WASHINGTON — Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has signed his $23.9 million franchise tag tender, setting up the next step in a complicated contract negotiation.
Cousins is now under contract with the team and can be traded. Washington team president Bruce Allen and head coach Jay Gruden have said publicly the organization has no plans to do that. Exactly what Cousins wants long term is unclear, but he played on a franchise tag last season and has said he is willing to do so again this year.
Complicating matters for the Redskins is Cousins could become a free agent next March. They can use the franchise tag again for a third and final time – but the raise would be exorbitant (44 percent) at $34.4 million. The salary cap for next year should come in around $175 million depending on NFL revenues. Paying that much of the cap to one player – even a quarterback – is almost unthinkable.
Washington could use the transition tag on Cousins next March. That would mean a 20-percent raise on this year’s salary at a cost of $28.72 million. That’s still a steep price and the risk of alienating Cousins has to be taken into account there. It’s an option, but likely not one the Redskins can employ without risk. Cousins could also still sign an offer sheet under that scenario and the team would only have the right to match it. There would be no compensation if they didn’t.
All of this can be avoided, of course, if the two sides come to a long-term agreement by the July 15 deadline. After that date, Cousins must play on the franchise tag in 2017. The chances of that happening, however, are unclear.
Washington used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins last March 1 and he signed it the next day. This time the exclusive franchise tag was used Feb. 28 and he waited 11 days to sign. Both are subtle messages sent during a fascinating negotiation.
The Redskins’ use of the exclusive tag meant Cousins needed permission to talk to other teams about a possible offer sheet. Cousins waiting to sign signals he might not be so pliable this time around. Offseason workouts begin in April and organized team activities (OTAs) are in May. Cousins technically doesn’t have to report to Redskins Park until veteran minicamp in June – although that would send a strong message about his intentions and desire to stay with the team if he didn’t.
There is another option: A trade. Rumors will always hound Cousins on this front because former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is now the head coach in San Francisco. The 49ers signed quarterback Brian Hoyer this week – Cousins’ college teammate for two years at Michigan State. But that will do little to quell speculation that Shanahan and Cousins want to be re-united. Add in Cousins likely being a year from free agency and that only adds fuel to the fire.
But San Francisco knows that, too. It added another quarterback to the mix by signing free agent backup Matt Barkley on Thursday. The 49ers appear content to wait. Or at least make the Redskins think that they are. Shanahan and Washington owner Dan Snyder also have a contentious relationship. Snyder fired Shanahan and his dad, Mike, in 2013 after four tumultuous years.
So what, exactly, would San Francisco be willing to part with? What, exactly, would Washington’s price be if it finally decides that the Cousins situation is untenable? The 49ers own the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft thanks to a 2-14 season and also the No. 34 pick (second round). The Redskins will choose at No. 17. Are the two sides playing hardball or is there a deal to be made? For now Washington insists a trade isn’t happening and San Francisco appears content to go after Cousins if he reaches the open market next year, as expected. Who blinks first?
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