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NFL : Should the Bills Pursue QB Kirk Cousins?

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(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America)

With news that Washington Redskins backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins is open to a trade, all QB-needy teams have to seriously consider whether acquiring Cousins.

Ever since last December when former Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan, decided to bench starting quarterback, Robert Griffin III, for “health reasons,” leading to Cousins starting the remaining three games of the 2013 NFL season, teams such as the Vikings, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, and several others have had their names bandied about in rumored trades for Cousins.

It shouldn’t be assumed that the Buffalo Bills do not belong on that list as well. Despite head coach Doug Marrone’s quick proclamation that E.J. Manuel will be the Bills starter next season, all are not convinced of Manuel’s ability to be a franchise quarterback in this league. The Bills should keep all of their options open when it comes to the most important place on their roster.

The Bills selected Manuel with the 16th pick of last year’s draft, making him the only quarterback taken in the first round that year, and surprising many who did not consider him to be a first rounder, started just ten games last season for the Bills and finished only nine of them due to two separate injuries to his knees which both required surgery. Manuel’s numbers were average at best as completed 180 of his 306 pass attempts (58.8%) for 1,972 yards and 11 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.

His QBR was 42.3 (50 is considered average) and a 77.7 NFL passer rating. Twice he had QBR scores in games below 10. There were games when Manuel looked like he belonged in the league, such as in the Bills’ opener against division rival, the New England Patriots and in the second game against the Jets in November.

But then there were the clunkers like the late season loss to Tampa Bay in which he threw four interceptions against zero touchdowns and earned a QBR of just 3.8.

It is difficult to judge Manuel fully as he was never completely healthy and was in and out of the lineup and practice where he failed to get the practice reps that are so crucial as a rookie. The fact that he could not stay healthy in and of itself led to whispers of a ‘injury prone’ quarterback.

Owners, general managers, and fans are all so impatient for their ‘franchise’ quarterback to succeed now thanks to the rookie seasons of players such as Cam Newton, Griffin, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck that it is difficult to say whether Manuel truly is not capable of being a long-term starter on a contending team or he has simply not been given the time to develop.

What we do know is that anointing a second-year quarterback as the definitive starter barely into the off-season, after a shaky first year, is not the best avenue to fuel his growth, ability to push himself, and competitive spirit (Mark Sanchez, anyone?).

Bringing in Cousins to push Manuel while contending for the starting job could be a win on both levels.

However, first the Bills must to decide just how good Cousins is (or how good he projects to be) and what price they would be willing to pay for him. The general consensus is that it would take a 3rd or 4th round draft pick to get Cousins from the Redskins.

Is Cousins worth such a pick?

Cousins was drafted in the 4th round the same year that the Redskins also selected Griffin. Many openly questioned the pick: why take another QB so high after just having given up so much to get Griffin who was supposed to be your franchise QB for the next decade and a half? The Redskins actually demonstrated incredible foresight in doing so (I know how unbelievable that is with a Dan Snyder-owned team). Cousins was able to serve as a capable backup should Griffin get hurt (a good bet based on the number and type of hits he took), but also as trade bait designed to bring the Redskins with more assets in return.

Expecting Griffin to return completely healthy after a full off-season of rest and practice reps, now might be the perfect opportunity for the Redskins to off load Cousins.

In the small sample size we have on Cousins he has been inconsistent at best; quite typical for any rookie quarterback. In the eight games he has appeared in over the course of the last two seasons, Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns against 10 interceptions. In his 3 starts to end the 2013 season, Cousins had a 31.4 QBR (well below league average), good enough for only 27th in the NFL. He completed less than 53% of his passes (81 of 155) for 854 yards and four touchdowns with seven interceptions, averaging only 5.51 yards per completion.

In a December 15th game at the Falcons that the Redskins would win, Cousins completed 64.4% of his passes (29 of 45), throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns (against two interceptions) good for a 63.4 QBR (94.8 NFL passer rating). Yet it is key to remember that the Falcons were just 27th in total defense and defensively they were 21st in passing yards allowed per game at 243.6, certainly not the stoutest of defensive fronts he could have faced.

When he was faced with the Giants 10th-ranked defense against the pass (their pass rush was much better to end the season than at the start), Cousins completed just 38.8% of his passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns, and 2 interceptions for a 5.5 QBR.

Like Manuel, Cousins is not always the best decision-maker but for both that could come with more experience (and in the case of Cousins, more first team reps). Cousins strong points include his size and arm strength, especially important for teams that rely on play-action passing; the ability to make accurate passes downfield can lead to a very explosive and efficient offense from designed play-action sets.

With C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, it is essential to what the Bills do on offense. At times, Cousins appears to be too locked in on his first read, predetermining where he’s going with the ball and failing to expect the open receiver. He can also be a little skittish around pass-rush pressure which can result in slight break downs to his mechanics.

Both of these flaws are common with rookie quarterbacks and aren’t necessarily overwhelming red flags.

I think most fans tend to forget these games and mistakes and remember Cousins as the quarterback that came in during the last quarter of a 2012 game against Baltimore (the first time RGIII injured his knee) to lead the Redskins in the last few minutes of the game on a drive that culminated in a game-tying touchdown to force overtime where the Redskins eventually emerged victorious.

Or they remember his next start against the Browns where he completed over 70% of his passes, threw for over three touchdowns and had a QBR of 77.4, securing another win. Cousins is both quarterbacks – the good and the bad as is Manuel.

It is not clear that either are franchise caliber QBs but based on careful observation, that some healthy competition at the quarterback position would be good for Manuel. If the Bills could entice the Redskins to part ways with Cousins for a fourth round pick it might be worth taking a flier on him.

Anything more and the Bills could risk getting into dangerous territory for such a young team that still needs various building blocks (usually best obtained through the draft) to reach a playoff caliber team.

Something for the Bills to seriously consider as we head into 2014.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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