NFL Notes: Inside the Kirk Cousins Revival, Why Trading Gareon Conley Makes Sense for Raiders

Also the Panthers are following the script by going with Kyle Allen again, why Dak Prescott should force the Cowboys to franchise-tag him, Frank Reich on Darius Leonard’s stiff arm and more.
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Kirk Cousins, Gareon Conley, Dak Prescott

After a fun Sunday of football, we’re wrapping up Week 7 right here …

 A few things on Kirk Cousins’s renaissance over the last three weeks. First, it was pointed out to me how the first month of the season was weird overall for everyone circumstantially. Against the Falcons in Week 1 and the Raiders in Week 3, the Vikings ran the ball so well that they limited their own work in the passing game. In Week 2 against the Packers, they had one bad quarter that cast everything in a negative light. And all of that, added to the fact that Cousins and his teammates were learning a new offense under new coordinator Kevin Stefanski and consultant Gary Kubiak, came to a head in a Week 4 meltdown against a really good defense. And it’s been fine since, with Cousins playing lights out against manageable defensive competition (Giants, Eagles, Lions). 

I asked veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph via text if he sees a different Cousins, and he didn’t see it that day. “Same guy, but we’re actually putting him in more favorable situations,” Rudolph said. ”Getting him confidence early with things he’s comfortable with and very good at—play action, boots, quick throws. Early on, our first two wins, we just ran the ball all game, never let him get in a rhythm as well.” He’s clearly got his rhythm now.

• The Panthers’ call to stick with Kyle Allen is to the script—the team is serious after what happened in September about getting Cam Newton to 100%. And they’ll discuss what to do thereafter when that time comes. But it’s fair to look at Allen’s strengths through four starts and believe there might be a real decision to make. The coaches have lauded how Allen play distributor in the Carolina offense, and gets the most out of the five skill guys on the field with him on every play. And they don’t have to manage the damage on him like they do Newton. I still think I’d go back to Newton here. But I’m not sure the coaches will, especially if Allen stands tall against a really good San Francisco defense.

• The Raiders’ willingness to deal former first-round pick Gareon Conley—he was sent to Houston for a third-round pick Monday—has two central elements to it. First, the guy who drafted him, former Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie, was fired by the Raiders in December, so naturally there’s less investment in the player. Second, Oakland is pretty optimistic about a trio of young corners they have on the come—second-round pick Trayvon Mullen, fourth-round pick Isaiah Johnson (who’s coming back off of IR) and undrafted free agent Keisean Nixon. By trading away Conley, these guys will get a ton of work for the rest of the year, and the team will head into next year’s draft with three third-round picks, which should pair nicely with their two No. 1s.

• For the Texans, getting Conley was a borderline no-brainer, because cornerback has been an issue for Houston since A.J. Bouye bolted for Jacksonville. Conley might have gone in the top 10 in the 2017 draft, but he was accused of raping a woman in a Cleveland hotel (Conley denied the allegations, and a grand jury ruled to not charge Conley in July of that year). 

The Texans also didn’t have to look far for background on Conley—his college teammate and fellow former first-round corner, Bradley Roby, is on Houston’s roster.

• At this point, with just nine games left (plus playoffs) on his rookie deal, I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea that Dak Prescott should just take the Cousins route and force the Cowboys to franchise him. The 2020 exclusive franchise tag for quarterback right now sits at $33.44 million. That number can still change, but if Dallas were to tag him at that and tag him a second time in 2021, the second tag would set at $40.31 million. And then he’d likely be able to hit the market in 2022. 

The non-exclusive tag projects now at $26.7 million, and a second tag in 2021 under that condition would be $32.04 million, and that allows for the possibility that another team swoops in and tries to steal him for two 1s (Chicago? Tennessee?). Either way, Prescott would have a ton of leverage. And, again, he’s now just nine games from that reality.

• Colts coach Frank Reich’s reaction to the vicious stiff-arm Darius Leonard delivered to Texans receiver Kenny Stills, after picking off Deshaun Watson to salt away the Indy win? He admitted, laughing after the fact, that he was actually nervous—“Everyone was on the sideline telling him to go down. Just go down. The game is over." That said, after Leonard missed three games with a concussion, Reich could understand the enthusiasm. 

“He's our emotional leader—and not only is he an emotional leader, but he's a great player,” Reich said. “I don't know if there's too many linebackers that are gonna make that play at the end of the game that he makes. There's no telling with Deshaun, he's got those explosive offensive weapons, if (Leonard) doesn't make that play, there's no telling what happens.”

Ryan Tannehill’s success on Sunday was predicated on pretty simple stuff in assessing quarterbacking—he ran the offense and found the open guy, while the talent around him took care of the rest. And that reminded me of this old clip from Bill Belichick on the subject.

• The Packers sure do believe that what we’re seeing with Marques Valdez-Scantling—the size and speed and flashes of dominance—is real. The team also thinks he could eventually become a nightmare to deal with opposite Davante Adams—that is, if he won’t be immediately when Adams gets back in the lineup.

Keep an eye on the Browns’ offensive line situation this week. They’re coming off a bye, have the Patriots next, and if there’s a time for a shakeup, this could be it.

• I’d imagine that the phones in Atlanta, Denver and Cincinnati will be ringing this week, with each team out of contention and the trade deadline a week away. All three teams have guys who’d be fairly valuable commodities on the market.

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