Once again, the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins stood pat, and once again, the team’s quarterback situation will lack clarity beyond the next 12 months. As expected, the NFL’s 4 p.m. deadline passed Monday, and Cousins and the team failed to reach a long-term deal, meaning he will play a second consecutive season under the team’s franchise-player tag, entitling him to a salary of $24 million.
The Redskins will have to wait until next year’s offseason before they can resume negotiations on a multiyear contract for Cousins.
The failure to reach an agreement hardly came as a surprise. People familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings of the negotiations had long maintained the Redskins had virtually no chance of signing the sixth-year veteran to a long-term contract this offseason, despite repeated public declarations that they wanted to do so.
That’s because of a stark contrast in opinions of the quarterback’s worth. Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, believed his client deserved to be paid like one of the top players at his position after proving himself in back-to-back seasons as Washington’s starter.
Last year, the Redskins offered Cousins roughly $4 million less annually than what McCartney asked, saying they wanted to see the quarterback prove his 4,000-yard 2015 production wasn’t a fluke. Cousins played on the franchise tag in 2016, earning $19.95 million (the average of the top five quarterback salaries) and threw for nearly 5,000 yards, earning a Pro Bowl invitation while leading Washington to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 20 years.
But Redskins officials and McCartney still didn’t see eye-to-eye after resuming negotiations this offseason. The starting point for negotiations, according to the Cousins camp, should have been around $24 million a year. The Redskins, meanwhile, initially offered just $20 million per year, and only limited guaranteed money.
Neither side budged. The Redskins could have traded Cousins after placing the tag on him, or they could have hammered out a long-term deal to nullify the tag. But no trade suitor was willing to meet the asking price, which league insiders said was two first-round picks, and talks between the team and player agent proved fruitless.
Some people familiar with Cousins’ thinking said early in the offseason that the quarterback had no intention of signing a multiple-year deal with Washington because team officials displayed only a lukewarm commitment to him based on their less-than-market-value offers both in 2016 and 2017. The same people also said the quarterback had expressed a desire to test his value on the open market. The franchise tag prevented him from doing that. But Cousins didn’t feel desperate to sign with Washington just to ensure long-term stability. The lack of concern differs from the approach many players take because they fear injury and want to ensure financial security for multiple years.
But Cousins is used to having the odds stacked against him. He concluded his senior high school season without a scholarship offer, getting one from Michigan State only after the Spartans’ top quarterback prospects turn them down.
Cousins then entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick, drafted 100 selections after Washington took Robert Griffin III. The quarterback’s prospects of becoming a starter with the Redskins seemed bleak. But injuries derailed Griffin’s career, and Cousins ascended up the ranks, leading the team to the division title in 2015, and then played well despite the pressure of the franchise tag in 2016, and he entered this offseason prepared to do the same.
And now, that’s exactly what will happen, giving the Redskins roughly six months to decide how to proceed at quarterback.
They passed on the chance to select a quarterback in this year’s draft. And the company line is that they want Cousins to be their quarterback for years to come. But they’ll have to show him that financially.
If Cousins plays well this season, his asking price only will increase. Washington will have three options: give the quarterback whatever he asks and swiftly sign him to an extension following the season, using the franchise tag a third time to maintain control of his rights, or use the transition tag to give themselves at least a chance to match whatever offer Cousins received from other teams.
A third straight franchise tag is unheard of. Cousins already is the first quarterback to play on the franchise tag for two seasons. And a third straight designation would compute to a salary of around $34 million for the 2018 campaign. If Washington used the nonexclusive franchise tag, another team could court Cousins, but would have to part with two first round draft picks to obtain his rights.
The transition tag is the more affordable route because it means guaranteeing Cousins a salary of $28 million. But significant risk comes along with that. Another team could simply outbid the Redskins, giving the quarterback an offer too rich for Washington’s liking, and he could then sign with said team, and Washington would receive no compensation.
If Washington opts to let Cousins walk via free agency, the organization would then have to turn to either holdovers Colt McCoy or Nate Sudfeld, or another quarterback on the market, and also possibly draft a quarterback, which is essentially hitting the reset button after working to build a contender the previous three years.