodgers (who is?), but between 2015 and ’16 Cousins has completed over 68 percent of his passes, averaged 4,500 yards, 27 touchdowns and just 11.5 interceptions. And for his stellar 2016 season, Cousins was selected to the Pro Bowl. Consider he’s also just entering his prime, at 28. There’s an NFL bromide that the greatest ability is availability. To that end, you can’t be more available than Cousins, who has started all 32 team games over the last two years.
When your other possible options are AJ McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo, Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler, Cousins sounds pretty darn appealing.
Cousins looks like a franchise QB, throws like a franchise QB, plays like a franchise QB…
We Like That.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.