The curious case of Kirk Cousins

ASHBURN, Va. -- Kirk Cousins has made his peace with life as the Washington Redskins' backup quarterback. A young man of strong faith, he says he believes two things -- that a divine hand placed him here and that his long-term development will be helped by the coaching of Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan, even if he has to sit come gameday while Robert Griffin III becomes a Washington superstar.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't have his moments.

"After watching Robert having so much success on a Sunday afternoon, and then driving home and turing on the TV and seeing the success guys like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill are having, human nature would suggest that I'd get a little frustrated," Cousins said Friday. "And I'd be lying to you if I didn't have those thoughts sometimes. But I'm looking at my career as a marathon, not a sprint, and that helps."

The back story is that Cousins was the Redskins' fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft. This surprised a large number of people, Cousins included, who'd seen the Redskins trade three first-round picks and a second-round pick so they could take Griffin in the first round. They were obviously drafting Cousins to be a backup, in spite of other roster needs, and the heads of draft observers far and wide were well-scratched that day.

Mike Shanahan says it was a no-brainer.

"I was shocked he was still there," Shanahan said Thursday. "Kirk Cousins, I thought, would go early in the second round. I thought he was a first-round pick because he knew the pro-style game. The reason why I liked him was I thought he could come in and play right away. I think he's Drew Brees. Drew Brees at Purdue, early in the second round. And he'll prove it while he's here."

His chances, however, are likely to come only in the preseason or in games such as the one the Redskins played in Week 15 in Cleveland, when Griffin sat out with a knee injury and Cousins led the Redskins to victory over the Browns. He played well in that game, as he did in the preseason, and that's the kind of tape he'll have to show teams when and if he gets the chance to go looking for his next job. It's the tape Shanahan might someday show teams if he decides, late in Cousins' rookie contract, to try and trade him for valuable picks. But if you're thinking that happens this offseason, you should think again.

"You never know when a quarterback's going to go down, and look at what happened," Shanahan said. "If we don't have Kirk Cousins for that game, are we here right now? He's so bright, and such a good kid, too. He knows he can play in this league, and that's what's hard for him. I tell him, 'Hey, don't be mad at me. I picked you. Don't be mad at me.'"

Cousins will tell you he's not mad at anybody. And certainly the fact that one of the Redskins' 10 wins this season goes on his ledger is a nice feeling as Washington gets ready for Sunday's playoff game against the Seahawks.

"No doubt about it," Cousins said. "The opportunity as a rookie to have a hand in your team making the playoffs is a great feeling."

Not as great, though, as what guys like Griffin and Wilson and Luck are feeling as they collect all of the accolades and adulation they're getting for leading their teams into the playoffs in their rookie seasons. That, for Cousins, would be even cooler.

"He's a good person, a good teammate and he doesn't ever admit it," fellow backup Rex Grossman said of Cousins, "but I know just from being around him what a competitor he is. I told him the other day, if they did the draft over again, he'd go in the first round. He's going to be fine, but I can tell he's got a chip on his shoulder."

Nothing wrong with that, especially if it motivates Cousins to stay on the track he hopes his career takes. He has mentioned to those around him the case of Aaron Rodgers, who had to sit as Brett Favre's understudy for three years in Green Bay but emerged from that experience to become the best quarterback in the league.

"He's going to take the positive out of this situation," Redskins quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said. "He likes what we're doing here and he knows where we're going. Everybody believes in him here, and he's only going to benefit from that."

And yeah, Cousins knows that. It's no easy thing for a confident 24-year-old football player to stay patient while he watches guys he beat in college become NFL stars. But that's Cousins' job right now, and he is learning to embrace it.

"As much as it was a shock and I was disappointed, after being here a year, I know this is where I'm supposed to be," Cousins said. "My job is to make the most of it."