“Ridiculous” was the first word that came into my mind when the Washington Redskins drafted quarterback Kirk Cousins on a long-ago day last spring.
The NFL franchise, which I readily admit is my all-time favorite, had paid a heavy price to get the rights to draft Robert Griffin III, arguably the top quarterback in the draft pool. (Sorry, Andrew Luck. No offense intended.)
The 2011 Redskins had so many needs. Why waste a draft pick on yet another quarterback?
Wow, was my gut reaction wrong.
The frequency of NFL ball-handlers getting concussions, knee sprains, cracked ribs and various other job-related maladies makes quality depth a must for what used to be called a football team’s “skill positions.”
That’s another term that gets under my skin, being a former 170-pound backup center-guard at the now-closed Union High School. But I digress.
Cousins’ value to the Redskins has been demonstrated not once, but three times, this season because of Griffin’s injury-induced absences. Cousins helped the ’Skins win the last two of those three, including his remarkable first start in Sunday’s 38-21 victory in Cleveland.
He threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns with one interception against the Browns as Washington won its fifth game in a row.
Yes, I know. It was “just Cleveland.” But wait.
The previous Sunday, after Griffin suffered a knee ligament sprain, Cousins engineered a fourth-quarter drive against the Baltimore Ravens that lifted the Redskins out of an 8-point hole.
His 11-yard TD pass to Pierre Garçon, paired with Cousins’ two-point conversion run, tied the game and forced overtime. Kai Forbath’s 37-yard field goal won it.
After Griffin suffered a concussion while scrambling for yardage against Atlanta on Oct. 7, Cousins trotted into the huddle for his first extended time in a regular NFL contest.
He threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, giving the Redskins a brief lead, but was picked off twice after that and the Falcons stayed perfect through Week 5 of the season.
Cousins’ cumulative quarterback rating is 101.6, according to NFL.com. He’s thrown for 466 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The “other guy” in Washington’s new quarterback tandem hasn’t done badly, of course.
All RG3 has done is to throw for 2,902 yards and 18 touchdowns with just four interceptions. That puts the rookie second among NFC quarterbacks. He’s also run for 748 yards and six more scores, in 10th place among NFC runners despite not playing in Week 15. His average of 6.68 yards a carry is better than the other nine in that top 10, including Adrian Peterson.
The simple fact that both Griffin and Cousins are rookies fundamentally alters the dynamic of what is often a contentious, strained relationship between a starting quarterback and a backup.
Reports have described how the two Redskins sit in film sessions with each other, give tips to each other, strategize with and confide in each other. No doubt they both want to be full-time NFL starters, but their relationship in year one seems a very healthy one.
Prior to this year, when someone asked me “how about those Redskins,” I had a practiced answer ready.
“All the Redskins need,” I said, “is a quality quarterback, receivers, offensive line, defensive linemen, a linebacker or two, cornerbacks, a couple of safeties and a kicker.” People would nod their head in sad agreement.
What Washington got, primarily, in the 2012 draft was two quality quarterbacks. They needed them. The painful memories of Rex Grossman and John Beck in 2011 are receding far, far away.
The franchise is working on the rest of that long laundry list of needs, but there’s no doubt that the current team is much improved over its recent editions.
The Washington coaching staff has limited Griffin’s “designed runs” and cautioned him to try to keep from taking hits. That’s a good idea, of course, but running upfield is a by-product of how he has always played the game.
My greatest concern for Griffin is injury. My second-greatest concern is that some coach will try to restrict him into being a pocket passer, and not “let RG3 be RG3.” There’s got to be a happy medium in that spectrum somewhere.
But if Griffin is only able to cheer from the bench, having Kirk Cousins on your team is not a bad idea, at all.
Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone @ bdtonline.com.