WASHINGTON — Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins could soon have one of his biggest advocates in a key position of power.
The San Francisco 49ers are poised to hire former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their new head coach, according to ESPN and multiple other news outlets.
Shanahan coached Cousins for three seasons with the Redskins. His father, Mike, drafted Cousins and has relentlessly praised his former player. Kyle Shanahan, now the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, would be going to a team desperate for a quarterback. For now, Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent on March 9.
It’s not hard to connect all of these dots – even if it’s premature. Shanahan is still coaching the Falcons, who host Green Bay in the NFC title game this weekend. And Washington has the right to use its franchise tag on Cousins. It almost certainly will. But we now know Cousins will likely have a supporter in place in another organization and that opens up all sorts of possibilities for the coming weeks and months. Here are a few:
Sign Cousins long term
It’s simple. You believe in your quarterback, you sign him to a deal that’s fair to both sides. Cousins has submitted two full seasons as a starting quarterback, led his team to a division title and the playoffs once and produced a 17-14-1 record. He has set the franchise record for passing yards two seasons in a row. He has lots of weapons surrounding him and a respected group of offensive coaches even with offensive coordinator Sean McVay leaving for Los Angeles to coach the Rams. There is plenty of salary-cap space to absorb a big deal at this position with the cap expected to come in around $168 million in 2017 and $15 million more in carryover dollars from 2016, according to the NFLPA.
But….Cousins has also said he’s not keen on taking any sort of hometown discount. That wouldn’t be fair to other quarterbacks around the NFL. His agent, Mike McCartney, likely benefits from waiting to see if quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (Detroit) or Derek Carr (Oakland) sign extensions this spring that could re-set the market. The Redskins demonstrated repeatedly they needed to see more from Cousins before committing to a long-term deal at big dollars. They have now seen 16 more games from him. If that wasn’t enough to sway GM Scot McCloughan and the front office that Cousins is a championship-caliber quarterback under the right circumstances then the next steps are in order.
Use the franchise tag
The Redskins can nip all of this speculation in the bud. Just use the franchise tag on Cousins for a second consecutive year by the March 1 deadline, have him sign the tender and move on. It took him all of 24 hours to sign the deal last year. It shouldn’t be any different this season at $23.9 million. The two sides could still negotiate a long-term deal between now and July 15.
Use the franchise tag, but….
There’s a sneaky way to test Cousins’ market, but only if the Redskins are prepared to lose the player. Use the non-exclusive franchise tag again. The money would be the same, but in this case other teams are allowed to sign Cousins to an offer sheet. Like, say, Shanahan and the 49ers. The compensation is two first-round picks, which would include the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL draft. That would give Washington picks No. 2 and 17 this year and the expectation that rebuilding San Francisco, which went 2-14 last season, would provide another top 10-to-15 pick in 2018.
The 49ers also have a ton of cap space and are desperate for a quarterback. Are they THAT desperate? Who knows? Why not give them — or anyone else — the chance. Its options for now are Colin Kaepernick and – not much else. And the 49ers might cut ties with Kaepernick anyway.
There is both a need at the position and an advocate here in Shanahan. That price would be steep, but if Shanahan and San Francisco want him that badly then they’ll do the offer sheet. If not, Cousins stays in Washington for 2017. No need to complicate this.
Allow Cousins test the open market
Okay – this one is crazy. You’d be letting other teams decide Cousins’ value and could lose him for nothing. If the Redskins do this everyone should be fired. Moving on.
Sign and trade
This has been done before. The Chiefs got Matt Cassel this way from New England in 2009. It’s not unheard of. The Redskins could use the exclusive franchise tag to keep offer sheets at bay, but push for compensation higher than two first-round picks. Would they get it? That’s questionable.
This is an option if the Redskins decide their roster really isn’t all that close to competing for a title. It’s hard to argue that it is right now given the struggles on defense and the uncertainty at wide receiver, where Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are unrestricted free agents.
Of course, there are better ways of rebuilding than jettisoning your starting quarterback. But if flexibility is what GM Scot McCloughan wants most, then you can always turn town trade offers that don’t match your expectations, keep Cousins on the roster for 2017 and accelerate your search for a younger quarterback.
Under this scenario, Cousins would almost certainly leave via free agency after the 2017 season. Using a third franchise tag on him would cost close to $34 million. That’s not realistic.
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