The Kirk Cousins contract fatigue is real

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May there one day be a Washington football game in which the primary takeaway has nothing to do with Kirk Cousins's

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Kirk Cousins, after throwing an interception. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Are you weary of wearing accounting eyeshades during the fourth quarter of every Redskins game? Do you dream of a day when your first thought after each pass isn’t how much money that attempt may have earned or cost the great-grandchildren of Kirk Cousins? Do you find yourself envious of other fanbases that might view football games as something other than three-hour referendums on the precise financial value of a slightly above-average NFL starting quarterback? And did you find yourself walking away from Sunday’s disappointing loss thinking either “a franchise quarterback wouldn’t have thrown that red-zone interception,” or “great, now people are gonna argue that a franchise quarterback wouldn’t have thrown that red-zone interception”?

Then you, like me, might be suffering from Kirk Cousins Contract Fatigue. And there likely will be 15 more flare-ups this fall. Better get some ointment. Or at least some earplugs.

Amid all the craziness of the offseason negotiations — Bruce Allen assuring us that Kirk Cousins was Washington’s long-term answer at quarterback, Bruce Allen assuring us that reaching a deal with Kirk Cousins wasn’t as complicated as the pundits suggested, Bruce Allen assuring us that Kirk Cousins is actually named Kurt — this particular nightmare kind of eluded me. Until Sunday, when — with horror typically felt only by watching Daniel Snyder dance to House of Pain — I suddenly realized: “Oh no, we’re actually doing this again.”

“This” being the weekly plebiscite about not just the team, but the quarterback. Should they have paid him? Should they have tagged him? Should they pay him in the future? Should they tag him in the future? Was Allen right after all? Could the front office trade possibly 17 draft picks and some remaindered No. 10 jerseys to move up for Sam Darnold, and then fly to a Caribbean island to celebrate?

“Cousins getting 23 [million] is comic tragedy,” one reader emailed me Monday morning.

“Hard to be excited for a team when their key player is just better then mediocre,” another wrote.

“Why do you keep insisting on top 3 money?” someone tweeted at both me and Cousins’s agent.

“Who think(s) Cousins should get paid?” another asked me.

“Wasted money,” someone else wrote to me.

“You want Aaron Rodgers money, you better damn well play like Aaron R.,” another wrote, while someone else suggested Cousins might be playing poorly on purpose to ease his way out of town.

Granted, the NFL shines over-reactive klieg lights on every quarterback who falters. Andy Dalton will be roasted this week for his five turnovers Sunday. Scott Tolzien and Tom Savage — who Google insists were real-life starters Sunday — will be at least gently grilled. Eli Manning, who decided to wear a glove on his non-throwing hand this season in an attempt to limit his turnovers, will face his traditional September flambé. Presumably the Jets also started a quarterback, and probably he did something charmingly bad.

That’s all fine, and normal. Less normal is what we face in Washington: a second straight season where an established quarterback — on a one-year contract that makes him fabulously wealthy — is judged every week either to be worth that fabulous wealth because of larger economic forces, or to be a colossal waste of that money because of an off-target fourth-quarter throw. Never before have so many been so concerned about the thickness of Snyder’s wallet.

I’m not above it, either. The last time Cousins took the field for a real game, he threw a regrettable season-ending interception against the Giants. And within seconds, Barry Svrluga and I were talking about whether that should affect his negotiating position, and how much that might have cost him, and whether it increased or decreased the probability of a long-term contract.

Eight months later, nothing’s changed. There was Cousins on the same home field, against another divisional opponent, making another unfortunate late-game mistake with another costly interception. This time, it was on the Philadelphia 14-yard line early in the fourth quarter, when a field goal would have given Washington the lead.

“Not good,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “We’re down two. We have to protect the ball right there. Protect the ball.”

“My eyes were in the wrong place, and it leads to what you saw,” Cousins said. “It’s disappointing. You’ve got to be able to make that play there. … Those are the plays you look at and say, ‘I’ve got to be better.'”

That’s what you might say in a normal market: that the quarterback has to be better. (And he does.) But that’s not our wavelength. For us, it’s right back to the more existential debate: Is Cousins the right guy for this team? Is he worth franchise-tag money? Is it time to move on?

It’s debilitating. It’s depressing. It’s exhausting. I know you’re exhausted, no matter what side of the debate you’ve taken. The Cousins supporters get furious when every turnover is judged not as a mistake but as a reckoning. The Cousins detractors can’t resist told-you-so’ing, even when it means their own team suffers. And all the arguments are the same.

Every market goes through quarterback nonsense, but ours is a unique form of nonsense, because the front office has elected to handle its quarterback in a unique way: as a perpetual one-year audition. I understand how we got to this point, but I also understand the result: On the second Monday in September, people are debating whether Cousins’s Week 1 failings amounted to a victory for the front office. Who in the world wants to have that debate even once, much less for two full seasons?

If Cousins had a long-term deal, his mistakes would still be questioned — is Joe Flacco elite? — but at least his status with the team would be settled. If Cousins had departed this offseason, the front office would still be questioned, but the focus would be on the search for his replacement. Instead, the Redskins have opted for indecision, an option that guarantees the fan base will continue to devour itself over a question that has persisted for at least 18 months.

We can’t keep this up. There’s just no joy in it. Try to blot out that quarterback referendum stuff, and just watch 16 games of football. Resist the urge to attach dollar signs to every drop back. Make your judgments in January.

But it’s hard, and that’s because of choices made by the front office (and yes, by Cousins too.) I asked Friday whether anyone was excited about this Redskins season, and a surprising number of people told me they weren’t because of the Cousins deal, because it’s hard to buy in when the most important position in team sports remains a year-to-year proposition. And that makes sense. You don’t want to buy the jersey of a future 49er. You don’t want to treat every drive as a determinative test. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life debating how much the league’s 14th-best quarterback is worth.

That’s what the Redskins have given us, though, for at least another 15 weeks. Which is why my case of Kirk Cousins Contract Fatigue probably will get worse before it gets better.

Read more: 

Week 1 showed the NFL preseason may be broken, and there not may not be a solution

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Cole Beasley’s amazing catch

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