Pardon the Turbulence – Should The Jets Pursue Kirk Cousins?

Scott Mason and Dalbin Osorio debate if the New York Jets should sign Kirk Cousins after the 2017 season in this week’s “Pardon The Turbulence”

Dalbin Osorio and Scott Mason kick off our new series “Pardon The Turbulence” where they will debate issues around the New York Jets. Today’s debate…should the New York Jets pursue quarterback Kirk Cousins next offseason? 

Scott: I have to admit, Dalbin, I am genuinely torn on this.  On the one hand, Kirk Cousins is a legitimate top 12-14 QB in the NFL and the Jets haven’t had anybody close to that level since Brett Favre in 2008 (which you can hear all about during our discussion on the 2008 season with Kerry Rhodes on Play Like A Jet. Of course, Favre was pushing 40 at the time and Cousins will only be 30 when the 2018 season starts.  But on the other hand, as I wondered a few months ago, what if Hackenberg is actually good?  That would negate the need for Cousins.  Or what if the Jets are bad enough to get the #1 pick and have their choice of college QBs?  Would you rather have a proven productive QB or take a shot at a potentially dominant one who is much younger?  So many questions to be asked and answered here.

Dalbin: I will admit: I did not like Kirk Cousins at Michigan State. I thought doubling up on QBs in the same draft was a dumb move by Mike Shanahan, but it turned out to be a stroke of genius when RG3 flamed out due to injuries. Jay Gruden’s system, which helped develop Andy Dalton, assisted in turning Cousins into a productive player at the most important position in the sport. Washington’s front office surrounded Cousins with talent in the passing game and a solid offensive line, which elevated Cousins from a QB with game manager potential to a QB that is really a game manager but now produces because of the weapons around him. His numbers are there, very similar to guys like Matt Schaub, but when you look closer you see a QB that still struggles to elevate the guys around him. That reason gives me pause, not to mention his age. To commit the money it would require to sign him, and then build up the team around him? It seems like eventually you would have to make some decisions about who to keep.

You hit the nail on the head Scott when you bring up Christian Hackenberg. What exactly does he have to show you this year that will let you pass on signing Cousins next year?

Scott: Yeah I’m with you, Dalbin – I thought Shanahan was crazy for doubling up on QBs, too, but Lord only knows where they would be right now if they hadn’t.  Kind of weird how picking two QBs in the same draft has worked for the Redskins twice now (picked Heath Shuler #3 overall in 1994 and then Gus Frerotte in the 7th round and Frerotte had a much better career than Shuler).

I think I like Cousins more than you do in that I think he’s more than a game manager, but I also don’t think he’s an elite player.  He’s sort of in that middle ground where he’s a good QB who is efficient and very difficult to replace, but he’s not a playmaker who can do what you mentioned and elevate the play of those around him ala Rothlisberger, Brady, Rodgers, Brees, etc…

Here’s where it gets interesting with Cousins.  Assuming he doesn’t just run to the 49ers as many – including your Draft Szn co-host Jeff Lloyd – believe he will, and the team does what they did in 2016 and wins just enough games to not be in position to draft a top QB, do you go full blast after Cousins?  Realistically, let’s say you have the sixth pick, and for the sake of argument, Darnold, Rosen, and Allen are all slotted to go ahead of your pick.  We both know you’d have to give up an insane haul to move up and grab one of them.  If you are going to do that, you’d better be 100% convinced that the guy you are getting isn’t just going to be good, he’s going to be the kind of superstar playmaker we mentioned.  Because otherwise, you can get Cousins, spare yourself the pain of giving away your best draft assets in 2018, 2019, and maybe even 2020 in a blockbuster trade, and use those assets to build a competitive team around Cousins.

As much as it would be painful committing so much cap space to Cousins, I’d still rather do that than blow several years-worth of premium assets trading up for a QB who is not going to be elite.  If Cousins is available, it kind of makes it easier to avoid the temptation to overpay for Allen, Darnold, or Rosen if you feel like none of them will be top 10 level, but you know the fanbase will have your head if you don’t pick a QB.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer the rookie because of age, cost, etc…. but ONLY if you are 100% sold that rookie is special.

And if you are bad enough to get the top pick?  If Cousins is available, as our own Edward Gorelik pointed out, you could theoretically trade the pick for a boatload of picks the way Cleveland did two yeas ago, sign Cousins, and use those picks to build around him.  That said, I’d only do this if I wasn’t in love with the top QB prospects, because there is nothing that tops having a 20 year old future star at that position.

Of course, as we both said, this all gets thrown out the window if Hackenberg shocks everybody and is actually good.  It’s tough to say what I’d need to see out of him to be convinced he’s the guy going forward, but I think if he could do something similar to what Jay Cutler did in his rookie season, that would certainly do it for me.  At a minimum, I’d have to see him regularly making plays, learning from mistakes, and showing constant improvement in Morton & Bates’ offense to really consider passing on Cousins AND deciding not to go all in on a QB in the 2018 draft.  You think that’s fair?

Dalbin: You are right; Washington has gotten the QB thing right more often than we have for sure. Even RG3, with his flaws, led them to a division title. Cousins will have the longer and more productive career, just like Frerotte did.

Yeah, I think our disagreement on where he lands is why I have a little more pause than you. Granted, we have seen guys like him win Super Bowls by being propped up by the talent around them and then going on these crazy runs come playoff time. We agree that he is not a guy that will elevate you on his play alone, but if you invest the kind of contract it will take to sign him he needs to be.

64% completion percentage, 3,500 yards, 20 TDs and 14 INTs sells you on Hackenberg? At first glance, those are really good numbers and I would sign up for that in a heartbeat. I’ll lower the bar a little bit: 60%, 3,000 yards, 14 TDs, and 12 INTs. Who’s that, you ask Scott? That is Super Bowl Champion Joe Flacco’s rookie year. Is that too low?

I’ve always been of the school of thought that you do whatever you have to do to go get got franchise QB in the draft. While Jeff believes Cousins will go right to SF, I think Cousins will go where the money is. That could be right back to Washington on the tag for a 3rd year, or he might go home to Michigan if the Lions cannot resign Matt Stafford. Even if the Jets pick in the latter half of the top 10, which I think is more likely than them picking in the top 3, if they love Rosen (my QB1), Allen, or Darnold then you go get him. It is a roll of the dice, but if Hackenberg does not show enough and you do not want to commit to Cousins then that is the smarter play in my opinion. For me, that makes more sense. If you pick first, I disagree with Edward’s notion that you then still go all in on Cousins and trade the pick because adding a rookie QB on the rookie scale for five seasons? That REALLY lets you build a sustainable team. Is there anything that makes you not want to go after Cousins?

Scott: I think we largely agree on what the best course of action if Hackenberg doesn’t work out.  The two major differences between us seem to be that I would only make a huge move for Darnold, Rosen, or Allen if I saw one of them as a franchise altering talent.  If you view those three guys as “good” as opposed to “great,” then I would either trade out of the #1 pick or – if I was picking lower – avoid a major move to trade up.  Obviously, opinions on these guys vary greatly and will change throughout the 2017 CFB season – after all, the top QB selected in the 2017 draft was on nobody’s list of top QBs going into the 2016 season – so we have a long way to go in making a proper assessment.

The other difference between us is that if Hackenberg does not work out AND the team is either not in position to get a QB or doesn’t believe strongly in any of the available prospects, then I would try to pay Cousins.  We both agree that he isn’t in the elite level of QBs, and he isn’t SUPER young.  However, he’s only going to be 30 when 2018 begins, which means that barring injuries, he should have another five years left in the tank at a relatively high level.  Also, with a good defense and the right offensive pieces around him, I do believe the Jets could contend.  I don’t necessarily believe they could be a perennial contender the way the Steelers, Patriots, Packers, and Seahawks are, but I do think they would be capable of making a run.  You mentioned Joe Flacco before and I certainly think Cousins is on that level, so if Flacco could do it, I don’t see why Cousins couldn’t.

Speaking of Flacco, if Hackenberg had the rookie year Flacco did, that might be enough for me to consider going with him.  But it would also depend on how much I liked the QBs available in the draft and what my key offensive staff thought of him.  I’d like to see respectable numbers, but more than that, I need to see constant improvement, grasp of the offense, leadership skills, and the ability to learn from mistakes.  Many of us had a blindspot after Sanchez’s rookie year because of how well the team did and the occasional flashes of brilliance we saw, but the biggest problem was that he repeated mistakes over and over again.  He never really improved, he just got us to forget about his lack of improvement because the team went deeper into the playoffs than we ever expected.  With Hackenberg, I need to see more than that.  By year’s end, I want to see real promise and progress.  Otherwise, it’s time to move on to a QB in the 2018 draft or an insanely high priced ex-Michigan State QB (and no, I don’t mean Tony Banks, though in fairness, ol’ Tony might actually be an improvement over what we watched at QB with this team last year lol).

That said, I yield the floor to you and offer you the last word, kind sir.

Dalbin: Yeah, I think that is where we veer off: I mentioned this on the TOJ Pod, but I believe this draft class has the chance to be better than the 2004 draft class because of the quality and quantity of productive starters. So, even if I didn’t get one of the Big 3 I think you could land a guy that you can groom to be your Kirk Cousins. I do believe there is a gap between Sam Darnold (my QB3) and Mason Rudolph (my QB4), but Rudolph might end up having the better career because he could land in a spot that allows him to develop whereas Darnold may not have that luxury.

See, I would not pay Cousins if Hackenberg shows something. I think the Jets would be better suited developing the youngster on a rookie deal than to splurge on a then-30 year old QB. Also, because of the red shirt year Hackenberg received last year you would then only give him one more year on his current deal on your team essentially after you invested two full years to his development. I wouldn’t do that, and it would be extremely short sighted and reactionary for the Jets to do that.

I agree; we need to see more than just statistics that give Hackenberg a shot going forward. Does he play smart in the red zone? Does he take unnecessary sacks? Is he now dating a starlet? All of that matters if you’re going to be the face of the franchise going forward.

Pardon the turbulence.

Photo Credit: NFL.com