By Chris Lingebach

The Redskins will reportedly be closely monitoring Kirk Cousins’ final five regular season games. That will reportedly help inform the Redskins on which decision to make, to franchise tag him for a third consecutive year, at $34.5 million, or allow him to walk in free agency.

Those are the only options Redskins brass is still considering, Ian Rapoport reported last week. They’ve internally ruled out the possibility of using the transition tag, at $28.8 million, an option which would allow other teams to bid on Cousins and the Redskins a chance to match.

“So be it” is the response that report elicited from Cousins. Stern, but fair.

Wait. But why would the Redskins rule out the transition tag so early in the game? Someone please explain this madness!

“To be fair, I was surprised by that too,” Rapoport told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier. “My assumption all along has been that the Redskins would simply transition Kirk Cousins. It’s a lot cheaper. And then kind of going from there, if they have to retain him on a deal that someone else creates, then they’ll do that. But the explanation that I received is one that, actually, to me, makes a lot of sense.”

So here it is.

“The franchise tag is $34 million,” he said. “Transition tag would be $28 million. Well then, whichever team creates a new deal for Kirk Cousins, and there’s going to be one — he’s going to have a really good market, whether it’s the Jaguars or the Jets, or even the 49ers if they sour on Jimmy Garoppolo, which I don’t expect, or the Browns. All those teams have a ton of cap space.”

“So what they would do is they would create a very front-loaded cash-up-front deal that would force the Redskins to pay more than $34 million in year one,” he explained. Well, that doesn’t sound good. “So either way, the Redskins are gonna be paying more than $34 million in year one, so why not do the franchise tag and just make sure that there is basically no competition?

“Because the other answer would be, then the Redskins have to pay something like $50 million in year one up front, because that’s what the competing deal would be. Because all those teams with cap space, they can actually do that. That’s why the transition tag doesn’t make a lot of sense, is because whatever deal is structured would make it miserable for the Redskins to match.”

Fifty million dollars sounds a bit steep for year one.

“It’s not about ‘is Kirk Cousins a good quarterback?’ Yes, he is a good quarterback. He’s also a good person who would be a great face of the franchise,” Rapoport went on to say. “None of that is kind of what we’re discussing. What we’re discussing is efficiency in how it relates to the franchise tag.”

“It’s become a tougher decision for the Redskins because they decided not to do a deal for him two years ago that would have made this manageable,” he said. “Probably would have made $19 [million] or $20 million a year, and that would have been it. But the discussion and the issue gets tougher because the price keeps going up to an astronomical level.

“And you’re right — the question is: let him walk into free agency, or pay him $34 million in year one as the basis for a deal? The only sort of addendum I would add is I’m not sure Cousins would want to just crush the team, and only hold out for a deal that would pay him an average of $34 million a year. That’s not happening. I would imagine he’d be sort of like Derek Carr and do something that wouldn’t kill the team cap-wise, so I think if they franchise him, I wouldn’t say it rules out a deal in the future.”

The transition tag is really an impossible option, explained Rapoport, because the Redskins would be entering a battle they’re ill-equipped to win.

“Think of it as a battle, not for a quarterback, but for cap space,” he said. “So all the teams you’re fighting with have way more cap space, so they can make sure that you just kill your team, or you can’t match. So that, to me, is a disaster, because teams would take advantage of the cap shape the Redskins are in, which is not terrible, but it is not as good as, say, the Jaguars or the Jets, or the 9ers, who all have tons of space.”

“The franchise tag is, at its core, a way to get a deal done. It basically sets the baseline,” he said. “What’s interesting about this franchise tag, it’s so astronomical that I’m not even sure any side would use it as the starting point for negotiations.

“Like, is Kirk Cousins’ agent gonna go in and say, ‘Alright, every deal has to average $34 million or we’re not doing it’? I find that hard to believe. I believe Cousins would take a much more rational approach, even if he’s guaranteed $34 million. I think the ensuing deal would be very heavy in guaranteed money. That’s how it would make sense for Kirk Cousins.”

“Cousins wants to win also,” Rapoport said. “And probably wants to win more than he wants to stick it to the Redskins. And it’s really tough to win if you take up $34 million in a year against the salary cap. He’s rich anyway. He has enough money for everything he wants to do a lot of times over. So I would think his desire to win would allow him to take a reasonable — not a hometown discount by any stretch of the imagination. No chance of that. Either way, he’s going to be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I would think something reasonable would be coming for him.”

Despite any acrimony that may have developed between Cousins and the Redskins over three years of stalled negotiating, Rapoport believes their relationship could be repaired “very quickly.”

“I have also seen this a lot,” he said. “This is not an apples-to-apples example, but I remember a couple years back, Vince Wilfork — who I know well and covered with the Patriots — literally went in the locker room and tore his locker down because he wanted to be traded. And a month later, they had a deal that allowed him another year in the organization.”

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