SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ maybe-quarterback of the future was on the phone Wednesday morning.
“Hi, this is Kirk Cousins,” he said when he joined the teleconference. “I’m ready to do my question and answer.”
Cousins is the quarterback for the 49ers’ upcoming opponent, the Washington Redskins. But there’s enormous speculation in the media and on fan blogs that he might play for the 49ers next season if he becomes a free agent.
The Redskins have seemed reluctant to sign Cousins to a long-term contract in the past — they’ve given him a one-year “franchise tag” two seasons in a row. If they were to tag him again next season, he would earn $34 million.
The 49ers would be an obvious destination for Cousins if he hits free agency. They have $62.8 million in cap space, they need a quarterback and they have a connection to Cousins. He played under 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan in Washington.
But Cousins sounds as if he likes playing in Washington and expects to stay there. “There’s a lot of talent (on the Redskins),” he told local reporters. “Good protection on the offensive line. A lot of skill-position players. And we feel like we’ve been building something the last couple of years, and there has been some good continuity within the organization such that we feel like we can keep taking steps forward.
“Hopefully, (I’ll) be in a position where Washington won’t let me leave or doesn’t want me to leave because I’ve done my job. That’s where my focus lies.”
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden sounded less optimistic Cousins will stay in Washington after this season. Gruden spoke on a conference call Wednesday morning, too.
“The more tape that Kirk puts on film that he performs well like he has the past couple weeks, the harder it will be to keep him around. But I think we’ll do the best we can to keep him,” he said.
Cousins is having the best season of his career, despite losing two starting wide receivers in the offseason — Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Through four games, Cousins has thrown seven touchdown passes, only one interception and his quarterback rating is 107.6 — fourth best in the NFL behind Alex Smith, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
“(Cousins) is very smart,” said Gruden. “He’s got a quick, accurate arm. And he’s just getting better with time. The more he plays, the better he gets. He loves football, he loves the preparation part of it, he’s always going to be prepared and he’s always going to be accurate.”
49ers coach Shanahan said he admires the way Cousins plays. “He’s a talented guy who works at it. Very tough and accurate and a very solid quarterback.”
Even Brian Hoyer, the quarterback Cousins might replace on the 49ers next season, seems to admire Cousins. Those two know each other from college. They played together at Michigan State for two years. “I just know the one thing with Kirk was he was very focused and intense in what he was doing,” Hoyer said in the 49ers locker room. “You could just see the football IQ, how passionate he was about it.”
Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia told The Press Democrat Cousins would be a great fit in the 49ers offense, and said the team definitely should sign him if he becomes a free agent.