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With contract deadline looming, Kirk Cousins likely to play under franchise tag again

As they entered the final hours of their window to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal, the Washington Redskins’ chances of doing so remained bleak.

Barring some unforeseen development before the NFL’s 4 p.m. Monday deadline, Cousins will play a second straight season on the franchise player tag, people familiar with the negotiations said.

Such a development — or nondevelopment, actually — would not come as a surprise. For much of the offseason, people familiar with the quarterback’s thinking have called it a long shot that Washington’s efforts to sign Cousins to a long-term contract would prove fruitful. It has long been expected that Cousins would wind up playing out the franchise tag for a second straight year — something no quarterback has ever done.

Playing on the tag again means Cousins, a six-year veteran, will draw a one-year salary worth roughly $24 million, and that the Redskins will find themselves in familiar territory next offseason.

They will again have to decide how serious a push to make to sign the quarterback to a long-term deal. If unsuccessful, team officials will weigh their options, which would again be using the franchise tag, placing the transition tag on Cousins instead or letting him walk altogether.

But for now, Cousins is set to play out this season on the franchise tag, and negotiations can’t resume until after the 2017 campaign.

Cousins again is coming off a career year, and that both has driven up his worth and complicated Washington’s efforts to sign him to a multiyear deal for a second straight offseason.

In 2015, Cousins threw for a then-franchise record 4,166 yards to go with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading Washington to the NFC East title in his first full season as a starter. But Redskins decision-makers were not sold on Cousins’s value and ultimately failed to offer the quarterback a deal that proved satisfactory to Cousins and his agent, Mike McCartney.

Washington used the franchise tag last offseason to retain Cousins for 2016. That meant paying him $19.95 million last season, which was fully guaranteed. Wanting to see the quarterback prove that his 2015 production wasn’t a fluke, the Redskins let the 2016 franchise tag deadline come and go without offering Cousins a better deal.

Cousins, meanwhile, threw for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while leading Washington to a second straight winning season — a first for the franchise in nearly two decades. But the offseason came, and the Redskins and the Cousins camp remained far apart in their desired figures for a new contract.

People familiar with the talks say that while McCartney believed the starting point for a new contract in 2017 should have been around $24 million per year, Washington initially offered around $20 million per year. A lack of progress in talks resulted in Washington again having to use the franchise tag (guaranteeing him $24 million for this year) to avoid losing Cousins in free agency.

Rules permitted the Redskins and Cousins’s agent to continue negotiating toward a long-term deal by July 17. Such an agreement would enable Washington to avoid the use of the franchise tag, and would eliminate the risk of Cousins hitting the free agent market again in 2018.

The anticipated lack of an agreement comes despite Redskins officials repeatedly expressing their desire to retain the quarterback’s services for the long term. Redskins President Bruce Allen, lead contract negotiator Eric Schaffer and Cousins have all described the contract talks as positive and amicable. That doesn’t mean, however, that the sides will come together.

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McCartney’s asking price and the market value for a quarterback both exceed that of Washington’s desires. Oakland’s Derek Carr recently signed a five-year contract with an annual salary of around $25 million — $40 million guaranteed at signing, plus another $30 million in guaranteed money over the life of the contract. Meanwhile, the Lions were negotiating a new deal for their starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, and his annual salary is expected to exceed Carr’s. Such developments only further strengthened the stance of the Cousins camp.

It’s believed that to have a chance of signing Cousins, the Redskins would have to offer him a deal with an annual salary of around $28 million and roughly $52 million to $58 million guaranteed at signing and another $30 million to $35 million for the remaining three years.

But the Redskins haven’t been willing to make that kind of a commitment. And there are some around the league who believe Cousins never planned to sign a multiyear deal with Washington this offseason regardless of the offer. The quarterback has said that he just wants to sign with a team that truly wants him, but he also has told others that he would like to test free agency to better gauge his worth and his options.

Failing to sign Cousins this offseason could prove costly, just as the decision not to meet the quarterback’s more affordable asking price last season did. In 2016, the quarterback’s agent was asking for around $19 million per season with roughly $44 million in guaranteed money, people familiar with the talks said. But Washington bristled at such a price tag. A year later, the Redskins likely regret passing on that opportunity.

If Washington and Cousins can’t agree to a multiyear deal when negotiations resume in 2018, the Redskins could have to either use the transition tag, which guarantees Cousins a salary of roughly $28 million for 2018, or the franchise tag for a third time, which translates into a salary of roughly $34 million.

But the drawback of the transition tag is other teams could negotiate with Cousins. Washington would have the right to match any deal, but if they get outbid, the Redskins wouldn’t receive any compensation from that opposing team.

And it’s hard to envision Washington being willing to pay Cousins $34 million a year when it was reluctant to pay him more than $16 million following his 2015 success or $20 million following his 2016 production. The only scenario in which the Redskins could benefit from failing to sign Cousins now would be if he takes a step backward on the field in 2017 and is forced to lower his asking price.

If it opts to let Cousins walk rather than award him a rich contract, Washington would then have to either sign another quarterback next season in free agency or draft a replacement for Cousins while possibly using current backups Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld as bridge options.