No, Kirk Cousins is not a ‘Stafford-in-waiting’

No, Kirk Cousins is not a ‘Stafford-in-waiting'


Kirk Cousins is not leading your team to a Super Bowl win.

Kirk Cousins is not leading your team to a Super Bowl win.
Image: Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams had a plan. Gather an elite roster and then trade everything away for a quarterback who can take that roster to the promised land. It worked. Now, every team with a half-decent roster and some draft capital is looking to follow in their footsteps. But who is the quarterback that can bring them over the edge? It would probably be someone who has spent years on a mediocre team and never really had an opportunity to lead a complete roster on a deep postseason run.

I’m not sure who exactly most people are talking about. Maybe Derek Carr. That’s the first guy that comes to mind of all the QBs rumored to move this offseason. One thing I do know for sure though, is that they’re not talking about Kirk Cousins, or at least they shouldn’t be.

Sorry, I’m going to need you to take an enormous step back from the pedestal. Cousins is a good quarterback with some very solid traits, but he isn’t going to win anybody a Super Bowl.

It’s pretty clear that Cousins is not as great a quarterback as Matthew Stafford. He isn’t now, and he wasn’t when Stafford was on the Lions. Stafford went to a team with an elite receiving corps, a solid O-line, great defense, and outstanding head coach. Even with all of that at his disposal, the Rams were the 4-seed in the NFC and won three of their four postseason games by just three points. Even if Cousins headed to a team with a similarly strong roster all-around (maybe Tampa Bay or Indianapolis), we’ve already established that he’s not as good as Stafford, so would he really be able to pull off those close postseason victories that Stafford did?

Cousins is a stats goblin. Tons of people love to point out his high passer rating (seventh-highest all-time) and impressive TD:INT ratio and pretend that he’s an elite quarterback. I don’t need to talk about how flawed passer rating is as a statistic. Jared Goff has a higher career passer rating than Stafford, and look how the Rams treated him. Clearly, they made an enormous mistake trading away Goff. Clearly, Goff is superior. Let’s see. Hmm… Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, Chad Pennington, and Alex Smith have higher career passer ratings than Brett Favre. It’s a good baseline stat to determine a quarterback’s ability to complete passes and avoid turnovers, but that’s all. It’s not a metric that evaluates the level of quarterback play.

TD:INT ratio is also a good stat, but not indicative of great quarterback play. Sure, Cousins is eighth all-time in that department, but numbers six through 10 are, in order, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, Cousins, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor. These are/were all fine quarterbacks, each of whom has/had playoff experience and moments of greatness, but none, aside from 2017 Wentz and Kaepernick before teams learned to counter his play-style, are/were Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. Come at me, Dak fans. He ain’t winning you one anytime soon. Cousins has never displayed the type of elite explosiveness that 2017 Wentz or early-career Kaepernick did though. He doesn’t have the arm strength or ability to diagnose a defense at the line and audible into a great matchup. Cousins does have great accuracy, but that’s the bare minimum for a quarterback nowadays.

Even quarterbacks with great accuracy metrics, like Tua Tagovailoa, can be subpar quarterbacks overall. I’m not saying that Cousins is, but he’s not a Stafford-type like some would have you believe.

Where Stafford won a Super Bowl in his first year with a competent team, Cousins couldn’t even return to the postseason his first year with a team fresh off an NFC Championship Game appearance. That’s a prime situation for any quarterback to find themselves in. This was a team that was one Nick Foles away from a Super Bowl appearance. Cousins was supposed to take them over the edge. Instead, he’s never led that team to the same heights. Of course, there are some caveats. That Case Keenum-led team that went 13-3 was handed two wins against the Packers, who were playing without Aaron Rodgers. Still though, Cousins’ best record as the Vikings’ starter is just 10-5, half a game behind where Keenum’s Vikings would’ve been had Rodgers been healthy.

There’s also the whole Mike Zimmer situation. Zimmer was not a good coach. He clearly didn’t like Cousins in 2021, but was forced to start him because Kellen Mond wasn’t ready. However, are we really going to sit here and believe that Zimmer was sabotaging Cousins’ career with the Vikings from the get-go? You’re telling me that from Day 1, when Cousins was brought on, Zimmer was dragging him down intentionally? I don’t buy it. Unless their name is Urban Meyer, I don’t think any coach has actively tried to bring down a franchise, which is essentially what Zimmer would be doing by sabotaging Cousins’ career. The Vikings offered him a fully guaranteed contract to be their franchise guy. Intentionally destroying his ability to make plays would not only be obvious, but a detestable, petty act that likely would’ve gotten Zimmer fired years ago.

Do I think Kevin O’Connell is going to be a better coach? Well, I can’t say for certain, but I like most of the ideas he’s brought up so far, especially the one about using Justin Jefferson in a Cooper Kupp-type role next year. I’ve even written about how doing so would likely give Jefferson Kupp-level numbers. However, we’ve also heard other coaches say similar things about other players only for them to do the exact opposite (i.e.: WFT saying they’d use Antonio Gibson in a “Christian McCaffrey role”).

The final defense I always hear for Cousins is the… lack of defense on his teams. That’s just not true though. In Cousins’ first year with the Vikings, the team finished fourth in total yards per game allowed and ninth in points per game allowed. Sure, they could’ve forced more turnovers — they only forced 20 on the season — but you can’t have absolutely everything go your way. The Vikings finished 8-7-1 that year.

Let’s give Cousins the benefit of the doubt though. Maybe he needed a year to adjust to the new system. It was his first year away from Washington. He was just two years removed from having Sean McVay as his offensive coordinator. Maybe he just needed some time. In 2019, the defense wasn’t as great, but still very solid. They finished 14th in yards per game allowed, fifth in points per game allowed, and fourth in turnovers forced. The Vikings did make the playoffs, and even won a game, but were trounced in the divisional round by San Francisco.

That was Cousins’ best year with the Vikings. The defense and offensive line have slowly deteriorated since then, and the team hasn’t returned to the playoffs since. You might be thinking, “Well clearly, when he’s got a capable defense, he can lead a team to the playoffs and even win.” Sure, whatever. Any quarterback can win when put in the perfect situation. Look no further than Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s not a good quarterback. At his best, he’s average. He reached a Super Bowl and an NFC Championship in three years (and he’s the only active quarterback with multiple Super Bowl rings, but of course, those came as a backup in New England). Garoppolo was in a perfect situation and did what he had to to win games. Props to him for that, but there’s a reason the 49ers want to step away from him. He wasn’t winning them games. Cousins would be a step up from Garoppolo, but much like Garoppolo, Cousins needs an elite supporting cast in order to win games, and even with that elite supporting cast, Cousins doesn’t possess the explosiveness needed to win a Super Bowl.

If the Vikings choose to retain Cousins and the Packers part ways with Aaron Rodgers, I fully expect the Vikings to win the NFC North. Make no mistake though, they are not a Super Bowl-caliber team. They were when Cousins first arrived in Minneapolis, but Cousins and Zimmer squandered that opportunity. Cousins is not a “Stafford-in-waiting.” He already had his chance and didn’t do anything with it.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.