WASHINGTON — Until March 14, 2018, Kirk Cousins remains a Washington Redskin, an awkward fact that binds him to all of the rules of any other soon-to-be free agent.
Never mind that he hasn’t spoken to team officials about his contract since November. Never mind that his replacement is already acquired and signed to a long-term deal. Never mind that his future employer has been a subject of speculation for two years.
And any team that wants to secure his services in free agency should be careful in how they proceed with him before that date.
The Denver Broncos are the team most openly telegraphing their interest in Cousins, with players (particularly on defense) pining after him since the week before the Redskins beat the Broncos on Christmas Eve.
This week, pass rusher Von Miller told the Denver press on Radio Row at the Super Bowl that he had been in contact with Kirk Cousins at least once to express his interest in becoming teammates with Cousins this offseason.
“He knows exactly how I feel about Kirk Cousins and what he would mean to our team and what he would mean to a lot of teams,” Miller said. “He’s the high quarterback on the market.
“We need Kirk. I would like to have Kirk. We have great quarterbacks now. Kirk could take us over the edge.”
These statements are bold, but do not equal tampering, which is defined as:
“Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media.”
“Any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL.”
In plain speak, tampering occurs when coaches or front office personnel make contact with a player, either publicly or privately, while a player is still under contract with another team. Miller is just a player, so as far as we know, that hasn’t happened with Cousins–at least not yet.
In recent years, teams have been granted a 48-hour period before free agency, during which they can contact agents (but not players) with offers but “not agree to terms.”
Right. Wink, wink.
Tampering in the offseason is equivalent to holding during the season–it happens on every play, it just rarely gets called. John Elway has been around the block a few times and will likely let the players do his talking for him. Why risk not getting Cousins and ending up looking foolish?
But the Redskins, even with Smith in hand, might want to keep an eye on the correspondence and reports coming out of Denver. Even if they have their long-term answer at quarterback, they have the right to defend a fair process with their current player, as well as to potentially gain a draft pick (and make things difficult for Cousins just one more time).
Most recently, the Kansas City Chiefs were docked two draft picks in 2015 (2016 third-round pick and 2017 sixth-round pick) for illegally contacting soon-to-be free agent receiver Jermy Maclin, who was still under contract with the Eagles at the time. Head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey were also assessed fines.
In 2011, before the “legal tampering” period was instituted, the Detroit Lions lost a seventh-round and had to swap for a lesser fifth-round draft pick after a team official publicly coveted the Chiefs players.
There aren’t many opportunities to hear from Elway between now and the start of free agency, but don’t be surprised if the Broncos–or some other team–don’t wait for the period of legal tampering before making contact.