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Instant Debate

Can Kirk Cousins become a franchise quarterback for the Redskins?

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 last six games of the 2015 season -- when Kirk Cousins posted a 72.8 percent completion rate, threw for 1,681 yards and 14 touchdowns against one pick and had a passer rating of 125.3 -- say yes. The home stretch can be the toughest part of the season, between fatigue, inclement weather and the pressure of winning a playoff spot -- and Cousins came through with stellar numbers and five wins. Of course, his first four games last season, in which he had a 68.6 percent completion rate, a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4:4 and a passer rating of 84.5, indicate that he's not quite there yet.

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. Not yet. One good year doesn't make you a franchise quarterback -- as the people in Washington learned with Robert Griffin III -- but Kirk Cousins is off to a strong start. He improved as he became more comfortable with leading that offense. His numbers (69.8 completion percentage, 29 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions) display an efficiency the team has lacked at that position since RGIII's rookie year. He also has a toughness about him that every team needs in its signal caller.

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. I don't think you can say Kirk Cousins is a franchise quarterback at this point. He needs more than one season of success for us to begin to think in those terms. He also will have to win in the playoffs, after going one-and-done last season. The Redskins had no choice but to keep him after his outstanding 2015 -- especially because they like him as a player and a person. Without a long-term deal in place, their only choice was to use the franchise tag.

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. Kirk Cousins has good talent and can be the leader of a team; he has the tools to win a lot of games. But when you talk about a franchise player, it's a guy who is going to be in that position for a decade. It's a player you don't need to put a lot of pieces around, someone who can carry a team during bad situations and has consistent numbers throughout his career.

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. Kirk Cousins had a very good final 10 games of the 2015 season; now Washington general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Jay Gruden have given him a chance to show what he's made of. The question is, can he win the NFC East again and win in the playoffs? If he can, he can be a franchise player.

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. If you get the franchise tag, one can say you are literally the franchise player. However, do I think Kirk Cousins has shown enough to be the true franchise player of the Washington Redskins? No; otherwise, they would've given him a long-term deal. But I think he's on his way.

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.

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