Why Kirk Cousins' stock is on the rise

Why Kirk Cousins' stock is on the rise

The NFL has always had difficulty uncovering the next stars at the sport’s most important position.

And it figures to get more and more difficult as offenses in college have drifted away from the general requirements of playing quarterback at the NFL level, such as forming a huddle, lining up under center and reading defenses.

First-year 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan spoke before the draft about the difficulties of evaluating college quarterbacks and attempting to project how they will fit into NFL schemes.

“It makes it tougher each year to evaluate,” Shanahan said. “The more spread out it gets, the more up-tempo it gets, a little more sloppy it gets.

“I know a lot of colleges have committed to the spread, which is a good way to move the football and a good way to score points. But it does make it harder to evaluate if you don’t plan on doing the same thing.”

Are there enough good, young quarterbacks to take over after the current crop of aging, superstars fade out of the NFL? Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are in their mid-30s or older.

That is why Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins would be a player of interest for a lot of NFL teams if he becomes available next offseason. He turns 29 in August. But with the top quarterbacks continuing to play at high levels past 35 years old, any team could expect at least five solid seasons from Cousins.

Although he might not widely be considered a top-10 quarterback now, if Cousins continues to learn the game and improve he should move up as many of those in front of him exit the leauge.

Here’s a look at the ages this season of the non-rookie quarterbacks who are projected to start for their clubs:

40 – Tom Brady (NE)
38 – Drew Brees (NO), Carson Palmer (Ariz), Josh McCown (NYJ)
36 – Philip Rivers (LAC), Eli Manning (NYG)
35 – Ben Roethlisberger (Pitt)
34 – Aaron Rodgers (GB)
33 – Alex Smith (KC)
32 – Matt Ryan (Atl), Brian Hoyer (SF)
30 – Andy Dalton (Cinc), Sam Bradford (Minn)
29 – Matthew Stafford (Det), Ryan Tannehill (Mia), Joe Flacco (Balt) Kirk Cousins (Wash), Russell Wilson (Sea)
28 – Cam Newton (Car), Tyrod Taylor (Buff), Andrew Luck (Ind), Mike Glennon (Chi)
27 – Tom Savage (Hou)
26 – Derek Carr (Oak), Trevor Siemian (Den)
25 – Blake Bortles (Jax), Carson Wentz (Phi)
24 – Marcus Mariota (Tenn), Dak Prescott (Dal), Cody Kessler (Cleve)
23 – Jameis Winston (TB), Jared Goff (LAR)

With no extension for Cousins, a look at 49ers' QB options for 2018

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USATI

With no extension for Cousins, a look at 49ers' QB options for 2018

The 49ers, under general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, are attempting to build for the future.

Rather than aggressively pursue a veteran quarterback via trade, the organization opted this offseason to keep their coveted draft picks and build out as much of the roster as possible.

It made no sense for the 49ers to be willing to pay the steep price that would only begin the conversations with the teams – Washington and New England – who had intriguing quarterbacks set to become unrestricted free agents a year from now.

The 49ers are in no position to compete for the playoffs this season. So the 49ers could afford to take it slow at the quarterback position while trying to add as many accessory pieces as possible.

Why not wait to get the quarterback of the future until the price is right and the quarterback has a better chance to succeed with better players around him – on both sides of the ball?

The team added their man target, Brian Hoyer, at the opening of free agency. Once Matt Schaub opted to remain in Atlanta, the 49ers secured Matt Barkley as the backup.

Lynch took a very public approach to his evaluations of the top quarterbacks available in the draft. He gushed over Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Deshone Kizer and others. Of course, he never mentioned C.J. Beathard, whom the 49ers traded up to select in the back end of the third round.

The 49ers carried out the strategy in the first round of the draft by, in essence, turning their picks in the first and second rounds into defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster and a third-round pick next year. Along the way, the 49ers also picked up an additional second-round pick for next year.

The 49ers already have a long-term plan in the place. It would be inconceivable that the organization did not look three years in advance when charting the plan for this offseason. But, as always, that plan remains flexible.

A lot can happen in a year, but there are moving parts the organization will monitor before the plan is enacted.

HOYER AND THE IN-HOUSE CANDIDATES
Hoyer enters training camp as the starting quarterback. His performance this season will not be open to any kind of interpretation and projection. He gets the first chance to prove he should be the long-term starter.

Hoyer signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the 49ers. The onus is on him to take the starting job and hold onto it – give the organization no reason to look to upgrade.

Hoyer, who turns 32 in October, has shown to be a solid quarterback. But he also has not proven to be a dependable presence. After all, he has started 10 games or more only once in his career.

It is difficult to envision the 49ers would come out of this season convinced either Barkley or Beathard is the quarterback of the future. So short of a Pro Bowl-type season from Hoyer, the 49ers would likely be determined to add a long-term answer during the 2018 offseason.

COUSINS AND THE VETERAN MARKET
Of course, this is the Topic du jour because of Washington’s failure to reach a multi-year extension on Monday with quarterback Kirk Cousins.

It is simple to connect the dots. Cousins broke into the NFL in 2012 under Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator under his father, Mike Shanahan. Cousins is the kind of quarterback who fits what Shanahan wants.

Only Tom Brady has posted a better passer rating in both seasons since Cousins took over as the full-time starter. Shanahan likely believes Cousins could be even more productive in his system with his play-calling.

Cousins turns 29 in August, but that still leaves him at least a six-season window – if healthy – that he can remain in his prime.

Washington could place the franchise tag on Cousins again, of course. But Washington was unwilling to pay Cousins an average of the $23.94 million he is set to receive on this year’s franchise tag, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported.

Next year, the one-year franchise tag would jump to $34.47 million. The 49ers currently have $66.8 million in cap room and will carry over all unused space this year into 2018. The 49ers can essentially go as high as they feel is necessary to get the quarterback they target.

Cousins is not the only veteran option for next year. Shanahan said he had a high draft grade on Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. He enters the final year of his contract with New England. The Patriots will have a difficult decision next offseason. Can they retain both Tom Brady and Garoppolo?

Of course, Garoppolo remains mostly an unknown. He performed well in two starts last season during Brady’s suspension before sustaining a shoulder injury. Garoppolo turns 26 in November, and should have a lot of football ahead of him.

THE 2018 DRAFT CLASS
This is the last option -- coming nearly two months after the open of free agency. It is also the one option that is always the biggest unknown. After all, a year ago at this time Mitchell Trubisky was not even considered a draftable player – let alone the No. 2 overall pick.

Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Josh Rosen (UCLA) project as three of the top quarterbacks in next year’s draft. But whom will Shanahan envision as the best fit for his scheme?

Then, will the 49ers be in a position to draft the quarterback Shanahan might target? Unless the 49ers lose every game this season, they may not be able to fully control which player to choose in the draft.

49ers' future at QB hinges on Washington's Monday deadline

49ers' future at QB hinges on Washington's Monday deadline

Washington has until Monday, 1 p.m., to presumably take quarterback Kirk Cousins off the 2018 market for any interested teams.

It does not look as if a long-term deal is coming before the league-imposed deadline, which means Cousins would continue to be a person of interest for the 49ers – and their fan base – throughout the upcoming season.

Kyle Shanahan, of course, was Cousins’ first offensive coordinator when he came into the league in 2012. Cousins saw limited action in his first two NFL seasons under the Shanahans.

But after taking over as the full-time quarterback, Cousins has thrived. He started 32 games the past two seasons and completed 68 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a passer rating of 99.3.

Cousins is scheduled to play the upcoming season as Washington’s franchise player with a one-year, $23.94 million contract. If a multi-year contract is not signed by early Monday afternoon, he will not be eligible to sign an extension until after the end of the regular season.

In order for Washington to hold onto his rights for 2018, his franchise tag would leap to $34.47 million for one season.

The 49ers will have plenty of cap space in 2018 to go as high as they want to extend for any available player. Currently, the 49ers are $66.8 million under the salary cap. All unused cap space from one year can be carried over to the next. The 49ers have vowed to continue to roll over all of their unspent cap money.

If Washington places the transition tag on Cousins, the 49ers would have the flexibility of structuring a front-loaded offer sheet to take advantage of the league’s most cap space and prevent Washington from matching the terms of the deal.

The 49ers decided to be patient this offseason at the quarterback position. Rather than make a play to trade for Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, general manager John Lynch opted to build out the roster rather than mortgage the future at other positions for the club's potential franchise quarterback.

Brian Hoyer was Shanahan’s target on the free-agent market. After Atlanta backup Matt Schaub opted to remain with the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers secured Matt Barkley as the backup.

Lynch attended the pro day of every top quarterback in the draft, but the 49ers ultimately selected unheralded C.J. Beathard at the end of the third round to develop for the future.

Hoyer, 31, will get an opportunity to show that the future of the franchise is in good hands with him at the controls. He has shown the ability to be a solid quarterback. But in eight NFL seasons, Hoyer has started 10 games or more only once in his career.

If the 49ers make an improvement from the two-win team of a year ago, it could cripple their chances at addressing the position in the draft. If they approach the level of a .500 team, the 49ers would be selecting toward the middle of the first round and, potentially, they would not have an opportunity to select one of the top quarterbacks.

But the 49ers’ plan at quarterback will likely already be apparent by the time next year’s draft rolls around. If the 49ers aggressively go after a veteran quarterback, that will happen in early-March – nearly two months before the draft.

Cousins turns 29 in August, but it is now expected that quarterbacks can play at a high level past their mid-30s. The cost of obtaining him is more of an issue than his age.

Because of Shanahan’s rapport with Cousins, the 49ers’ minds will probably not be swayed too much by his performance this season. But how he produces in 2017 might determine how far Washington will go to retain him for at least another year.