WASHINGTON — Kirk Cousins and the Redskins begin another offseason of uncertainty.
This time around as Cousins approaches free agency, some of the circumstances have changed. He has 16 more starts under his belt for the team to evaluate. He has, for the second straight season, broken the franchise record for passing yards in a season (4,917), this time breaking his own record. He now also owns the franchise record for completions with 406, to go along with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, all of which amounts to additional prestige of being named a Pro Bowl alternate.
But the potential outcomes are identical to last offseason. The Redskins can re-sign Cousins long-term, let him walk or, as they did in 2016, choose to franchise tag him, this time at around $23.94 million.
Nearing the end of the 2015 season, Cousins spoke of his future with the organization as wanting to “be where I’m wanted.” How wanted does he feel today?
“Well, I think we’re gonna find out,” Cousins said. “Those conversations haven’t happened since July 15 or even before that, so I guess time will tell. It’s still gonna play itself out. But, as I said last night, it really isn’t my choice, much like when I was drafted here.
“The franchise tag pretty much plays out the same way,” he said. “It’s ‘you’re coming back’ or nothing. When I was drafted, it’s ‘you’re drafted here’ or nothing. So you go and you do it and the tag is no different, so it’s really not my call or my choice to make. If they don’t tag me then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but the nature of the tag is that the ball’s in their court and it’s really not my call.”
If the Redskins are to re-sign Cousins long-term, they would need the quarterback to be an equal partner, which begs another question entirely: How does Cousins feel about remaining in Washington?
“Well, you know, I need to let some time pass right now and just get some objectivity and have a chance to think things through,” he said. “I’ve been so focused on the season and just trying to get ready for the next opponent, the next opponent and do all I can to be ready that I don’t know that my head’s clear right now.
“I’ll let some time pass. Ultimately, my agent will have those discussions and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but certainly it’s kind of their move first when it comes to the tag.”
It’s inarguable that the Redskins have formed on offensive formula that works. Perhaps consistency, in knowing one can succeed with the coaching staff in place, is something quarterbacks value in determining their long term futures.
“Sean’s done a phenomenal job,” Cousins said of offensive coordinator Sean McVay. “I think he’s gonna be interviewing for head coaching jobs and he’s gonna be interviewing for a reason. He’s done a phenomenal job game-planning all season, barely getting any sleep day in and day out to make sure he has the best possible game plan, understands the defense that he’s attacking inside and out and getting guys in a position to be successful.”
“I believe we had two 1,000-yard receivers this year, a Pro Bowl tight end, another tight end who really had a comeback-type year in terms of the way he played and the difference he made for us,” he said.
“We had several different running backs contribute. We had an offensive line that many people would say is in the top — I don’t know — one, two, three in the league so that says a lot about the coordinator, and the system, and the play calling and the design.”
“Football is the ultimate team game and you need great people around you, you can’t do single-handedly, and Sean McVay as a play-caller, Jay Gruden as a head coach, Matt Cavanaugh as a quarterback coach, Bill Callahan as a line coach, I mean the list goes on and on of people that am fully aware that you need to be successful and that’s very important to every quarterback.”
Cousins insists he is completely blind to how this situation will sort itself out.
“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really don’t,” he said. “I will just take it as it comes, have an open mind and try not to be surprised by anything. I mean in this league, you never know. I’ll just be open to however it plays out, but ultimately the offers kind of send a message and you basically can connect the dots based off of those.”
And if the Redskins choose to franchise tag him again?
“I think much like the first year I’d view it the same way,” he said. “I don’t have the option to play anywhere else, so there’s no point in dragging it out or pouting about it. It’s a great opportunity. They’re bringing you back for a reason and it sends a strong message. I have no reason to fight that and essentially I have no voice in the matter anyways, so I can’t really fight it.”
When posed with an analogy that he is in some way like an anxious girlfriend always waiting for an engagement ring that never comes, Cousins pleaded for patience.
“I think you’ve got to remember it’s day one after the season,” he said. “So we haven’t been able to talk since July 15, so I don’t know if they’ve bought the engagement ring, if you will. I don’t know that yet. It’s too early to tell.”
“That’s why I say I keep an open mind and just take it one day at a time,” he said. “We’ll see how it plays out, but certainly it’s much like the draft. I haven’t really picked where I play football since 2007 when I signed to play at Michigan State. You know, the NCAA told me I’d be penalized if I left and had to sit out a year, so I didn’t do that.
“I had no reason to — I love Michigan State — and then was drafted here, and you have to go, and I went and have had a positive experience now for five seasons, and after four was tagged and was told I’ve got to come back.”
“That’s okay and that’s the rules, and you play by the rules,” he said. “And again, I always say control what you can control, and I can’t control whether or not I get tagged, so I’m not gonna worry about it or spend time feeling anxious about it. Ultimately, I’ve just got to keep playing football, and try to do it the best I can and try to continue to be a high-level quarterback and if I do that, trust that in the long run things will work out.”
Cousins was asked to explain why, despite the best wishes of fans, it may not make the best sense to sign a deal below market value at a more team-friendly cost.
“I think there’s a few reasons,” he said. “One is, and first I’ve got to preface this be saying I’m not trying to suck out every dollar possible. I mean, that’s just not the kind of guy I am or the way I’m gonna approach it.
“I understand, like Scot McCloughan understands, like Jay Gruden understands, it’s all about winning football games and to have a platform to make a difference, ultimately which is what I want to do with my life, we’ve got to win football games. When you’re highly paid and you’re losing, no one really cares what you have to say.”
“First of all, a lot of it goes down to percentage of the salary cap,” he said. “If the salary cap was much, much higher, then quarterbacks could make much, much more and it wouldn’t hurt the team, so the cap is really determining everything, so it’s not so much a dollar amount as it is a percentage of the cap.
“How much of the apple are you really taking, regardless of the dollar amount that it is? And so that percentage I think is what my agent has always, and will always, focus on and negotiate off of — that’s what he’s explained to me.”
“Secondly, there’s other quarterbacks that come after you and it would be almost a selfish move to hurt future quarterbacks who get in a position to have a contract,” he continued. “And if you don’t take a deal that’s fair to you, then you’re also taking a deal that’s not fair to them and you’re setting them back as well. So there’s different reasons. You just do the best you can.”
“And frankly, once you sign the contract, there’s no law saying you can’t re-negotiate,” he said. “If you signed a deal and you end up coming away from two seasons saying, ‘Hey, not only did we not win, but I think the reason is that I’m taking too much,’ then you can always talk about changing that, but I don’t a need to do that on the front end.
“If you can win football games and play well and play at a high level still making a fair number, then why do you need to predetermine that and go down? I think for all those reasons, you want to find your value and then be able to play off of that accordingly.”