And so they meet again: The Washington Redskins, Kirk Cousins and the looming NFL’s franchise player tag deadline.
Between Wednesday and March 1, the Redskins could use that franchise tag designation to retain the Pro Bowl quarterback’s rights and avoid losing him on the open market.
Keeping Cousins in Washington has topped the Redskins’ offseason priority list ever since the quarterback led his team to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in 20 years while setting consecutive franchise single-season passing records.
Teammates, including Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed, have lobbied publicly for the Redskins to re-sign Cousins. Coach Jay Gruden has discussed moving forward with the quarterback as though it’s a foregone conclusion. Team president Bruce Allen hasn’t danced when asked about his plans either.
But all of that is lip service.
Asked whether the Redskins planned to retain Cousins’s services via a multi-year deal or the franchise tag, Allen said, “The goal is to get long-term.” However, as of Tuesday evening, people familiar with the situation said that the sides hadn’t come any closer on an agreement.
And so, while anything could change between now and March 1, a franchise tag designation for Cousins remains a very real possibility.
Such a move would mean a pay increase from $19.95 million to $23.94 million, in accordance with the CBA’s stipulation that calls for a 120-percent raise for a player playing under the franchise tag for a second straight year. But that would all but guarantee that Cousins hits the market as an unrestricted free agent next season, because a third straight franchise tag would mean paying him $34.5 million in 2018.
Avoiding that scenario gives the Redskins additional incentive to get something done this offseason. It’s believed that Cousins could command a four- to five-year deal worth between $90 million and $110 million, with $50-$60 million guaranteed.
The Redskins could structure the yearly salaries to be more cap-friendly than the franchise player deal, which counts 100 percent against the cap. A cap-friendly figure also would allow the Redskins to address other needs in free agency. But Washington still must approach negotiations with both a sense of urgency and respect for Cousins to avoid offending him with a lowball offer, as they did last year, when they didn’t want to commit to paying him $18 million a year.
Unlike some NFL players, who eschew the franchise tag because of the lack of long-term financial security, Cousins had no problem with it last season — and that hasn’t changed. Last month, he told The Post that although he hopes to land a multi-year deal, “If I’m getting franchise tagged, it means they want me back. If they want me back, then I definitely want to be back.”
Only six players have been franchise tagged in consecutive offseasons since 2007, when the option was introduced — Karlos Dansby (2008- 2009), Terrell Suggs (2008-2009), Ryan Pickett (2009-2010), Jeff Reed (2009-2010), Phil Dawson (2011-2012) and Anthony Spencer (2012-2013). It has never happened to a quarterback.
Talks should intensify within the next two weeks. Normally the sides would meet at the NFL Scouting Combine, which usually takes place a week before the tag deadline. But this year, the combine doesn’t begin until Feb. 28, giving Washington only one day to hammer out a deal if officials waited that long to meet with Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney.
Last year, the Redskins waited until just hours before the 4 p.m., March 1 deadline to use the tag on Cousins, who signed his tender the next day. The sides engaged in some talks between then and the July 15 deadline for teams and their franchise players to agree to multi-year deals. But no progress was made, and league rules prohibited a resumption of talks until after the end of the regular season.
Washington could again wait until March 1 to slap the tag on Cousins, and once again, the sides could negotiate up until July 15 to see if they can reach a multi-year deal.
As was the case last year, the team would seem likely to use the non-exclusive designation if it is unable to reach an agreement with Cousins. That would allow him to negotiate with other teams, but those teams would have to fork over two first-round picks as compensation. No team was willing to pay such a bounty for Cousins last offseason. This season, however, the Rams and the 49ers are coached by former Redskins offensive coordinators Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, respectively, and they might be more inclined to make a run at Cousins because of their familiarity and respect for the quarterback.
Keeping Cousins, whether by multi-year deal or franchise tag, is the Redskins’ strong preference. But if they failed to meet the quarterback’s demands and found an offer of two first-round picks (or similar compensation, because teams can negotiate on a price) too enticing to pass up, Washington would have to scramble at quarterback.
Drafting a quarterback in an early round would likely enter into the team’s plans (and also could rank among the likely moves even if the team used the franchise tag on Cousins).
And team officials would strongly consider turning to backup Colt McCoy as a bridge starter. Washington drafted Nate Sudfeld in the sixth round last season, and he worked behind Cousins and McCoy in practices. But he is regarded as a project rather than a starting option.
Cousins would lead the free agent quarterback class if the Redskins did not tag him. Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Nick Foles all are expected to be free agents. But it’s unclear if any of those would fit with the team’s contingency plans.