RICHMOND, Va. -- In case you were wondering, no, Kirk Cousins isn't worried. About anything.
Having let the July 17 deadline pass without signing a long-term deal, Washington's quarterback isn't worried about what might happen. Not worried about a career-altering injury that scuttles his free-agent prospects. Not worried about having a down year. Not worried about the other big names that might join him on next spring's free-agent quarterback market.
Cousins said his decision not to sign a long-term deal with Washington came down to one basic thing: He didn't feel right about signing.
"I didn't feel at peace with signing a long-term deal at this juncture," Cousins said after the team's morning walk-through at training camp here Sunday. "I think the freedom that it allows on the other side of this season makes more sense. In the league, there's so much change, so much turnover year after year, I think it makes a lot of sense to re-evaluate where we're at, where the league's at at the end of this season."
"If I put my confidence in a contract, or I put my confidence in money or in the security or in whatever I think the NFL can give me, it is a foundation of sand that is shifting, and it's not a healthy way to build your life."Kirk Cousins
Assuming health and continued success, Cousins could find himself hitting the open market as a healthy franchise quarterback in his prime -- something that hasn't been seen in the salary-cap era. In a quarterback-starved league with many teams desperate for help at the position and former Washington offensive coordinators Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay now head coaches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, this could lead to a monster, market-altering deal. Cousins could set major benchmarks, possibly including an average salary in excess of $30 million per year and $70 million or more in guarantees. He has clearly thought about this.
"A lot of it goes back to, these contracts are not baseball contracts; they're not basketball contracts," Cousins said. "As a result, you're not really signing a five-year deal, you're not really signing a six-year deal. You're signing a two-year deal, and then there is an obligation for several years after that. And that just didn't sit well with me, and I'm better off, if those are my options, I'm better off signing a one-year deal and then having freedom."
A lot of Cousins' peaceful self-assurance comes from his religious faith. He quoted scripture twice during Sunday's interview when talking about his life's path so far and says his personal history has given him the confidence to believe things will work out if he makes decisions based on the feeling of peace they give him. He cited his college decision as an example, recalling that he had scholarship offers from only Western Michigan and Toledo, both of whom were pressuring him to sign.
"And I just didn't feel at peace about going to either of those schools," Cousins recalled. "And I said, 'Something's got to come through, because I just don't feel good about these decisions,' and Michigan State offered in the 11th hour, and even before they offered, I visited the school and it felt right. And much the same way right now -- I just didn't feel at peace about it at this time, and I wanted more time to pass.
"That was reason No. 1, and there's other ways you can protect yourself, through insurance policies and things like that, where you have answers if the worst does happen."
Cousins was Washington's fourth-round pick in 2012, the same year the team traded a large package of picks to move up and draft quarterback Robert Griffin III second overall. Griffin was supposed to be the future of the franchise. Cousins was, in reality, never supposed to play a down for Washington.
"I remember on draft day, talking to Kyle Shanahan, and him telling me, 'The best-case scenario for you is, you play well in the preseason and we can trade you,'" Cousins said. "That was the plan -- support Robert, help him flourish and play well enough in the preseason that they could get something for me in a trade."
Things didn't work out that way, and Cousins is now coming off consecutive 4,000-yard seasons at age 28. Washington franchised him in 2016 for nearly $20 million, and did so again at a fully guaranteed cost of nearly $24 million. A cynical view of Cousins' situation would point out that those two paydays make it much easier for a guy to be "at peace" with a decision like the one he's making.
"Markets change. What if Drew Brees is a free agent? What if Sam Bradford has a big-time year? What if Matt Stafford? You can just list guy after guy after guy -- what if they suddenly blow up and play at a very high level and have a great year and stay healthy? The 16 games, as we know, tell the story. What if the market's flooded? You never know."" Kirk Cousins
"Well said. So we can talk about this," Cousins said. "This was why July 15 last year was so important, right? Because I didn't have that at the time. So the leverage was not on my side. So those days have come and gone, but those days did happen, OK? I could have been playing on my rookie deal that last year and something could have gone south, and I would have lost what would have been a great opportunity."
Cousins says he's not just applying these peaceful principles at a time in his life when he's attained massive financial security.
"I applied them as a 17-year-old, when I broke my ankle as a junior in high school," Cousins said. "Very first game of my junior year, broke my ankle, and I'm calling my dad with a cast on my leg, with tears in my eyes while he's at work, saying, 'Dad, they told me my junior year's over.' And while I was really looking forward to playing varsity football for the first time, the reason I'm really sad is because I won't get recruited now. I'm done. Because you get recruited in your junior year, so if I ever wanted to play major college football, I was going to have to play well this year. So I'm screwed. And my dad said, 'Kirk, you don't know that.'"
He then rattled off the scripture passage his father quoted him on the phone that day -- Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the lord with all your heart, in all ways acknowledge him and he'll direct your steps," and he says that's when he decided not to worry about where he wanted or expected his life to go but to have faith that things would work out. Which is why Cousins says he isn't worried about anything.
"If I put my confidence in a contract, or I put my confidence in money or in the security or in whatever I think the NFL can give me, it is a foundation of sand that is shifting, and it's not a healthy way to build your life," Cousins said. "I want to build my life on the rock. I want to build my life on a sturdy foundation. And that's why I say, at the end of the day, if I'm making this decision about fear or about money, I am basing my life on the wrong things. And eventually -- maybe not now, but five, 10, 20 years down the road -- that will come back to haunt me.
"And so I want to build my life on the foundation of the rock, which is my faith. And fortunately, I have years of experience going back to my recruiting process in high school, five years at Michigan State, now coming up on my sixth season in the NFL ... you don't have to look any further than when I was drafted here and everybody saying, 'It's a dead end, why are you here?'"
Cousins says he's well aware of the uncertainty that awaits him after 2017, but he's determined not to let that distract him.
"I've got to play well," Cousins said. "So I see it as, let's go 16 games at a time and we'll see where we are in January/February and go from there. It takes two sides, in the sense that you're not going to effect any change unless the clubs are willing to do that. And it all comes down to the market. Markets change. What if Drew Brees is a free agent? What if Sam Bradford has a big-time year? What if Matt Stafford? You can just list guy after guy after guy -- what if they suddenly blow up and play at a very high level and have a great year and stay healthy? The 16 games, as we know, tell the story. What if the market's flooded? You never know."