<
>

Kirk Cousins on the future: I want 'to be associated with winning'

ASHBURN, Va. -- His desire has long been known. During the 2016 training camp, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said he wanted the organization to become like the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, a team known for winning without drama.

After beating the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Cousins reiterated his stance.

"I want this brand, this organization, to be associated with winning and when people around the league and our fans that support this league think about this organization, I want them to think of winners," Cousins said.

He was asked about the possibility of finishing 8-8. But it also provides insight into what he wants for his future, when it comes to signing a long-term deal here or elsewhere. It won't come down to who makes Cousins the best offer -- if he's even free to sign somewhere else. The Redskins could use the franchise tag on him a third time.

If Cousins believes in an organization, don't be surprised to hear about more lucrative offers that were rejected. And if he doesn't believe in other places, then Cousins could always return to Washington -- whether under the franchise or transition tag -- and play this game again next offseason.

With that in mind, how many places will truly tempt him? It's not just about their record right now, it's about the direction and the ability to sustain quality play.

If Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire -- he's still playing at a high level -- then the Pittsburgh Steelers would be an attractive destination. Cousins has remained close with Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, a former Michigan State teammate. The Steelers have a winning organization. That final word can't be stressed enough; it's about a culture, not just a coach.

Here are the teams that, as of now, appear to have some question as to who will start at quarterback in 2018:

New York Giants: Perhaps Eli Manning will return, and if so, the Giants are off the list. With a high pick, they'd be wise to draft a successor. They do have a history of success, but they're also going to have a new general manager and coach. That would play heavily into any decision by Cousins -- if this is even an option.

Minnesota Vikings: All three of their quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford) are pending free agents, but it would be surprising if one of them didn't return. Otherwise, this would be a highly desirable place for any quarterback, given the receiving corps and the defense. The Vikings have stability, they've been winning and they have a respected offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur (a former quarterbacks coach who also spent 10 years as a Michigan State assistant, though long before Cousins became a Spartan). The other question: Does Shurmur leave for a head-coaching job?

Arizona Cardinals: There's a chance coach Bruce Arians retires after the season, which changes this landing spot dramatically. It also depends on what direction the Cardinals take with quarterback Carson Palmer (age 38 and coming off an injury). It's hard to say the Cardinals would represent a better option at this point, though there's a lot to be determined. Even if Arians returns, how long can you count on him sticking around? That needs to factor into any decision.

Denver Broncos: They have a first-year coach who will end the season with double-digit losses. Denver can run the ball and has a top-notch defense, both of which would help Cousins (or any good quarterback). But this might not be the best situation given Vance Joseph's rocky first season and the fact that they have an interim offensive coordinator (Bill Musgrave), though there would be resolution on the latter before free agency. After winning 50 games over a four-year stretch (and a Super Bowl title), the Broncos have won a combined 14 games the past two years. There was a winning culture; is that fading?

Jacksonville Jaguars: This could change if Blake Bortles takes them far in the postseason. The Jaguars picked up Bortles' option for 2018, but they could always cut him before the start of the league year with no penalty. Cousins doesn't have any real ties to the organization, but the Jaguars appear to be a team on the rise thanks to their defense and run game. They just need good, consistent quarterback play.

Buffalo Bills: Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison coached in Denver under Mike Shanahan, a vocal Cousins supporter who also drafted him. Is this a better place? That's hard to say. The defense ranks 25th in yards per game and 18th in points. The Bills might finish with a winning record for only the second time in 13 years (and they haven't reached the playoffs since 1999), but it would be under first-year coach Sean McDermott, so perhaps they're starting to build something. The best you can say is "perhaps."

New York Jets: If Cousins wants strong intel on the Jets, he won't have to look too far. His agent, Mike McCartney, also represents current Jets starter Josh McCown (another free agent). The Jets would not have been a legitimate option last offseason, but they weren't the disaster everyone had predicted. Still, they need work. Even with solid quarterback play before McCown got hurt, the Jets were only 5-8.

Miami Dolphins: They'd have to cut Ryan Tannehill in the offseason to make room. The Dolphins have a quarterback-friendly coach and a potentially good young runner in Kenyan Drake. But they've finished with one winning season in the past nine years. They have a defense ranked 18th in yards and 28th in points. Is this really better?

Cleveland Browns: A hard sell, especially if the coaching staff doesn't change. It just wouldn't make sense for Cousins to leave the Redskins and join a train wreck. The Redskins' last three years are a dynasty compared to what Cleveland has endured. If his goal is to win, then this would run counter to that desire. And with the Browns owning the top pick, it would be smarter to draft their quarterback of the future.