WASHINGTON — The deadline will come and go on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. with no movement from either side. In the end, Kirk Cousins is content to play under the franchise-tag contract that he signed in March and the Redskins are willing to let him do it, according to multiple NFL sources.
The two sides didn’t come close to an agreement. The gap was just too great. They will revisit again after the season. That’s the next time they can discuss an extension. Of course, unless Washington agrees to a new contract with Cousins or again uses its franchise tag on him for $23.94 million, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins next March. Cousins becomes the first quarterback to play under the franchise tag since Drew Brees did it in 2005 with the San Diego Chargers. Brees suffered a torn labrum late in that season and eventually signed with the New Orleans Saints.
What it means for now: Nothing for 2016. Cousins is under contract. He signed a deal in March for $19.953 million when Washington tendered him an offer on the non-exclusive franchise tag. It didn’t take him long to do it and for good reason. Cousins’ market was set. He’s now negotiating off that price point. He picked a wonderful time to have a great season. Few quarterbacks are so lucky to do so in a contract year. That’s even more true for Cousins, who just a year ago doubted he’d ever get a legitimate chance in Washington behind Robert Griffin III. We all saw how quickly that can change.
What is means for later: A whole lot. Cousins has bet on himself. He is surrounded by legitimate weapons on offense – though there are questions at running back and on the offensive line. There is a chance for him to better his numbers from last season. If he does, he will be rewarded handsomely for it. If Washington has to use the franchise tag again on Cousins he will earn $23.94 million. That’s $43.893 million over two seasons. That’s a big number. At least the Redskins have some cost certainty there, however. What neither side has in that scenario is security. Because even with the rising cap, it’s unthinkable Washington would use the franchise tag for a third year in a row in 2018. That would be $33 million and even with a rising salary cap that’s an untenable situation.
How much is Cousins risking: It’s the NFL. Injury has to be taken into account. And that is really the biggest risk for Cousins. He’s on a one-year contract and any future earnings beyond that are based on him staying on the field. He can take out an insurance policy, but that will pale in comparison to the money he can make on a long-term deal.
Then again – anyone should be able to make almost $20 million and keep their family in comfort for a long time. Yes, future earnings are at stake here, too. But while a bad year will cost Cousins, in the current market he’ll still likely earn a deal somewhere else in the high double digits. Sam Bradford got $22 million in fully guaranteed money from the Philadelphia Eagles for two years after a mediocre season. Even if Cousins plays poorly, is let go and settles in as a backup quarterback for a few years on another team, that’s still way more money than most people will ever make.
In the end, that injury risk wasn’t scary enough to force Cousins to cave to Washington’s demands. He’s already set for life now. The downside even in the worst-case scenario wasn’t worth abandoning the chance to make major money in the coming years.
What are the Redskins thinking: That the best-case scenario – Cousins plays well and gets a huge payday – is okay with them. You understand why not everyone in the organization is sold on paying Cousins top-tier quarterback money right now. He had a strong final 11 games, but maybe he reverts back to the turnover machine of years past. They want to SEE it.
The cost of that, though, is what could be a massive deal this winter. If Cousins has even a solid season – comparable numbers and another division title/playoff berth – he knows the team must use the franchise tag on him again. He’s getting $23.94 million in that case. And he’s probably looking for a serious commitment – at age 29 – of something close to what Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck just got ($47 million fully guaranteed at signing, $87 million in guarantees, $140 million full value). Washington could get creative to keep the cap hit reasonable in that case. But with cash in that neighborhood it’s going to be a big number no matter what. Clearly, the Redskins better be okay with this scenario. Because the other scenario is Cousins struggles and the organization loses there, too.
Who is calling the shots: This will become a topic. The assumption is owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen didn’t want to pay Cousins right now. And that is likely true. That doesn’t mean GM Scot McCloughan did, though. Closely read McCloughan’s public comments almost since the day he was hired and you come away with his basic philosophy: You don’t need a franchise quarterback, just someone who can give you a chance to win when surrounded by talent. But paying Cousins before you absolutely have to could leave you saddled with a bad contract.
In essence, using the franchise tag for two years becomes a pay-as-you-go contract. Washington was okay with using it this season even if some saw it as an overpayment given Cousins’ limited track record playing at a high level. And if Cousins plays well again the Redskins will be happy to franchise him again or sign that long-term deal. They’ll have – hopefully – two full seasons of data when that decision needs to be made by March. A monkey wrench would be if Cousins gets hurt early in the season and they don’t get to see him play another full year at all. That’s just another risk in a game filled with them. For now, Cousins is the Redskins quarterback for 2016. The future, for both sides, can wait.
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