At the Pro Bowl, Kirk Cousins em­braces the mo­ment and waits for a deal.

Red­skins quar­ter­back has no long-term deal but is stay­ing pos­i­tive dur­ing his first Pro Bowl ex­pe­ri­ence

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MASTER TESFATSION master.tesfatsion@wash­post.com

kissim­mee, fla. — The Kirk Cousins con­tin­gent stood on the side, wait­ing pa­tiently as the Pro Bowl quar­ter­back ful­filled his obli­ga­tions ear­lier this week: a light­hearted prac­tice with his NFC team­mates, a few au­to­graph sign­ings and a hand­ful of ques­tions from re­porters about his fu­ture with the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins.

The quar­ter­back ac­com­mo­dated them all. He posed with ev­ery child on the field who wanted a pic­ture and agreed to ev­ery recorder and cam­era pointed in his direc­tion be­fore lean­ing over the rail to join his fam­ily and friends, many based in Cen­tral Florida. Cousins’s par­ents re­side in the area — his fa­ther, Don, is a pas­tor in Or­lando. His brother pre­vi­ously worked for the Or­lando Magic and still lives in the city, and his sis­ter is on a med­i­cal school ro­ta­tion in the Or­lando area.

The stars aligned for Cousins for this mo­ment. Of all the years to move the event to Or­lando, it just hap­pened to co­in­cide with Cousins’s first Pro Bowl nod.

“It timed up well, be­cause my whole fam­ily is al­ready here,” Cousins said.

Cousins has had a cu­ri­ous sense of tim­ing since ar­riv­ing in the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick out of Michi­gan State in 2012, the same year the Red­skins traded up to take Robert Grif­fin III sec­ond over­all. As the Grif­fin saga played out, Cousins bided his time. The Red­skins fi­nally named Cousins the starter be­fore the 2015 sea­son, and all he did was re­write the fran­chise record books while lead­ing the team to the play­offs.

He backed up that suc­cess with more fran­chise records in 2016. It wasn’t enough to merit a longterm deal — at least not yet — but it did earn him his first Pro Bowl in­vi­ta­tion.

“It’s sur­real,” left tackle and five­time Pro Bowl hon­oree Trent Wil­liams said about shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence with Cousins for the first time. “From watch­ing him wear No. 12 and not even play­ing in the game, and now he’s a Pro Bowl quar­ter­back, that’s the things you see in the busi­ness that kind of blows you away. His re­siliency to over­come all the bumps, all the doubters that he’s had to get to where he is to­day as con­sid­ered one of the best in our game and be here with some of the best in the game, I’m ex­tremely proud of him as a team­mate and as a good friend.”

This month has been a bit­ter­sweet ex­pe­ri­ence for Cousins. He was ini­tially se­lected as an al­ter­nate, but when Aaron Rodgers de­clined the in­vi­ta­tion, Cousins re­placed him on the NFC ros­ter. Sun­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion game will be the first time Cousins has played since the regular sea­son fi­nale against the New York Gi­ants, when he threw a costly in­ter­cep­tion with less than 90 sec­onds left to kill Wash­ing­ton’s play­off hopes.

Cousins said it was the worst pro­fes­sional mo­ment in his ca­reer.

“One of the last throws of the sea­son, throw­ing an in­ter­cep­tion with a chance to go to the play­offs,” Cousins said. “I’m try­ing to get bet­ter from that one. That one hurt.”

The throw reignited lin­ger­ing doubts about Cousins’s abil­ity to lead the Red­skins to the Su­per Bowl. Adding un­cer­tainty to the mat­ter is the de­par­ture of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Sean McVay, who is now head coach of the Los An­ge­les Rams.

Cousins en­ters this off­sea­son as a pend­ing un­re­stricted free agent. The Red­skins have said they want to keep him. Cousins has said he would like to stay — un­der the right cir­cum­stances. The team gave him the fran­chise tag last off­sea­son, guar­an­tee­ing a salary of just un­der $20 mil­lion. If the sides can’t agree on a long-term deal, he could be fran­chised again at a salary of just un­der $24 mil­lion.

The process is still in its early stages, how­ever. In the mean­time, Cousins will be wear­ing the same hel­met at Camp­ing World Sta­dium as he has worn through­out the first five sea­sons of his ca­reer. The Pro Bowl ex­pe­ri­ence has been a dream come true for Cousins, and he hopes it’s not a one-time oc­ca­sion.

“You’re go­ing to ride the roller coaster in this league at times,” Cousins said. “[The sea­son fi­nale] was cer­tainly a low point, but for­tu­nately I think I’m go­ing to get some other op­por­tu­ni­ties. I’m go­ing to get ready for those, learn from what hap­pened and keep try­ing to get bet­ter . . . .

“What I’m ex­cited about is that even though it’s my sec­ond year start­ing, and I’ve started [41] games in this league, I haven’t started 100. I’ve got a long ways to go. I can im­prove a lot, so I’m ex­cited to see what we’ve al­ready done know­ing that I can get bet­ter. If I can keep im­prov­ing, that’s where you think maybe we can do some­thing spe­cial down the road.”

GRE­GORY PAYAN/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Red­skins quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins will par­tic­i­pate in his first Pro Bowl in front of fam­ily in Or­lando.

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