WASHINGTON — The Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins could not come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension by Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
That’s the bad news. But there are some positives to take from a stalemate that never really saw the two sides come close to an agreement after Cousins signed his franchise tender in March. No one likes uncertainty at the quarterback position. In this case both Cousins and the Redskins seem okay with it. Here are five reasons why:
The Redskins get to see more
It was always the biggest sticking point in negotiations. Yes, Washington coach Jay Gruden has had Cousins for two full seasons now – and offensive coordinator Sean McVay has been here from the beginning with GM Scot McCloughan seeing a full year in person. But Cousins’ track record is really based off a strong final 11 games of last season. He’s had good games before that. But nothing sustained. And if the Redskins are going to hand out a big, long-term contract they need to see sustained performance. Now, Cousins will play 2016 on his franchise tag ($19.953) and – if he stays healthy – Washington will have another full season of data. At age 28 and after five years in the NFL who Cousins is will essentially be written. Then it’s just a matter of paying him accordingly.
Cousins gets to gamble
He’s done it his whole career. Cousins was a marginal prospect out of high school and became a scholarship player at Michigan State and eventually a full-time starter. He was drafted in the fourth round as insurance in case Robert Griffin III faltered and became a backup. Written off after an ugly benching in 2014, Cousins rallied to prove he is a legitimate starter in the NFL. Now, surrounded by weapons like tight end Jordan Reed and wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder, Cousins has the chance to secure a massive contract close to what Andrew Luck just received ($47 million fully guaranteed, $87 million in guarantees and $140 million full value). Put up numbers similar to last season, win another NFC East title and make the playoffs again and that Luck contract will look like a pretty good comparable.
Washington already knew what it was paying at quarterback for this year when Cousins signed the franchise tender. And it knows what it will have to pay next year to retain Cousins. He makes out big this year with a $19.953 million deal. But if he has a great year, the team might be better off with his contract at $23.94 million next season. That’s what the franchise tag would be worth. Even if Cousins is just okay this season and that raise seems steep, it’s still just another one-year deal. It’s another season where you expect steady production from Cousins without having to pay for it three or four years down the road. The risk is after that second year when Cousins would be owed closer to $33 million if franchised again in 2018. No team can afford that on one position even with the salary-cap rising every year. But compared to the rest of the league, this two-year salary window isn’t egregious. They can live with it.
Buying time to develop prospects
Let’s say the Redskins have evaluated Cousins and think he’s just okay. They don’t expect a dramatic jump in his play, they think he will regress some. They can win with him, but maybe not a championship. Well, the franchise tag gives them financial stability for the next two years and it also buys them time to find another solution at quarterback. Colt McCoy is in place for now if Cousins gets hurt or really falters.
But Washington also drafted Nate Sudfeld in the sixth round in 2016. He’s a raw prospect and might have to spend the year on the practice squad. Now, McCloughan and his scouts can see if there’s another quarterback they like in next year’s draft, too. That player will have a full year in Jay Gruden’s system to develop before a final decision must be made on Cousins after 2017 when his contract is too big to use the franchise tag on. Trade possibilities can also crop up over the next 18 months. And if Cousins plays well, you have more insurance in case the two sides never work out a long-term contract or extra trade chips if they do.
Building the rest of the roster
Washington remains in a rebuilding mode. No one will use that term at Redskins Park. But McCloughan has had one solid draft in 2015 and a prospect group this year that is untested. This was a team barren of young talent before he got here in January, 2015 aside from tight end Jordan Reed and with few impact mid-20s players aside from left tackle Trent Williams and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. That hasn’t changed a ton in the time since. Maybe you add cornerback Bashaud Breeland to that group and last year’s rookie class (guard Brandon Scherff, running back Matt Jones, wide receiver Jamison Crowder) was promising.
But there are no safeties that fit that mold. You won’t find any Pro Bowl linebackers on this roster. Chris Baker is the lone impact defensive lineman. The top two wide receivers – DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon – are free agents at the end of the year and about to turn 30. Josh Doctson, the first-round pick in 2016, has the skills to replace them, but has to prove himself. And so having Cousins in place keeps the team competitive while McCloughan continues to upgrade the overall talent base. If Cousins is still here when that happens, great. If not, the hope is the future quarterback will be in a better place with a more well-rounded team and you won’t have to go 3-13 for three years in a row to get there. This is rebuilding on the fly.
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