A Conversation with Dan Orlovsky: Kirk Cousins, Scheme and the QB Market

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Last week I did a piece on Kirk Cousins vs The Draft to examine the different directions QB needy teams could go this offseason. I attempted to weigh the decisions teams at the top of the draft had, determining whether they should sign Kirk Cousins or draft a QB like Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. In that piece I stated that Cousins was a QB that you ‘win with’ not ‘because of’. 12 year NFL veteran QB Dan Orlovsky reached out to defend Kirk after reading my assessment of Cousins. So I asked him to join me today to discuss Cousins, his scheme fit and the QB Market. I hope you find this conversation as interesting to read as it was to have.

Editor’s Note: Small edits have been made to the conversation for formatting purposes. 

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Joseph Ferraiola: Dan, welcome. Thanks for joining me today.

Dan Orlovsky: Good to be here, excited for the opportunity

Joseph Ferraiola: Glad to have you. Alright, let’s get rolling. We disagreed on my assessment of Cousins being labeled “A QB you can win with.” You provided a good argument that Washington won more games with Cousins in 2015 than all of 2013-2014 combined. It made sense and got me thinking perhaps I’m not properly describing Kirk’s ability and giving him the credit he’s due. For what it’s worth, I’m an avid supporter of Kirk’s play. I’m just reluctant that he can raise the level of his teammates to a Super Bowl with only an average roster supporting him.

Let’s hear your overall opinion on Cousins as a QB, where he stacks amongst his peers and why you think my original statement doesn’t match his actual ability.

Dan Orlovsky: Ok, so Kirk has proven to be top 1/3 QB in the NFL, and that top 1/3 minus maybe 3-4 guys in constantly in flux in a way. The fluctuation happens because of who and what are around the QB matter so much more than people choose to recognize.

For example, how many QBs are there in the NFL that truly elevate their peers to the level of SB? Brady…no other QB consistently does it. We have had some do it once or twice like Wilson or Rodgers or Cam, who are great QBs, but to think that there are a bunch of guys in the NFL elevating guys around them to the SB consistently is incorrect.

The reality is, without a top notch QB you have no shot of making it to the SB. Now present day people argue the Eagles just did with Nick Foles. Carson Wentz accounted for 11 of their 13 wins to get them Home Field Advantage, which was HUGE for them, and their staff did an amazing job. They also had an absolutely loaded rosters. Which is the paramount example; who you have around you matters just as much as who you have at the [QB] position.

Find me a QB who has gone to the Super Bowl with an “average roster”…

Cousins is a really good starting caliber QB in the NFL, [and] has proven that for years. And when it comes to the money you will have to pay him, ask any GM; Would you rather have a really good QB that takes up a chunk of your cap space, but gives you the chance to win every week and get in the playoffs, or have cap space and be in constant search for the previously mentioned guy?

Joseph Ferraiola: Yeah, I can agree with that. I guess it’s a paradox almost though, no? Cousins is definitely in the top 1/3 of the league. There’s no doubt about that. But I guess what I’m wondering is if he’s getting paid almost or equal to an average of $30 million a season – how will that affect the way a team can build a roster around him? I definitely understand that being in search of the franchise guy actually hurts your win total, but would it make sense to try and hit on that top notch guy in the draft or sign a very good QB like Cousins? It sounds like a really tough decision for NFL GMs and personnel men.

I think the Eagles had the luxury of using Carson Wentz’ contract to their advantage though. They were able to use the rookie wage scale to help keep costs down at the most important position and go out and sign FA and trade for players to bulk up their roster.

Dan Orlovsky: Well thats why 1) you hope you have a GM that’s really good, like a Roseman or Schneider and 2) those guys earn their money. It’s easy to be the GM who falls into Andrew Luck as the first pick, but to take the mindset of “we really need a QB, there’s one who is a FA that’s a good option, but let’s hope we find one in the draft” is dangerous. If you have the space to do it, you don’t pass up a known commodity for a fingers crossed one.

Of course the Eagles did, but that can’t be your blueprint because how many teams have the combo of Roseman and Pederson to go along with the rookie QB they are going to take?

Joseph Ferraiola: I agree with that 100%. I guess the point of my original article though was asking what’s the better option for the teams in search of a QB? Using their high draft capital on a Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield or Jackson or signing the sure thing? Because maybe a team like the Browns can afford to take that risk because they have the 1 (and the 4) and their roster isn’t that strong yet. Guys still need to develop and they need to add blue chip pieces. Cousins does make sense in Denver, however.

Dan Orlovsky: Yes you can plan on drafting a QB if you like him, but that reasoning should be “we want to draft a QB and other pieces because that’s our formula” not, “we aren’t going to sign Kirk because he costs too much in comparison to a rookie”

I can understand that point but the variable can’t be cost. The Browns should draft someone (if they like the QB, not just to do so) because their team isn’t ready for contention yet. Kirk is the type of QB that once you get him, your team is a playoff caliber team in that moment, except for the Browns. I know people love him in Denver, but Denver has too much organizational instability right now for him I believe. He’s coming from an organization that was uneasy and always in flux, if Denver starts 1-3, do they fire Vance Joseph and Kirk is left in the same spot…

My original rebuttal to you was about the theory of “well Kirk is expensive and with all the money it will take to sign him, it doesn’t make sense because he doesn’t win you games”. Which is incorrect because he does, and did and if that was the case, no GM in the NFL would ever pay a really good QB. It means Matt Stafford should have walked and Andrew Luck should have walked, and Philip Rivers should have walked and Carson Palmer should have walked and Matt Ryan should have walked….

In the NFL without a top notch QB you have no shot.

I am all for drafting a young guy if you like him and that’s your big picture plan, but it has to be because that’s your philosophy and you trust your scouts. It can’t be because your scared to spend money.

Joseph Ferraiola: Yeah, I definitely should have worded that better. See, I agree with you actually. Like, Cousins isn’t on the same level of Aaron Rodgers, but he’s also a very competent passer. I’ve done work in the past on him, quite recently actually, on how if you use Cousins to his strengths you can win games in the NFL. Those strengths being play action, roll outs and the occasional deep shot. He can be a player you win because of when the scheme around him fits.

Dan Orlovsky: But every player needs scheme around them that fits. Every player. Brady needs to be in the right scheme for top end success. As does Brees. Wilson…Matt Ryan went from MVP of the league with scheme and play-caller that were outstanding, to really good because play caller and scheme changed some.

That’s why it’s “Kirk cousins can win you the super bowl, just like any other QB” as long as he has the right scheme and people around him, just like every other QB… like I said, find me a QB that went to the Super Bowl with an “average roster”

Joseph Ferraiola: I guess though you could argue that Luck, Rivers, Stafford, Ryan are more talented than Cousins? Or would you say that that’s the “flux” you were talking about earlier?

Or would you say the talent around them raised their level of play instead of vice versa?

Dan Orlovsky: Well they are, but the flux happens because who and what are around them, not them… their scheme, their play caller, the weapons they have, the defense they are paired with…. their team.

But having them always always always gives you a chance. And when you do, then your GM has to go find the other 52 to put with them. Because it’s easier to find those 52, then it is to find that 1.

Joseph Ferraiola: I think that’s a great point. It’s easier to find those 52 than a quality QB. I think where that becomes difficult is figuring out if Cousins is the QB, right?

What traits makes him “the guy” for a franchise? There has to be some separation between him and the other 2/3 of the league that allows him to get paid.

Dan Orlovsky: Well Cousins’ play would indicate he is “the qb”… I mean in the last 3 seasons he is 2nd in TD’s and 2nd in comp % and 3rd in comeback wins… Those do speak for themselves, all with playing with a bottom 10 defense… He has traits that I love but ones that stick out are his intelligence, he knows football, and offensive football, and defenses. He understands how to attack them. He can process information quickly. He is aggressive. I love aggressive qb’s who play to win rather then play to have stats… He has what seems to be great off the field characteristics and leadership… And lastly, he’s consistent. You have a pretty good idea what you are going to get from Kirk every week at the position. That’s the separation bw him and others 2/3.

And all those stated above are what you get with Brady/ Brees/ Wilson/ Roethlisberger/ Stafford/ Ryan/ Rodgers/ Luck/ Rivers and its what you don’t get with a Tannehill/ Taylor/ Winston/ Bortles…. that’s your separation


Joseph Ferraiola: We’ve gone away from this a bit, but I’ve never been on the inside of a personnel decision like this. Would you know if teams would do a cost/benefit analysis in this scenario? I know there haven’t been many situations like the Browns are currently in. Having the 1, 4, 33 and a load of cap space. Would they be considering the costs in their decision making? There’s a high cost, but you know you’re getting a top 1/3 passer. But he’s not in that 1-4 category for sure. Wouldn’t you take the chance on Rosen or Darnold playing to that potential?

Dan Orlovsky: Its very specific to the Browns because of what you mention picks and cash wise. Using the words “take the chance” sounds dicey to me. You have to do your research and scouting. If you love 1 of those guys, and truly believe he can be successful for you and commit to putting the right pieces around him, then you absolutely draft [that player at] 1. But that is such a rare situation to be in. I would imagine they would do a cost analysis, but again, its a slippery slope to have a known commodity want to come to your team (hypothetical) and pass on him for a “hope we got this one right” guy.

Joseph Ferraiola: Do you think if Cousins wanted to go to Cleveland and expressed significant interest Dorsey should jump at the opportunity?

Dan Orlovsky: Absolutely because again, would you rather feel set at that position and then be pressed with the task of going to find the other 52, or trying to still be on the search for the needle in the haystack, but have a ton of eyes looking… That’s like having a ton of cap space, “well we have a ton to spend, just can’t find our needle to spend it on”….

Joseph Ferraiola: That’s true too. I guess it depends how they feel about Rosen or Darnold’s upside, then?

Dan Orlovsky: [Of] course

Joseph Ferraiola: What team do you think Cousins fits best with then? I personally think he’s a great fit for what Bill Musgrave does in Denver. But you’re right that Vance Joseph could be fired if they get off to a poor start. So what are the other options for him? He could fit in any iteration of a West Coast offense.

Dan Orlovsky: Well I love him in Jville because of the organizational stability, the players he has around him on offense and the defense he has. Because he is tired of playing superman every sunday. I do think the fact that Denver has Gary Kubiak in the building could be their secret weapon. QB’s fall in love with him.

Joseph Ferraiola: What about Minnesota? DeFilippo?

Dan Orlovsky: Yeah [I] like him there too but they have to make a choice on Keenum as well as Teddy B and does Flip try to find a way to get Foles there? Some variables in that situation that muddy it for me.

JosephFerraiola: Strictly scheme wise – how would he fit in Minnesota?

Dan Orlovsky: Well. Scheme wise he is the best fit in NY with Jets and Bates…

Joseph Ferraiola: Could you talk more about that? And if you were Cousins, how much would that influence your decision?

Dan Orlovsky: Well Bates comes from Shanahan tree scheme wise and Cousins loves that offense. It would be one of the main factors for me making my decision. But I believe Kirk will weigh it equally to organization stability/who he has around him/defense he gets to play with.

Joseph Ferraiola: Personality wise I think he can handle the media aspect of New York as well.

Dan Orlovsky: Yes he can.

Joseph Ferraiola:  Okay, I know you have to get going. I wanted to ask one more question.

The QB market is, well, weird. It’s proven that the best quarterback isn’t the highest paid. If that were the case Tom Brady would be earning more than Jimmy Garoppolo. Personally, I’m conflicted when a situation like Cousins’ arises. But in the end do you think contracts like Garoppolo and Cousins’ future contract make sense? Not only for the reasons you’ve already mentioned, but financially? It seems that after Cousins signs there will be about 3-4 QBs ready to cash in. Like Rodgers, Ryan, Brees, etc. So is this actually a problem making Cousins the highest paid? Or is it an overblown reaction to rising salary cap and actually it’s as if the team got out in front of the market and will be rewarded later on?

Dan Orlovsky: Contracts I can’t sit here and tell you are my strength, but I do know the market determines them, not the person’s individual value. The cap is rising, so contracts will, for all players. Just because someone is paid the highest doesn’t mean all others will be, because teams can structure stuff differently, guys may not want all that money, may want situation over cash (which I actually think is what we are going to see with Cousins).

Joseph Ferraiola: Well that might work out for both sides then. Dan, wanted to say it was a pleasure discussing this with you. You really challenged my line of thinking and I’m better off for it. Really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to do this. Keep in touch my friend.

Dan Orlovsky: Thanks for having me on Joe, this was fun.

Joseph Ferraiola: Anytime, Dan.

Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Baker Mayfield’s Touch and Torque, how to mask deficiencies along an offensive line, and what he learned from studying James Washington live.

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