INDIANAPOLIS — One day after the Redskins used the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins for the second year in a row, coach Jay Gruden still believes a long-term contract will happen.
Gruden did acknowledge on Wednesday morning at the NFL Combine that there remains work to do. Washington used the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins. That means he and agent Mike McCartney can only negotiate with the Redskins.
Knowing Cousins is almost certain to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, other teams might not have incentive to push hard with trade offers. Gruden isn’t thinking along those lines anyway.
“We’d like to keep Kirk here, obviously. And we think he’s going to be our quarterback for a long time,” Gruden told reporters at an Indianapolis hotel. “And to have that opportunity to negotiate with him and get a long-term deal is what we wanted to do. So just move forward and tag him and try to get a deal done and go from there.”
Cousins has set the franchise record for passing yards two years in a row. He led the Redskins to an NFC East title and a playoff berth in 2015 – his first year as a starter. Last year ended in disappointing fashion with an 8-7-1 record after a season-ending loss to the New York Giants.
But he has leverage most quarterbacks don’t in contract negotiations. Cousins already played on the franchise tag last season ($19.95 million) when the two sides couldn’t come to a long-term agreement. He is now in line to make $23.9 million on a one-year deal in 2017 and then become an unrestricted free agent at age 29. That’s almost unprecedented in NFL history for an accomplished quarterback that age.
So coming to terms on a deal may yet prove difficult – even if the Redskins are now willing to pay up. Last year, with just one strong half-season under his belt, there was still enough uncertainty to leave some team officials leery. That’s lessened now, but the price has ballooned beyond what Washington wants to pay. And if Cousins wants to maximize his value on the open market, there’s little the team can do about it.
“Both parties have to come up with something,” Gruden said. “We can offer him the world and if he doesn’t want to sign it, he doesn’t have to sign it. And I think we have to do maybe a better job. So I think it’ll happen. I really do. But we’ll wait and see. I’m gonna coach the players that are here and I fully anticipate Kirk being the quarterback.”
Cousins was the Redskins’ fourth-round pick in 2012 and bided his time during the Robert Griffin III era — even when he felt like the deck was stacked against him. In the spring of 2015 he even suggested it was time for him to move on to another team if he wasn’t going to get a fair competition for the starting role that year.
Events quickly swept him into that role. A preseason injury to Griffin and a secret open competition all along gave Cousins a chance to prove he deserved the job. In the end, Gruden and GM Scot McCloughan went to bat for Cousins and named him the starter. The rest is history. And the idea of starting over with someone new is scary to some – though backup Colt McCoy has his supporters in the building.
“It’s very important to have your quarterback in place. We know how important that position is in pro football,” Gruden said. “To have a guy here who’s been developing in the system for the last two years we take very seriously. We see his progress. We see the progress that he’s going to make.
“We’re excited about that,” he said. “We’d love to have a long-term deal done, obviously, and hopefully that will happen here in the near future. But we do like where he’s going with his game and we feel good about having him here as a Redskin for a long time.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.