With the non-exclusive franchise tag, Washington can bring its quarterback back, or receive two first-round draft picks if Cousins signs with another team. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Despite holding out hope for an agreement on a long-term deal, the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins have failed to do so, and in turn, the team will use the franchise tag by today’s 4 p.m. deadline to ensure that it doesn’t lose the quarterback on the free agent market, which opens next week.

Two people with knowledge of the situation said that Washington will use the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins. The designation means that Washington for now has committed to pay Cousins $19.953 million for 2016. Other teams can talk to Cousins’s agent about the possibility of signing him. If they extend him an offer that Washington chooses not to match, the Redskins would then receive two first-round draft picks from that team as compensation.

Traditionally, teams shy away from pursuing other team’s franchise players because of the lofty price.

The move hardly comes as a surprise, as people with intimate knowledge of the situation had maintained all offseason long, and as recently as Tuesday morning, that despite ongoing talks between the two sides, and Cousins’s desire to remain with Washington, the quarterback felt no pressure to sign a long-term deal.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins talks with Redskins GM Scot McCloughan after the wild-card game loss to the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 10. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) Quarterback Kirk Cousins talks with Redskins GM Scot McCloughan after the wild-card game loss to the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 10. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Cousins’s camp wanted him to be able to test the free-agent market while acknowledging that Washington could protect itself by using the franchise tag on him.

The Redskins hoped to work out a long-term deal that would have given the team more immediate flexibility against the salary cap, with free agency set to begin March 9. However, the two sides remained apart on their offering and asking prices.

“They really didn’t have a choice,” former Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly explained. “From the Redskins’ point of view, what’s your option? You don’t have any other quarterback, and there’s no guarantee you’re going to get one. He did play well for you at the end of the year, and in fact, he did play well for most of the year, and especially the end of the year, and you’ve got invested time in him. It’s really, you don’t have an option, and for the player, there’s really no motivation to sign until you see what’s out there for yourself.”

Last week, Coach Jay Gruden said, however, that whether by long-term deal or by franchise tag, the Redskins would retain Cousins’s rights for the 2016 season. General manager Scot McCloughan also expressed intent to hang on to Cousins, but stressed the importance of ensuring that Washington maintained a financial ability to improve other areas of the roster as well.

The Redskins opted to use the franchise tag on Cousins although they also could have tried to control his rights by using the transitional tag, which would’ve meant a commitment to pay Cousins $17.696 million for the 2016 season. But under terms of that transitional designation, teams could have negotiated with Cousins without having to give up any compensation if they outbid Washington. The Redskins would have had seven days to match any offer, but if unwilling or unable to do so, Cousins would leave, and the Redskins would get nothing in return.

“The transition tag is dangerous because there’s no compensation and now somebody could put out an offer that you absolutely don’t want to match,” Casserly said. “This eliminates that and this will eliminate any offer from any team because of the two No. 1’s.”

Barring unexpected pursuit from a team willing to part with two first-round picks, Cousins eventually must decide whether he wants to sign a long-term deal with Washington, or if he wants to play on the one-year franchise player tender, and then revisit his future next season. His agent can negotiate with Washington toward a multi-year deal until July 15.

As recently as last week, people familiar with Cousins’s thinking said that the quarterback and his advisers didn’t necessarily see playing under the franchise tag as a bad thing. Some players are leery of playing on a contract that doesn’t provide long-term security. However, confident in his potential, Cousins and those close to him believe that he could wind up further proving himself and setting himself up for an even better financial situation in 2017.

As Casserly explained, outside of a debilitating injury, there are only minimal drawbacks for Cousins if he chooses not to sign a long-term deal.

“Cousins is in a situation where he has to decide does he want to sign a multi-year deal, or play it out and gamble,” Casserly said of Cousins, who last season played on a $660,000 base salary. “His position will be, ‘I make $20 million for one year, I don’t play well and I make $5 million next year as a backup. That’s the down side. My upside is, ‘I play well and they’ve got to pay me $24 million next year on another one-year contract.’ So, he just has to decide.”

The Redskins currently are projected to have around $19 million in salary cap space as they enter free agency. The impending release of quarterback Robert Griffin III will create another $16.155 million in cap space, but the franchise tag money for Cousins will replace that and take up another $3.798 million. Washington is expected to restructure the contracts of some of its higher-paid and aging players like safety Dashon Goldson and defensive end Jason Hatcher, who each are scheduled to count for $8 million against the cap. The team also could cut players with declining production, like wide receiver Andre Roberts, whom rookie Jamison Crowder overtook last season, and whose release would provide roughly $4 million in cap relief.

Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan, who this season hosted a weekly on-air segment with Cousins, first reported news of the decision to franchise the quarterback.

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