RICHMOND, Va. — Kirk Cousins knows this season will determine his future in the NFL, and possibly whether it is with the Washington Redskins or elsewhere.
It’s a familiar situation for him, and Cousins said he’s learned how to handle expectations.
This season will mark the third straight year Cousins will be a free agent at season’s end. Because he and the team were not able to agree on a long-term contract, it’s also the second straight season he will play under the team’s franchise tag. He is the first NFL player to ever have that distinction.
“Because I played in a fourth year of my rookie contract knowing that I was going to be a free agent, and then I played under a contract last year where I knew I’d be a free agent, and now this year, this is my third go-around in that sense,” the 28-year-old Michigan State product said. “… I do feel like I know how to handle that. I understand that, ultimately, we just need to win football games and everything else will fall into place.”
This year will be his third full season as Washington’s starter. Cousins set franchise records with 4,166 and 4,917 passing yards the past two seasons, but has yet to win a playoff game. In 46 games, including 41 starts, he’s has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 12,113 yards, 72 touchdowns and 42 interceptions.
Cousins, who will earn $23.94 million this season, may feel and look more relaxed, but he knows he is far from a finished product.
“I certainly don’t want the narrative to become that, ‘Kirk’s so relaxed, he’s got this. He’s like Aaron Rodgers out there — just chill like he knows what’s going to happen next.’ That’s certainly not how I feel,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’ve got to go out there and prove myself and the season is a grind.”
The Redskins open their preseason schedule Thursday night at Baltimore, and will be without three of his most likely targets once the season starts. Receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson, along with tight end Jordan Reed, will miss the game with injuries. That will leave the receiving corps with mostly hopefuls trying to make the roster.
Two of Cousins most established targets in his first two seasons — Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon — both left as free agents after the season. Cousins won’t likely play for very long against the Ravens, and the snaps he does take will be opportunities not only to assess the hopefuls, but also his own development.
“The best quarterbacks, as the players come and go around them, continue to produce at a high level, and that’s certainly a goal of mine, to play well regardless of who’s in there,” he said. “In this league, with how much attrition takes place, you’re not going to have the luxury of the same starting receivers for 10 years.”
Coach Jay Gruden did not say how long he plans to play his starters against the Ravens. Cousins said he views whatever time he gets as a better opportunity to assess where the Redskins are offensively than daily workouts provide.
“You don’t want to have the answers to the test before you take the test,” he said after Tuesday’s practice, noting that he wished the team had been able to schedule a joint practice with an NFL team like they did in previous years.
“You want to play it true and honest and when you have a brand new team come in here with brand new players, it really helps you get a better test of where you are as an offense and as a group,” the quarterback said. “There’s a lot of value in that.”
For Cousins, there’s a lot of value in almost everything he does this season.