The Washington Redskins can officially apply the franchise tag to Kirk Cousins starting this week. But if they do, expect the quarterback to go on the offensive.
Cousins will file a grievance through the NFL players’ union if the Redskins stick the franchise tag on him, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. This represents a line in the sand, of sorts, ahead of Tuesday’s opening of the two-week window during which NFL teams can place the franchise tag on players. The tag would prevent Cousins from entering unrestricted free agency, where he is expected to command an enormous contract from another team — possibly the most expensive in league history.
The basis for the complaint is simple: Cousins could argue that the organization is violating the terms of the collective bargaining agreement because the team has no intention of engaging in good-faith negotiations on a long-term deal, or having him play under the franchise tag amount of $34.5 million guaranteed in 2018.
Several league sources have characterized the potential act of tagging Cousins as a spiteful move, citing the spirit of the franchise tag and the ongoing saga involving both camps. The franchise tag is typically used to buy teams more time so that they can continue contract talks on a possible long-term deal. Players who are tagged have to sign a multiyear contract or extension by 4 p.m. on July 16.
Washington, however, agreed to trade for former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith this offseason, and agreed with Smith to a long-term extension that would keep him under the Redskins’ control for another five years.
NFL teams have from Feb. 20 to March 6 to designate the players they want to franchise or transition tag. The Redskins have applied the franchise tag to Cousins the past two seasons, amid unsuccessful discussions about a long-term contract extension between the team and its quarterback, and the option to use the franchise tag on Cousins this year with the intention of trading him is still on the table. But that maneuver is risky.
Washington could tag the 29-year-old quarterback to prevent him from becoming a free agent when the new league year begins on March 14. By trading him, the Redskins would be able to recoup some form of compensation in return for his exit. But they won’t be able to pull off a trade until Cousins signs the franchise tag, which means the quarterback could very well use the stall tactic.
And as long as Washington is unable to deal him, the Redskins are handicapped in free agency because they’d still be on the hook for the $34.5 million owed to Cousins via the franchise tag.
One thing is certain in all of this: Cousins will get paid handsomely.
Several quarterback-needy teams and playoff contenders are interested in Cousins, who has 57 career starts. The Cleveland Browns and New York Jets have a considerable amount of cash to spend in free agency, and the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings are all expected to be in the running to land Cousins, who threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this past season for the Redskins (7-9).
Cousins has repeatedly said he’s looking to join a franchise that gives him the best chance to win. But that hasn’t stopped Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas from making his best sales pitch, despite Cleveland’s 4-44 record over the past three seasons.
Read more on the Redskins: