WASHINGTON — Kirk Cousins is due for a significant pay raise for the 2017 season, despite ending his 2016 on a brutally unfortunate note.
That raise will likely come in one of two ways: Via franchise tag that would pay him $4-5 million more next season, or via long-term deal that will likely pay him $3-6 million more than he made last year for each of the next five years or so. The speculation is rampant around both Washington and the league, as it has been for more than a year, and theories seem to change hourly.
The debate of how good Cousins truly is has tempered some, and the primary concerns now are what he’s worth and whether the Redskins will actually give him that deal.
Cousins himself discussed the ins and outs of the situation Monday morning on Grant and Danny, and the general takeaway seems to have been that he is lukewarm on the concept of returning to the District. Aside from GM Scot McCloughan and various members of the coaching staff, the next most important take on this situation is probably from an agent with experience dealing with NFL contracts.
Thus, The Sports Junkies had former NFL agent and current contracts expert Joel Corry on to discuss the Cousins conundrum Tuesday morning. Here’s where he stands on some of the most important aspects of the situation.
Corry: “I think it’s probably gonna play out the same way that it did last year, at least early on in the offseason. Kirk Cousins opened the door to raise doubts about him with the way he finished the season. His contract demands are gonna go up from what they were last time. They were far apart from the Redskins in terms of reaching a long-term deal. Once those new demands, which are probably gonna be in that Andrew Luck range, are communicated in an offer, or a counter-offer, to the Redskins, they’re gonna realize if we want to keep him at least for the 2017 season, we need to protect ourselves and stick a franchise tag on him.
“That’ll happen, that number’s gonna be close to $24 million. Cousins will sign it immediately like he did last year because it’s fully guaranteed. Then the Redskins are gonna have to determine whether they want to pay him that type of money by the July 15 deadline or risk going into next season, where a third franchise tag would be basically $34.5 million, which won’t happen, and letting him potentially walk out the door in 2018.”
Host Eric “EB” Bickel: “I see [him leaving] as a likelihood if they tag him. What do you see as the likelihood of them coming together with some sort of agreement between then and July 15 on a longer-term deal?”
Corry: “I think there are too many, or there’s enough, doubts within the organization to make that type of commitment to him long term. If he had played the last four or five weeks season like he did in November when he was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month, then it would probably be a different story. But I think they’re still lukewarm on him. Their first offer will be a great indication of what they really think about him. Their best offer last year didn’t speak volumes to them having a lot of confidence in him because it was basically Andy Dalton money with an Andy Dalton structure, which was never going to be signed.”
Cousins’ Feelings About Returning
Host John-Paul “JP” Flaim: “What I think fans are frustrated by, and what I think we’re wrestling with, it doesn’t sound like he wants to stay here in Washington. There’s nothing where he says, ‘You know what? All things being equal, I want to stay with the Redskins, I really like my teammates, I like Coach Gruden. Instead he’s quite non-committal.”
EB: “What does that tell you?”
Corry: “He’s not happy about how the process worked last year, that you insulted him by giving him an Andy Dalton-type offer, and that’s gonna be reflected in the process this year. The Redskins, if they want him long-term, are gonna have to show him a little bit of love first, and you show love through money. So you make him a good first offer, then that acrimony goes away. If it’s a first offer which is in the Brock Osweiler range — $18 million a year, $37 million fully guaranteed — you’re not getting anything done, ever, this year. Because that would be another slap in the face, and you’re gonna have way too much ground to reach a compromise in an agreement if that’s the case.
“And he’s gonna up playing, if you franchise him, on that tag again under those circumstances. If you come in at over $20 million a year, acknowledge that he essentially won the bet and go from there, then there’s more to work with. But in any event, I don’t think there’s a deal to be made before March 1, regardless how the Redskins play it, because the agent is going to hope his demands are so high that the Redskins are like, ‘You know what? Let’s let him hit the open market.’ Because that would be his dream scenario, hitting the open market and letting that determine his worth. And I suspect, because above-average quarterbacks rarely get to the open market, at least healthy ones rarely do, that he would be in a much better situation than he is now and get an astronomical deal from some quarterback-needy team.”
Deal Cousins Could Receive Elsewhere
EB: “I know it’s pure speculation, but just knowing that teams are needy and knowing maybe some of the dynamics of some of the owners involved or teams and their economics, what kind of crazy deal could he realistically maybe see elsewhere?”
Corry: “You’ve got to remember that when players hit the open market, you get guys that get paid way more than they’re worth. Olivier Vernon last year, when he made more than J.J. Watt, by signing to join the Giants, that was a mind-boggling deal. So you’ll see a more mind-boggling deal if an above-average quarterback ever hits the market.
“I’m going to say conservatively, it’s gonna be $26.5 million a year is the average, and $90 million in overall guarantees where at least $60 million will be fully guaranteed. Because don’t forget, in the NFL, unless you have a great defense, if you don’t have a quarterback, life is miserable for you. Houston can overcome Brock Osweiler being terrible because they have the number-one ranked defense in total yards. Denver, this year, couldn’t overcome their mediocre quarterback play this year, despite the great defense, and if you don’t have at least a competent quarterback, you’re going nowhere.
“There are teams that’ll have a ton of cap room. San Francisco is going to have close to $90 million in cap space. The Browns will be over 100 [million], the Bears are gonna be 65-70 once they get rid of Jay Cutler. So you’ll have three teams right there that potentially could pay him whatever he wanted. And it’s not the best year in the draft for quarterbacks either, and getting a quarterback in the draft is a crap shoot. You could get someone like Andrew Luck, that’s a rarity, or you’re more likely to get Blaine Gabbert or E.J. Manuel if you draft him in the first round.”
EB: “I think it’s fair to say, if he’s franchised, in all likelihood this is his last year in Washington.”
Corry: “No doubt, because how that’ll play out is if he progresses more from this year to next year, then he’s gonna be feeling, ‘You know? You’ve have two years to figure out what I’m worth, you couldn’t do it. You pay me exactly what I want, how I want it. I might forgo free agency. And if you don’t, you can take your chances like everyone else trying to sign me because you’ve lost your advantage. If I sign elsewhere, I’ll give you a courtesy call so you don’t see it through social media or hear about it on SportsCenter or NFL Network. That’s how that process will play out.”
EB: “Any chance then, if that’s the inevitable conclusion, that they don’t even franchise him then? Because they go, ‘You know what, we know we’re not gonna come to a long-term agreement, I don’t want to invest $44 million in two years — we’re not gonna win a Super Bowl next year, everybody knows that, it’d be the fluke of all flukes if we did — so I’m not even gonna franchise you.” Any chance that happens?”
Corry: “Well here’s the problem: You don’t have a potential replacement on the horizon. Colt McCoy? That’s not a starting quarterback. Nate Sudfeld? He’s not ready. Scot McCloughan has been very good as a talent evaluator, but he does have a spotty record at quarterback. He did help [Seahawks GM] John Schneider find Russell Wilson in Seattle, but this is also the same guy that, when he was a part of the 49ers braintrust, took Alex Smith, who’s turned into a competent quarterback, over Aaron Rodgers, who’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
(Corry and Bickel also mention the deal the Seahawks signed Matt Flynn to the same offseason they drafted Wilson, often regarded as a colossal failure on Seattle’s part.)
JP: “So what you’re saying is Kirk and his agent really have all the leverage.”
Corry: “Oh yeah, because you don’t have a viable option in place. This is not San Diego, when Drew Brees was franchised and they let him walk, where Philip Rivers was waiting in the wings as a high first-round pick. You have literally nothing as a backup plan. That’s one of the reasons Kirk Cousins has a ton of leverage. Also, good quarterbacks, above-average ones, don’t grow on trees. This is all Kirk Cousins with the hammer, he’s going to use it.
“It’s just a question of whether the Redskins think he is the long-term solution at quarterback. I think there’s a small chance he becomes an unrestricted free agent, but because you don’t have anything in the pipeline, you almost have to franchise him. You’ll have the cap room, you’ll have $55-65 million in the cap depending on tenders, incentives earned and where the cap actually comes in, but you can accommodate the $24 million franchise tag.”
Final Thoughts on Contract Numbers
EB: “Just give me the fair number. What’s the fair number for a long-term deal?”
Corry:: “I would say right under Andrew Luck … $24 million a year, you gotta get to at least $70 million in guarantees. In two or three years, instead of being at the top of the quarterback market, it’s gonna be closer to 7, 8, 9 as other deals get done.”
EB: “That’s what people don’t understand, is that these deals keep getting topped every year. It’s meaningless that you’re the top or whatever, because you keep getting topped.”