“I want to be where I’m wanted.”
For the past three seasons, that phrase has been Kirk Cousins’s mantra when asked about his future plans. He has been playing on expiring contracts in Washington since 2015 because the Redskins refused to commit to him long-term. Now, after back-to-back years playing on the franchise tag, Cousins will finally hit free agency March 14. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported last week that Cousins had narrowed his list of potential teams to the Vikings, Cardinals, Broncos, and Jets, and, as the best quarterback available on the market, Cousins could jump-start a bidding war that might make him the first player in NFL history to command more than $30 million annually. But after earning $44 million over the last two seasons, he and the people around him have indicated that his decision is about more than just money.
“He has done his homework, probably too much, about each roster, who his receivers are, who his backs are, who his O-linemen are, who the coach is,” former Washington GM Scot McCloughan told a Denver radio station in January. “Not just the head coach, but the coordinator, position coach, the system they run. I promise you he has notebook after notebook for each team.”
Cousins can fill up all the notebooks he wants, but what he seems to be looking for more than anything is a team that appreciates him. He’s made that clear by soliciting suggestions on Twitter and Instagram as to where he should sign:
After being held in contract limbo for three years, he seems to relish being in the driver’s seat.
Yes, his posts are awkward, bordering on desperate, but we all yearn for love. So let’s put aside the Xs and Os and look at the factor that will determine Cousins’s landing spot for next season: How badly do the players on each of Cousins’s final four teams want to play with him? To determine this, we’ve created a model called the Theoretical Heuristic Independent Response Significance Test (THIRST). The model is simple: We take the number of players per team recruiting Cousins on social media, multiply it by their collective clout, and calculate a THIRST score. We will be ranking THIRST on a scale of 1 to JuJu Smith-Schuster attempting to recruit LeBron James to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Earlier this week, Larry Fitzgerald was minding his own business as he lugged his golf clubs through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport when, out of nowhere, he saw something he’d been searching for over the last decade: a competent quarterback.
Here is the list of players who have thrown a pass for the Cardinals since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season: Richard Bartel, Max Hall, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley, Carson Palmer, Logan Thomas, Drew Stanton, and Blaine Gabbert. Arizona does not currently have a single quarterback under contract, and Fitzgerald, 34, seems tired of wandering through the signal-caller desert.
“I don’t have any timetable,” Fitzgerald said in January when asked if he had plans to retire. “Go play golf tomorrow. Tuesday play golf again. Wednesday I’ll play golf. Thursday I’ll play some more golf and we’ll figure it out as we go.” It seems the only way to prevent Fitz from trying to make the PGA tour might be getting Cousins to sign with the Cardinals.
Players Involved: 1
THIRST Score: 8.5
Perhaps jealous of Fitz’s recruiting efforts, Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders slid into Cousins’s Twitter mentions earlier this week.
Broncos guard Ronald Leary quoted the tweet with two thumbs up but, notably, receiver Demaryius Thomas didn’t reply despite getting the @. That either means Thomas didn’t see Sanders’s tweet, or that Thomas did see the tweet and chose not to reply. Both are red flags. Kirk needs his receivers on the same page.
As always, Von Miller is there to bail out Denver’s disjointed offense. In January, he joined The Dan Patrick Show and made it clear how badly he wants Cousins to be a Bronco.
”[Kirk] knows exactly how I feel about Kirk Cousins and what he’d mean to our team,” Miller said. “Yeah, we need Kirk. We need Kirk. I’d like to have Kirk. We have great quarterbacks now. Kirk could take us over the edge.”
Miller has also been lurking in Cousins’s Instagram comments.
Players Involved: 3
THIRST Score: 27
The Vikings are reportedly planning to offer Cousins a three-year, $91 million deal, according to an agent, who told former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who told Burgundyblog.com, who tweeted it, and then the tweet was picked up by a Minneapolis radio station. So it’s GOTTA be true! That “report” sent Minnesota players into a flurry of activity.
More players on the Vikings—another team with no quarterbacks under contract as Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Case Keenum are all free agents—solicited Cousins than any other team. Yet the Minnesota players almost seemed more surprised than enamored. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson later deleted his tweet, as did Vikings linebacker Antwione Williams.
McKinnon kept his tweet up, but he still misses Bridgewater.
Maybe some Vikings players have too much loyalty to Bridgewater. Or Keenum. Or Bradford. Or maybe they’ll all begin recruiting Cousins in earnest. But when you can’t pick between two lovers (or in this case, four) you may end up with none.
Players Involved: 4
THIRST Score: 20
New York Jets
If you read New York tabloids, you know that the Jets are prepared to pay Cousins $10 trillion in 2018. That’s an exaggeration (I think), but the team is in a position to offer Cousins the most money of the final four squads. As Cousins has made clear, though, he’s looking for love, and there isn’t much of that to go around in New York City.
No Jets players have tweeted at Cousins, and cursory searches of Cousins’s Instagram suggest that none have commented, either. Perhaps the Jets are too enamored with Josh McCown to bother trying to recruit Cousins. Jets fans, however, have picked up the slack. As ESPN’s Rich Cimini wrote in February, they have bombarded Cousins’s Twitter account, swearing undying loyalty and making promises of glory to come in the Big Apple.
Unfortunately, Jets fans have been burned too many times to truly open their hearts to their quarterback. Cousins will certainly feel the love during the offseason, but he may not feel so “wanted” in New York the first time he throws a game-losing pick-six as the highest paid player in NFL history.
Players Involved: 0
Fans Involved: ~10,000
THIRST Score: 1
An earlier version of this piece misidentified Logan Thomas as Logan Ryan.