It was highly rumored that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted quarterback Kirk Cousins prior to the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo. With Garoppolo’s franchise standing fluid, Cousins talk resurfaced.
Shanahan will never shake the Cousins gossip. The two will be rumored to reunite until one retires, and even that might not put a stop to it.
Despite being the butt of many jokes, Cousins is a top-20 quarterback, and Shanahan loves him.
In order to determine if the polarizing quarterback that yells funny would be an improvement, or if a move would even make sense, let’s take a look at some interesting numbers, including salary.
First, “wins” are not a quarterback stat. Team environments and opponents aren’t always transferable. Mitchell Trubisky has more wins (and NVPs!) than Deshaun Watson, but Watson is undeniably better.
Cousins is a career 51-51-2 starter. Garoppolo’s record (24-8) is better, but again, wins aren’t a QB stat.
Cousins’ biggest draw to 49ers fans might be the fact that he is not Garoppolo. But that’s also Garoppolo’s advantage over Cousins. The two couldn’t be more dissimilar.
The biggest knocks on Garoppolo are that he gets hurt too much and he doesn’t throw deep.
Cousins’ best attributes might be his durability and his willingness to throw beyond the sticks.
He’s missed just one game since becoming a full-time starter in 2015 (and that was when Minnesota rested their starters in Week 17 of 2019). That’s as reliable as it gets.
Remaining healthy was no small feat, either. The Vikings have often been at the bottom of the league’s offensive line rankings. Cousins was sacked 40, 28 and 39 times the last three seasons. PFF ranked Minnesota’s line 29th, 19th and 26th those years.
Despite the lack of protection, Cousins remained in the upper-echelon of passing. He’s eclipsed 4,000 passing yards in five of his six starting seasons. His one year below (2019) actually earned him his second Pro Bowl nod.
Per Pro Football Reference, Cousins was hit 78 times last season, yet did not miss a game. For scale, Garoppolo has been hit 50 times over his last 25 games.
Cousins has the physical toughness that Shanahan covets. Look at C.J. Beathard (who coincidentally was compared to Cousins when drafted).
Cousins had a better interception rate (2.5%) in 2020 than both Garoppolo (3.6%) and Nick Mullens (3.7%) and just one more fumble (in two more starts) than the two 49ers combined.
He is also not afraid to air it out. His 7.22 net yards gained per pass attempt in 2020 would also add some depth to the play-action offense.
Per Next Gen Stats, Cousins was ninth in average completed air yards (6.8) while Garoppolo was 39th (3.9). Cousins was also 15th on longest completed air distance (55.6). Garoppolo ranked 41st (43.1).
It also should be noted that Cousins has many more complete options than Garoppolo, especially when going deep.
He’s had three excellent deep-threats while Garoppolo has rarely had the personnel. Throwing deep is much more enticing when you have Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson.
It’s arguable that the 49ers would have made the playoffs had Cousins been their quarterback last season.
That could be true, but it still doesn’t mean he’s a better fit than Garoppolo. He’s exponentially more expensive, and takes more late-game risks.
In their careers, Cousins has thrown 31 interceptions in the fourth quarter or later on 1,082 attempts (2.87%), while Garoppolo has thrown four on 241 attempts (1.66%) (per PFR).
He would also cost a lot more than Garoppolo. He would be $31 million on the cap ($41 million dead) in 2021, and another $45 million in 2022 (per Spotrac). His contract makes Garoppolo’s $26.4 million cap hit in 2021 and $27 million cap hit in 2022 look like a bargain.
Cousins would improve the 49ers’ passing numbers, but his salary would hurt the overall talent on the roster.
That essentially eliminates any chance of the 49ers re-signing Kerry Hyder Jr., Jason Verrett and Trent Williams.
Add in that San Francisco would at minimum have to trade its second-round pick to acquire Cousins, and you lose another key asset. It makes zero sense.
That damning reason is enough to avoid Cousins.
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