Details are steadily rolling out on Kirk Cousins and the 49ers, as well as the Washington and San Francisco organizations themselves. Deals have also gone down, as new general manager John Lynch brought in two new quarterbacks in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. This has pushed the narrative forward, providing more context and insight on the new regime.
However, the original question, and most intriguing mystery remains: Cousins or draft a franchise quarterback this year or next?
Why Cousins makes sense
Cousins will perform well and do it in his first year. And I won’t even bore you with the intricacies of the connection between him and the 49ers’ new head coach or the fact that former D.C. target Pierre Garçon is now in the Bay.
Truthfully, I don’t know of many quarterbacks that push for 5,000 yards passing that are bad. Jay Cutler is the closest example I can think of – he threw for 4,526 yards in 2008 with the Broncos. Combining his previous production with his knowledge of the system, Cousins is not likely to fall flat in San Francisco.
As well illustrated by Chris Biderman of USA Today, the quarterback in 2016 was top eight in completion percentage, top three in yards, top 13 in touchdowns, top 15 in interception rate, top three in yards per attempt, as well as top five in sack percentage and No. 7 in rating.
Given the volume of his throws in Jay Gruden’s system, Cousins’ high completion percentage is particularly encouraging.
Over his last two seasons, he’s been completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, and led the league in the category in 2015 (69.8). That’s vital, especially in the defense-dominated NFC West. And he's ballsy. So, overall, he would bring explosive plays down the field, help with the team’s turnover ratio and sustain long drives.
This is a quarterback is actually top 10 in the league, which is presumably good enough to make a hard run at a Super Bowl.
The reason not to dive headfirst into this is because of potential compensation that might have to go to Washington. However, since Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley were both signed, it seems as if the 49ers learned something significant enough during their talks with Washington that made them acquire what appears to be bridge-type options. That being said, Cousins could come Scott free in 2018 as an unrestricted free agent.
In that instance, the 49ers wouldn’t need to cough up critical draft picks and also pay top dollar; all they’d have to worry about is the contract. In 2018, or pending a last-minute, pressure type of deal in 2017 where San Francisco gets Cousins without giving up ridiculous compensation, it makes a lot of sense to get him from Washington.
But on the other hand . . .
There’s a lot to like about bringing in a gifted rookie early in the 2017 or 2018 draft.
For starters, and perhaps most important, there’s a chance the 49ers can find someone better than Cousins. Maybe he won’t match up statistically, especially right away, but there’s a chance they find a better gamer. Despite Cousins’ numbers, he does throw a lot, and in the leaky NFC East, so the stats are a bit inflated. Additionally, Washington hasn’t made the playoffs in that perennially wide open division, and with that offense. That team arguably had the best combined talent at receiver and tight end.
Deshaun Watson, for instance, is a player that has a history of making big time throws. He’s incredibly cool under pressure, he executes well, he has command of the offense and can throw with anticipation. And the ball placement from Watson even in those moments is a veteran trait that travels well from college to the pros.
So, whether you like to be sarcastic about QB wins or not, there’s something to be said about that competitiveness and ability to finish. Kemba Walker is a great example of a player with finisher traits. Those were his signature moments in college and it translated to the NBA. Who finds their zone at the right time?
That’s one reason why you consider a player like Watson over Cousins and the rest of the draft field.
Also, reports around the combine were that the Clemson quarterback’s interviews were glowing, more or less confirming that face-of-the-franchise potential. And while Watson appears to be the total package, Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech and DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame are two more viable options with potential to emerge as marquee players in the NFL.
There's also a potentially rich 2018 quarterback class to consider.
Two more perks of waiting out free agency and drafting a quarterback is 1) The rookie contract and potential fifth-year option, and 2) There’s also far less mileage: Cousins threw 606 times in 2016, and 543 times the year before that. A rookie’s arm is way less worn and from a mental perspective, there’s less reprogramming to be done because he’s had fewer coaches in his ear teaching him, perhaps offering contrasting advice.
In the end
To be up front, I slightly prefer the draft route, and for a few reasons, some of which were mentioned above.
But mainly because it seems clear the 49ers also aren’t ready to win right now. That has to play a factor here. Cousins is pushing 30 years old, and may begin to decline in his early 30s. (It's also possible he hasn't peaked). It just feels as if it has the risk of not aligning well timing wise.
But Lynch and Shanahan are bright — they'll make the right call. They’re fully aware they still have an entire team to build, especially judging by their super aggressive approach to free agency and the type of signings they’ve made. But it seems like, in all likelihood, according to all the reports, that the 49ers wind up with Cousins in the near future.
Hero image courtesy @DeshaunWatson4