In his first full season as a starting NFL quarterback, Kirk Cousins helped pilot Washington to the playoffs while completing 69.8 percent of his passes for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 picks, and while posting a passer rating of 101.6. Oh, and he earned a place at No. 85 on NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2016."
That said, Cousins is facing something of a second prove-it year, given that he's currently set to play under the franchise tag, which prompts the following question: Is Cousins a franchise QB? And if not, will he become one?
The skills are there, and you can't ignore his confidence that he'll prove himself worthy of a long-term deal. He still could go either way, but I would lean in favor of Cousins becoming a franchise quarterback.
Cousins might not look the part when compared to Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but we're also reaching a point where it may be time to lower the bar as to what defines a franchise quarterback. Cousins still needs some work -- of that, there is no question -- but he's also moving in the right direction.
What I thought Cousins did well last year was cut down on his bad plays -- his interception percentage was 2.0, down from 4.7 over his first three years -- by forcing the ball less. He always had throwing talent; I liked the way he was decisive and quick with his reads, along with his quick release. The disturbing thing to me was his performance in the playoff loss to Green Bay, when I don't think he played his best football (63 percent completion rate, 329 passing yards, one touchdown, six sacks and a passer rating of 91.7). That said, we do have to remember he is still a very young quarterback, experience-wise, and should improve with added seasoning.
I think Cousins has some of those attributes. But a franchise player stays in one place for their entire career and wins his team at least one Super Bowl. I need to see more from Cousins to determine if he's that guy for Washington.
Right now, though, I wouldn't include him among the 10 or so franchise quarterbacks in the league -- not quite yet. Players get measured by a whole new set of standards once they make the playoffs, as Andy Dalton can attest. Remember that Peyton Manning was scrutinized for a long time for his lackluster postseason record. You're not a franchise quarterback until you win playoff games, and Cousins hasn't done that yet.
One of the best things I've heard him say is that he knows he's not quite at that level yet. He's not taking it personally or getting emotional about it. He knows that he's got to play well for more than just one year to earn that long-term security. I think it's refreshing to hear Cousins say he has to earn it, unlike some others in this league.