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Kirk Cousins ‘in a good place’ playing on a one-year deal as Redskins camp opens

Kirk Cousins will play the 2017 season on the franchise tag, earning roughly $24 million. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — For all the words that were written, squawked and debated about whether the Washington Redskins would or should sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract, Cousins made plain Thursday that he’s content without the security.

Any perceived pressure that comes with playing under the NFL’s franchise tag — a one-year deal worth a handsome annual salary but no guarantees beyond that — is something he welcomes, Cousins went so far as saying, reversing the prevailing narrative.

“In the offseason, the ball is in the team’s court,” Cousins told reporters on the opening day of Redskins training camp. “But from Week 1 to Week 17, the ball’s in my court, and I’ve got to go play football well, so that’s where my focus is.”

Earning his opportunities on the football field, Cousins said, is something he has grown accustomed to since high school, when he had no scholarship offers until late in his senior season.

Scenes from the first week of the Redskins’ 2017 training camp

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RICHMOND VA - JULY 27: Washington tackle Ty Nsekhe (79), center, shoes a laugh with Washington wide receiver Josh Doctson (18) left, and Washington defensive back Dashaun Phillips (35) during a morning walk through at the Washington Redskins summer training camp in Richmond VA, July 27, 2017. (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

“That has been my story all along, and I’ve just learned that’s the way life is,” Cousins said, adding that he was in “a good place” — a “healthy place for me to be. It has worked in the past, and hopefully it can work going forward.”

After setting back-to-back franchise records for passing yards, Cousins, 28, launches into training camp with a radically remade receiving corps — with offseason acquisition Terrelle Pryor and second-year player Josh Doctson penciled in as successors to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, who departed via free agency.

He’ll also have a new offensive coordinator in Matt Cavanaugh — the Redskins’ third in the last five years — and a new play-caller in Coach Jay Gruden, which leaves Cousins with plenty to focus on in the six weeks between now and the Sept. 10 season-opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

There was a sparse, almost silent crowd on hand Thursday morning for the first session of training camp — a walk-through in shirts and shorts that didn’t come close to capturing the full speed or power of the 90 players of a roster that must be culled to 53 after the fourth and final preseason game.

Cousins sounded no alarms about the fact that tight end Jordan Reed isn’t on hand for camp because of a toe injury, noting that the season-opener is what truly counts.

Later Thursday, Gruden said that the team was proceeding cautiously with Reed, given his injury history, and that he could be sidelined a week. As a result, the team waived linebacker Houston Bates, who is recovering from ACL surgery and failed a physical, in order to add former Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs, who appeared in seven games for Cleveland in 2015.

As for his own performance, Cousins said that his focus heading into his third season as a starter is to improve at “situational awareness,” knowing when in a game to take risks, for example, and when not to.

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“If I can do that, the final result will be an improved player, and I think that’s the next step in my development,” Cousins said.

The allusion was to the final interception he threw in last year’s season-finale against the New York Giants, sealing a defeat that kept Washington out of the playoffs.

That said, Cousins said he didn’t think that playing under the franchise tag in 2016 had any bearing on his performance. He threw for a team-record 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, but it was the last interception that underscored Cousins’ room for improvement.

As for the team’s 8-7-1 finish, Cousins found a way to turn that into a positive, as well.

“I think what it does is it gives us an edge, because we stay humble and hungry because we left the season realizing we do have a long way to go,” Cousins said. “We do need to improve if we want to go in the direction that we all believe we can. In that sense, we’ll take the silver lining that nobody is content, nobody is entitled, nobody feels like we can rest on what we’ve done in the past. We do feel like a lot rides on this season up ahead. Hopefully, that gives us a sense of urgency all through training camp to be really focused and, as a result, gets the best out of every one of us.”

The quarterback was all business when he trotted out for Thursday’s morning session. Even though plays were executed at half-speed, if that, the 6-4 Pryor jumped out as fluid, graceful and surehanded.

And afterward, several Redskins dismissed any notion that Cousins’ decision not to sign a long-term deal or submit a counter-offer had spoiled chemistry or made them question his commitment.

“Kirk is a great guy,” tight end Vernon Davis said, adding that he makes a point to stay out of other players’ contract situations. “He comes to work every day. He’s making sure that he’s a leader, doing everything he possibly can to make sure he’s right by the team.”

Added right tackle Morgan Moses, who in April signed a five-year contract extension of his own: “It doesn’t matter to us, because we know we have him this year. His process and his focus are the same.”

More Redskins coverage:

Redskins training camp updates: First day of practice gets underway

Jordan Reed will be kept off the field as Redskins begin training camp

Defense, rookies and Kirk Cousins drama: What to watch as Redskins’ training camp begins

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