First of all, let me say this before continuing, this article is NOT about Tom Brady being in his 40s. Now that we’ve rid ourselves of the elephant in the room, let’s see why the Patriots’ reign over the American Football Conference could end by no fault of their own.
The real reason why the Patriots will be in big trouble for the foreseeable future is because of the most overlooked player in the NFL. Someone who shares the most similarities to Tom Brady of anyone in the league: Kirk Daniel Cousins. I will admit that I am the biggest Kirk Cousins fan in the world, I have been since 2012. I’m not a Michigan State fan, I hardly watch college football, and I’m not a Redskins fan. However, I just saw something in Kirk Cousins when I watched him play at Michigan State and observed him on Gruden’s QB Camp, the best show on ESPN. Now that I’ve provided the details on my long love for Kirk Cousins, allow me to explain how this impacts the Patriots. First of all, Kirk Cousins is the first elite quarterback to reach free agency since Drew Brees in 2006. After being blatantly disrespected since day 1 by one of the most dysfunctional organizations in sports, Kirk did not sign a long-term extension with the Washington Redskins and will become free to sign with another team, assuming the Skins don’t franchise tag him for the 3rd consecutive season at about $34 million. Before the season started, the two most likely landing spots for Cousins were the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams. Both teams are coached by two of Kirk’s former offensive coordinators, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, so they seemed like logical destinations. Fast forward five months and both teams appear to be settled at the quarterback position with Jimmy G tearing it up in the Bay and Jared Goff putting together an admirable sophomore season. Because of what transpired with the two NFC West teams, the entire NFL is speculating where Kirk will call home, and I have two solutions: the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Again, before diving into his free-agent options, let’s take a second to look at how impressive Kirk Cousins has been since taking over as the full-time starter in Washington. In three seasons, 48 games, Cousins has averaged 4392 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, a completion percentage of 67, and a passer rating of 97.5. He has also rushed for 13 touchdowns over that span. Comparing those numbers to other quarterbacks of the modern age, you can see he surpasses what Drew Brees did in San Diego by far. Statistically speaking, Aaron Rodgers is the most comparable quarterback to Cousins through their first three full seasons. Rodgers averaged 4131 yards, 29-10 touchdown to interception ratio, a 64.6 completion percentage, and 99.4 rating. Moreover, while Rodgers is a more dynamic runner, both signal callers had equal rushing touchdowns. At this point I should clarify, I do not think Kirk Cousins is as talented as Aaron Rodgers, but he has not been put in the best situation to succeed. A prime example of this is the 2017 season in which the Redskins went an underwhelming 7-9, but if you watched all of their games, you can see Kirk was the reason they weren’t 4-12 or worse.
Two prime examples of Kirk being let down are losses to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, where Kirk had an efficient and gritty night, finally putting together a critic-silencing drive when Josh Doctson dropped a perfectly thrown ball in the end zone on 3rd & 2. The Redskins were forced to kick a game-tying field goal, and then the defense proceeded to collapse allowing the Chiefs to drive down the field in 40 seconds to win the game. The second and most gut-wrenching loss was against the New Orleans Saints. Kirk out-dueled Drew Brees all afternoon slinging for 322 yards, 3 touchdowns and no turnovers. The Redskins owned a 31-16 lead with under 6 minutes remaining, and yes the defense blew the game playing the softest zone that even Brock Osweiler could tear apart, never mind a Hall of Famer like Drew Brees. Combining awful play calling, terrible defense, and miscommunication on offense you get a loss that Cousins did not deserve.
Finally, I can not believe I’ve made it this far without discussing the losses the Redskins suffered on offense. Not only did the Redskins let top receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon walk in free agency, they also saw Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed barely play, leading running backs Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley be placed on IR, all of their offensive decimated by injuries, and top free agent weapon Terrelle Pryor underperform and get injured. By the end of the season, all Cousins had was Jamison Crowder, who dropped a key pass on the goal-line leading to an interception against the Cowboys, a shell of Vernon Davis, Ryan Grant, and Josh Doctson. Still with that rag-tag bunch, Kirk still managed to put up elite numbers despite a truly disgraceful final performance against the Giants that even I can’t defend.
Now if you have managed to make it this far, I’ll cut to the chase and say how this impacts the Pats. In my opinion, the road to the Super Bowl should be fairly easy this postseason: Bye in the Wild Card Round, March of the Tomato Can in the Divisional Round, and then Pittsburgh AT HOME in the Championship Game. However, if a team like the Broncos or Jaguars were to add Kirk Cousins, the entire landscape changes. Despite their atrocious season, the Broncos still have much of its Super 50 winning roster still intact. The defense is still great and people were quick to forget about Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders because they had Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler throwing to them. Give them an elite quarterback and they will back to challenging the Patriots especially if they have home field advantage at Mile High. Similarly, the Jaguars have built a contender overnight with their additions on defense and drafting Leonard Fournette. Furthermore, don’t let a few decent starts from Blake Bortles fool you, he is still a liability and the reason they will ultimately come up short in the playoffs. Cousins would provide stability to a young and talented team that would create a sustained run in the AFC for many years. Of course, we don’t know where Kirk will end up, but if he suits up in Denver or Jacksonville, Brady and company will have their hands fill stopping a team that could dominate both sides of the ball.