The Washington Redskins have maintained their belief in Kirk Cousins -- to a financial point, that is. They also continue to look around, just in case.
The Redskins will host Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg on Tuesday, a source confirmed. The Redskins also met with him at the scouting combine in Indianapolis two months ago (along with Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones). Hackenberg’s visit is the first reported one by a quarterback.
It presents an intriguing situation with Washington. But it really doesn’t impact Cousins in the short-term -- Hackenberg is not viewed as a passer ready to start immediately. Rather, he’s a talented player who needs work to get his game back to where it seemed to be headed after his freshman season.
The quarterbacks Washington met with at the combine all have a similar trait: they’re big. Hackenberg is 6-foot-4, 223 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds. So he has enough speed to pair with being a sturdier quarterback.
But he had an inconsistent career at Penn State, which led to questions. Was he just not that good? Or was it the result of losing coach Bill O’Brien after his freshman year and playing the past two seasons with James Franklin? As a freshman, Hackenberg threw for a school-record, 2,955 yards. He was a captain each of his last two seasons and finished as Penn State’s all-time leading passer with 8,457 yards and 48 touchdowns. He has a strong arm and certainly looks the part.
However, he showed enough flaws in his game that no matter where he goes, heavy work remains. His line was bad, but pressure caused him to wilt, too, and led to some wondering about his pocket awareness. His accuracy was inconsistent -- because of the pressure or just who he is?
The Redskins, if they draft him, would provide Hackenberg a chance to sit and develop thanks to Cousins and also Colt McCoy. They also have a quarterbacks coach in Matt Cavanaugh who has a solid reputation.
Of course, if Cousins has another strong season, then he will warrant the contract he currently wants -- one that would pay him $20 million a year. For now, the Redskins are offering about $16 million per season. The Redskins have said privately and publicly that they like Cousins and believe in him; but the offer suggests what else has been whispered: They still want to see more.
Cousins has very strong supporters at Redskins Park, including his teammates. If the Redskins didn’t think he could be a good quarterback, they would not be paying him $19.95 million this season. It’s not a crime to want to see more; and they wouldn’t offer him what they did if they felt he was a bad starter.
Hackenberg needs a lot of work, but adding a project with upside gives the Redskins more choices in the future. In one scenario, Cousins continues to play well and the Redskins don’t need Hackenberg, whom they could perhaps trade in several years. (We heard this in 2012, too. But drafting two quarterbacks certainly proved smart.) In another scenario, Cousins plateaus, Hackenberg ascends and the Redskins move forward.
Of course, there’s also the chance that Cousins plateaus and Hackenberg never develops. That’s not the scenario Washington wants to envision.
Cousins would not wilt under the competition; that sort of stuff drives him. He’s used to overcoming perceptions of who he is as a passer; he's never been the biggest, most athletic, strongest-armed guy. But he keeps putting himself in positions no one expected, from starting at Michigan State to taking over the job in Washington. There is some genuine excitement in the building about his development. But the bottom line is that the Redskins want to make sure they’re covered. Just in case.