Steelers would be silly not to pursue Kirk Cousins in free agency

Cousins is the best quarterback option on the market, and Pittsburgh must eagerly pursue his services this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers, Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers, Kirk Cousins / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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When it comes to Kirk Cousins, I've heard every complaint in the book. He hasn't been successful in the playoffs; He's coming off an Achilles injury; He's going to be 36 years old before next season. All of these things are true, but none of them would deter me from finding a significant upgrade at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Whenever there's even a whisper that Cousins could be a fit for the Steelers in 2024, it's usually met by a hostile crowd who will either tell you how unrealistic this is or that he's not the guy they need. You can criticize him all you want, but there's very little question that Cousins would be a significant upgrade over what Pittsburgh has at the QB position.

Steelers need a massive upgrade over Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett isn't the guy. Though Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II may not have figured this out yet, level-headed fans know that this is the case. In his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, Pickett has recorded just 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in 25 games. This equates to a lackluster 6.3 yards per attempt and a dismal 78.8 career passer rating.

The Steelers may be naive enough to believe that Pickett can turn a new leaf in Year 3, but whatever improvements this team might get won't be enough to get them to where they want to be.

Kirk Cousins would capitalize on a closing window in Pittsburgh

I know that Pittsburgh has one of the youngest offenses in the league, but their window to compete for a Super Bowl -- however, narrowly cracked it might be -- is about to close shut.

The best players on the roster are on the defensive side of the ball, and they aren't getting any younger. T.J. Watt will turn 30 years old early in the 2024 season, while Cameron Heyward turns 35 this offseason. If the Steelers wait until two of their best players are either over the hill or retired, it could be years before another window of opportunity presents itself again.

When you look at it this way, the age of Kirk Cousins doesn't really matter. As long as his final good years line up with that of T.J. Watt's last reign on top, that's all this team needs.

In terms of whether or not he would be a significant upgrade for Pittsburgh at quarterback, there's really no debate. Cousins has earned a passer rating over 103.0 in 4 of the last 5 seasons. In comparison, the legendary Ben Roethlisberger didn't even earn more than 3 seasons with a 100-plus passer rating in his 18-year NFL career.

Cousins' value stretches well beyond an impressive passer rating. He can be lethal from the pocket, thanks to his pinpoint accuracy and excellent decision-making. It's also worth noting that he has averaged over 30 touchdown passes per season from 2018 to 2022. Last year, he was on pace for 38 touchdown passes before his season ended after just 8 games.

In his 12 NFL seasons, Cousins has never averaged fewer than 7.1 yards per attempt when starting at least 4 games, and he has topped the 4,000-yard passing mark in 7 of 8 seasons from 2015 to 2022 before suffering a ruptured Achilles 8 games into the 2023 season.

If it's a matter of money, the Steelers can make it work

For many of you, it's not about whether or not Cousins would be an upgrade; rather, how would they afford him. Spotrac.com estimates that the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback will earn $39.3 million in new annual average salary. Personally, I think this is low-balling. With lesser talents like Daniel Jones raking in $40 million per season, I think Cousins' new contract could come in close to the $45 million mark.

The big thing here is guarantees, and Cousins wants lots of them. It's expected that the veteran quarterback will have the vast majority of his contract guaranteed -- making it more challenging to move money around and create the cap space needed. But it's not impossible to make this happen.

Though the Steelers aren't even officially out of the salary cap hole, there are ways they can free up the cap space needed to sign Cousins. They still have a plethora of easy roster cuts as well as a few restructures that could help get them there.

While Cousins' new money average might be pushing $50 million per season when it's all said and done, the Steelers don't have to absorb this evenly. Instead, Pittsburgh can do what they have always done with big contracts -- backload them in order to get a smaller first-year cap hit.

In 2025, the Steelers are projected to have loads of cap space to work with. Even after roster displacement, this is more than enough room for Pittsburgh to absorb the biggest blow of what could be a two or three-year deal for Cousins.

Of course, one option they could exercise would be to tack on voidable years. This would force Pittsburgh to pay against the cap years from now when Cousins' deal has already expired, but it would keep his cap numbers very manageable while this window to compete is still open.

At the end of the day, the Pittsburgh Steelers can't dwell on the fact that they spent a first-round pick on a quarterback three years ago. It's time to turn the page. Kirk Cousins is the best QB option that will be available and they can make this work from a financial standpoint. Mike Tomlin and the front office would be foolish not to pursue Cousins in free agency this year.

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