What was widely anticipated is now official with the passing of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. NFL franchise tag deadline: Kirk Cousins will become a free agent.
The Washington Redskins did not place the franchise tag on the quarterback for a third consecutive year, clearing the way for Cousins to hit free agency March 14.
Last season, Cousins became the first quarterback in league history to play consecutive years under the franchise tag. He earned a combined $43,896,600 in those two seasons.
The team and Cousins could never agree on a long-term deal, so the Redskins moved on and executed in January a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith that will also become official March 14. The Redskins agreed with Smith on a four-year extension worth up to $94 million. The team cannot comment on the deal until it is official.
Coach Jay Gruden lamented last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that it was time “to get some stability” at the position after living year-to-year with Cousins.
“The decisions that the quarterback has to make on every given play and every situation are critical to the success of a football team,” Gruden said. “And hopefully we’ll get a guy in here who’s consistently made good, sound decisions in those situations year in and year out for a very long time.”
There was a thought the team could place the franchise tag on Cousins again, even after agreeing to trade for Smith, and then attempt to trade Cousins. There was heavy risk with that move, though, as Cousins planned to file a grievance through the NFL players’ union if tagged, a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. The team also would not have been able to trade Cousins until he signed the franchise tag offer, something he could have delayed that in turn would have hindered Washington’s pursuit of other free agents.
Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel, said at the combine that tagging Cousins was never a serious consideration.
Cousins is expected to sign a massive deal in free agency, possibly the richest in league history. The Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns are among the teams in need of quarterback help.
About 90 minutes after the 4 p.m. deadline passed, Cousins tweeted that he is “open to suggestions” about where to play next.
Cousins will move on after starting every game for Washington over the past three seasons, throwing for more than 4,000 yards in each and earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2016. He was drafted by the Redskins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft despite the team selecting Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick. Cousins succeeded Griffin as the full-time starter in 2015 after the 2012 offensive rookie of the year continued to be plagued with injuries and increasingly poor play.
Both the Redskins and Cousins will now turn their attention to free agency. The NFL announced that the 2018 salary cap will be $177.2 million, an increase of $10.2 million. This is the fifth consecutive year the cap has increased by at least $10 million per team. Given the increase and after adding Smith’s contract to its books, Washington will have about $23 million available next season before any additional cuts, according to the sports salary-tracking database Spotrac.com.
Williams expects to be active in free agency to plug holes and allow the organization to take the best player available in April’s draft. The Redskins hold the No. 13, 44, 113, 149, 188 and 231 overall picks in the 2018 draft. The team’s third-round pick (No. 78) will be included in the trade for Smith.
Running back, wide receiver, defensive line and the defensive secondary are all areas of need this offseason. Inside linebacker could be added to that list if Zach Brown leaves in free agency.
Several NFL agents and one NFL executive familiar with the free agent market told The Washington Post at the combine that they believe the Vikings are the favorite to sign Cousins. Minnesota advanced to the NFC championship game with one of the league’s top defenses and journeyman Case Keenum under center. The Vikings played Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Keenum at quarterback last season, but all are eligible for free agency.
The Cardinals are trying to avoid a drop-off at the position after Carson Palmer retired. Injuries played a large role in the Cardinals finishing 8-8 last season, but the team brings in a new regime under rookie Coach Steve Wilks after former coach Bruce Arians also retired after the season. Arizona does return top wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, however.
The Broncos, who received subpar play from Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch last season, may have the roster most likely to contend immediately after winning the Super Bowl following the 2015 season. The cost of Cousins, though, could force Denver to make cuts to its talented roster.
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