It’s still very early in the process, as Washington has until July 15 to reach an extension, but the Redskins are in a similar situation to last offseason’s, when they failed to sign Cousins to a long-term deal. In 2016, Cousins received $19.95 million on the franchise tag after his agent, Mike McCartney, and the Redskins couldn’t agree on a satisfactory salary. The team’s offer was around $16-17 million per year.
“Well, we’d like to keep Kirk here obviously,” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday of placing the exclusive tag on Cousins. “We think he’s going to be our quarterback for a long time. To have that opportunity to negotiate with him and get a long-term deal is what we want to do, so let’s move forward, tag him, try to get a deal done and go from there.”
Many NFL executives, coaches and agents at the NFL combine said they believe that a contract averaging $20 million per year would be a fair offer for Cousins, although there are still some who as if feel Cousins has played himself into a bigger deal with his performance and the rising salary cap in 2017. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck ($24.59 million) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees ($24.25 million) are the only two quarterbacks in the NFL with contract averages of over $24 million per season.
If they aren’t able to agree to terms on a deal with Cousins, the Redskins would either let him play on the franchise tag for a second consecutive season or trade him. The San Francisco 49ers have been mentioned as a potential trade partner after their hiring of coach Kyle Shanahan, who served as the Redskins’ offensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013 and was a big advocate for Cousins when Washington drafted him. But any trade would come at a heavy price.
The 49ers are seeking a franchise quarterback under Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch, both entering their first seasons, but not at the cost of trading away multiple draft picks and signing a quarterback to a hefty contract, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation.
Cousins, 28, has proven he’s a solid starting quarterback after earning the job before the 2015 season. The Michigan State product was asked to duplicate his 2015 success and did so, throwing for 4,917 yards with 29 total touchdowns, 15 total turnovers and a 97.2 quarterback rating. Cousins has amassed a significant amount of leverage in the negotiating process with his performance last season and became the first quarterback in NFL history to receive the franchise tag in consecutive seasons.
He can afford to play on the franchise tag once again if the Redskins don’t offer a deal to his liking, forcing both sides to drag this dilemma into the 2018 offseason. In this scenario, it’s unlikely that the Redskins would place the franchise tag on Cousins for a third time, which would guarantee a salary of about $35 million. Washington can place the transition tag on Cousins in 2018, worth about $28 million, but it would allow other teams the opportunity to sign him to a deal. The Redskins would, however, receive the right to match any offer.