As it is, Cousins will play the 2017 season — his sixth as a Redskin and his third as the team’s starting quarterback — under the NFL’s franchise tag, which guarantees him a salary of roughly $24 million. Cousins becomes the first NFL quarterback to play under back-to-back franchise tags — a situation that, in his case, means he’ll earn roughly $44 million for his work in 2016 and 2017.
According to Allen, the Redskins’ goal was to sign Cousins to a long-term contract and have him finish his NFL career in Washington.
Opening his remarks by saying he felt it important to clarify the team’s negotiating efforts because the team’s fans “deserve to know where things stand,” Allen went on to explain that on May 2, immediately after the 2017 NFL draft, the Redskins offered Cousins $53 million upon signing — “the highest fully guaranteed amount upon signing for a quarterback in NFL history” — and a guaranteed total of $72 million for injury.
Allen said the Redskins’ offer would have made Cousins at least the second-highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.
“But despite our repeated attempts, we have not received any offer from Kirk’s agent this year,” Allen said. “Kirk has made it clear that he prefers to play on a year-to-year basis. While we would have liked to work out a long-term contract before this season, we accept his decision.”
Allen’s statement read in closing that the team remained “hopeful that a long-term contract will be signed in the future.”
Cousins couldn’t be reached to comment Monday. Under a contractual obligation, he is saving his first public remarks about the contract issue for a Tuesday appearance on 106.7 The Fan.
Regardless of the Redskins’ final offer, no dollar figure, whether average salary or guaranteed money, likely would have clinched a deal at this juncture. That’s because what Cousins seeks isn’t simply a fatter bank account. What he seeks, above all, can’t be found in even the most carefully crafted contract proposal: self-determination, stability and the sense that he is wanted and believed in.
Because the Redskins made him a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft — installing him as a backup to first-round pick Robert Griffin III — Cousins didn’t get a legitimate chance to compete for the starting job until his third season after Griffin struggled. Then, in the two seasons since he should have hit the free agent market, the Redskins have used the NFL’s franchise tag to keep him on the roster. Cousins, associates say, has long wanted to have a say in where he plays and an opportunity to test his value on the open market.
He will hit the free agent market in 2018 unless the Redskins bar him from signing elsewhere with a third franchise tag, which would guarantee him $34.47 million but not be prudent for the Redskins from a salary cap perspective. Alternately, the Redskins could use the NFL’s transition tag, paying Cousins $28.73 million in 2018, but still risk losing him unless they matched other offers.
Former NFL executives have said publicly and privately that Allen misplayed his hand in last year’s negotiations with Cousins in assuming that, as a fourth-round pick, he would be grateful to sign a long-term deal below market value. Rather than do so, Cousins played under a franchise tag in 2016 and didn’t remotely wither under the pressure. He threw for a team-record 4,917 yards, with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.