There are many takeaways from the Washington Redskins' brutal 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. They include the likely end of any playoff hopes and how injuries eroded their run defense. Thoughts on the status of quarterback Kirk Cousins' contract overshadow all. The primary takeaway from his impressive Week 11 effort is that too many still believe the debate is solely over whether the organization is ready to pay up with a monster long-term deal.
It was comical in Week 9 when folks including national writers said the Cousins contract debate was over because he completed two clutch passes in win at Seattle. Important and quality plays indeed, but the previous 58 minutes weren't exactly riveting.
Sunday’s performance – at least the opening 54 minutes – rocked. This showing was much, much more complete and impressive than what Cousins did against the Seahawks.
Cousins threw darts all over the field against a Saints defense that rocked during what's now an eight-game winning streak, completing 22-of-32 passes for 322 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He connected with Josh Doctson, Vernon Davis and Jamison Crowder. He hung tough in the pocket and, while taking a wallop, delivered a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Grant, capping a drive kept alive with a fake punt conversion on 4th-and-1 from their own 15-yard-line.
Cousins did all of this on the road without tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring), leading rusher Robert Kelley (IR; knee) and starting center Spencer Long. The offense lost its leading rusher and receiver in the third quarter when the man who holds both of those distinctions, Chris Thompson, suffered a broken leg. Left guard Shawn Lauvao left with a stinger.
Yet the offense kept moving. The final touchdown pass, a seven-yarder to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle with 6:03 left, had Washington up 31-16.
The game unraveled from there, though it's hard blaming Cousins for the final dramatics. His counterpart Drew Brees completed his final 11 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns on the Saints' final two possessions of regulation. Washington rookie running back Samaje Perine couldn't convert a run on 3rd-and-1 with 2:38 left when a single yard probably ends the game.
If we’re looking for tipping points in this never-ending contract debate, Sunday’s is fair. There’s no knee-jerk reaction in saying Cousins impressed in numerous ways. He’s put up strong numbers despite the chaos around him all season.
If only the debate was just about whether the Redskins want him around long-term. It’s not.
Whether Cousins actually wants to remain with the organization that has never shown the same belief in him as it did Robert Griffin III is the true wild card. He certainly has options elsewhere.
That matter wasn’t resolved Sunday. That’s why suggesting this contract debate is over is wildly short-sided. That’s true even without mentioning the 4-6 Redskins are likely missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season or that a monster payday for the quarterback means scrimping at other positions during the offseason. Linebacker Zach Brown and cornerback Bashaud Breeland are among around 20 upcoming free agents on the roster. There are concerns at running back and receiver.
Cousins is doing all he can to help the Redskins win even though injuries have often ripped away or limited some of his best weapons and linemen. That's important to remember. So is that both sides must agree to a contract. Washington has the upper hand in the form of the transition or franchise tag. We know the Redskins aren't afraid to use the latter. This time the cost is $34 million, a number that might finally have the organization saying no more.
Ideally, both sides agree on a number that helps both sides. We don't know for sure if the Redskins are willing to pay up. We also don't know if Cousins is truly down for signing up. He'll say the right thing at times, but Cousins didn't have his agent counter Washington's offer last summer. Even if wildly low, there was no stopping Camp Cousins from going super high and hoping for a compromise or a contractual Hail Mary.
For some, the issue is whether Cousins is worth the massive deal. Fair enough, though it's getting harder for that side with every passing week of impressive passing. For now, the focus should be on the Redskins' season crashing down. Ha, as if. The Cousins contract talk will never end until he signs a long-term deal. Even if the Redskins are willing, there's no guarantee the quarterback says sign me up, not after this protracted negotiation that essentially began in 2015. It's why where Cousins plays in 2018 remains a mystery no matter how often folks declare game over.