The Christmas-colored gift bags with Nikes and more filled the lockers of each offensive lineman.
It was Kirk Cousins’ way of saying thank you, a better parting gift than his three interceptions in what could be his final game with the Washington Redskins that exacerbated the debate about whether they should keep him or sign him long term.
Now the Redskins are in the same spot as they were a year ago, with coach Jay Gruden’s job safe but the same uncertainty about Cousins, who has played the past two seasons on the franchise tag and could be ticketed for another one-year deal or a departure that would create even more questions.
“It is the same old story, but now it’s more real than ever and everybody’s going to do whatever they can right now to try to dissect the situation,” linebacker Will Compton said Monday on locker cleanout day.
“It’s all going to be, ‘Should they pay him? Should they not pay him? Is he going to come back? Does he want to come back?'”
Yes, it is.
Washington went 9-7, 8-7-1 and 7-9 in Cousins’ three seasons as its starting quarterback with this past season getting derailed by several key injuries.
Asked Tuesday to evaluate Cousins’ 2017, Gruden said, “When you’re 7-9, it’s hard to say, ‘Wow, this guy really was outstanding,'” then added: “Kirk had his flashes where he was really good.”
As for moving forward, the coach said: “Whether he’s here or not, we have to figure out ways that we’re going to make this team better.”
Cousins became the first QB in franchise history to start 16 games in each of three consecutive seasons and threw for 4,000 yards in all of them, with 81 touchdowns and 36 interceptions, but enough bad games and decisions to fuel the doubters and leave the front office unwilling to commit to what could be a bigger deal than what the Oakland Raiders gave Derek Carr.
“He’s an amazing quarterback,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “He’s an elite quarterback in my eyes. He has the smarts, he has the tools, he gets the ball out of his hands fast, he’s able to read defenses — all the things you ask a quarterback to do in the NFL.”
If Cousins does return, he will continue to work with quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell. Gruden announced Tuesday that O’Connell will be back, adding the title of passing game coordinator.
Cousins on Sunday said, “I’ll use all the time that I can” to make a decision about his future. The 29-year-old said he knows how to handle going year-to-year, while Gruden said getting stability at quarterback is central to the organization’s next few steps.
“If you got (a quarterback), you would like to keep one, but you want to make that decision pretty soon or Kirk will also, so it’s not totally up to us, you know?” Gruden said. “Kirk’s got to buy in, also.”
Cousins held things together when the Redskins dealt with season-ending injuries to running backs Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley, tight end Jordan Reed, receiver Terrelle Pryor and offensive linemen Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao and Spencer Long.
Teammates have spent days and weeks saying they want him back while fully conceding they have no idea what’s going to go down.
“Whatever happens, we’ve got to just roll with it and be ready for whatever,” receiver Jamison Crowder said.
“I think it would definitely be a bonus — a good thing — to have him back, especially with the chemistry that we all have within the offense. Hopefully he can come back.”