Evaluating Bills' chances for Cousins trade

The Buffalo Bills would be smart to add competition at quarterback.

That's an opinion we outlined last week, stressing the need for the Bills to have more options at quarterback than just EJ Manuel.

When the Washington Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III second overall in 2012, they doubled down at quarterback, adding Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. Cousins has started eight games in place of Griffin the past two seasons, making four starts.

Cousins' performances have been uneven. As a rookie, Cousins made one start -- a Week 15 win over the Cleveland Browns -- completing 70 percent of his passes for two touchdowns, one interception, and a 104.4 passer rating. But when he replaced Griffin for the final three games of last season, Cousins posted a 31.4 QBR, 27th in the NFL over that span. He threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) and completed 53 percent of his passes.

It's a near-lock that Griffin will return next season as the starter, and because of that, Cousins said this week that he is open to a trade.

"There's no chance to compete so if I can't get it in D.C. I'd be open to having that chance somewhere else," he said.

Cousins' preference is to find a starting job, which could be hard to come by given his performances late last season.

"I'd love the opportunity to be a starting quarterback," he said. "I'm not entitled to that, but just the chance to compete to know if I can play at a high level."

Given that desire, let's break down the possibility from the Bills' perspective:

Why it may happen: Publicly, the Bills threw their support behind Manuel shortly after the season ended, when coach Doug Marrone named Manuel his starter for next season. That may seem like a "Duh?" move, but consider the New York Jets' decision to hold back from naming Geno Smith as their starter. It wasn't something the Bills needed to do, and quite frankly, it's not an iron-clad move. If there's behind-the-scenes questions about Manuel and the team is able to find capable competition, nothing would stop Marrone from backtracking on his decision. It's not clear how the Bills have evaluated Cousins as a signal-caller, but if they are high on him, then the possibility of a trade can't be dismissed simply because Marrone told Manuel he's their guy.

Why it may not happen: There are numerous factors that could keep a trade from happening. Obviously, it would take interest from both the Bills and Redskins, and for both to agree on the right compensation in the deal. If the Bills don't think Cousins has the potential to be a starting quarterback or if the Redskins aren't looking to trade their backup, then any talk of a deal is moot.

What it would take: Would any team give up a first-round pick for Cousins? That's extremely unlikely. Both Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel were traded for second-round picks, but that seems like a long-shot in the case of Cousins. The more realistic target range for the Redskins would likely be a third- or fourth-round pick. It's not likely that they would consider anything lower than that; having drafted Cousins in the fourth round, they would want some sort of return on their investment.

When it would happen: The earliest any two teams can complete a trade would be the start of the 2014 league year March 11. That's nearly two full months before the 2014 draft, making it unlikely that quarterback-needy teams would trade for Cousins before knowing their options in the draft. Once the draft passes, teams will have a better idea where they stand at quarterback. Those who were able to add a quarterback in the early rounds will have more leverage in trade talks with the Redskins, if they still desire to add Cousins to the mix. Those who didn't pick up a quarterback could be more desperate to deal with the Redskins. Either way, the best bet is that any potential Cousins trade happens in May and not March.