As expected, the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins did not reach an agreement on a long-term contract by Friday’s league deadline, so the quarterback will play the 2016 season under the franchise-player tag and become a free agent again next offseason.
The team’s negotiators and Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney, engaged in talks off and on throughout the offseason but didn’t come close to striking a deal. People familiar with the situation said neither camp made a late push Friday to reach a deal in advance of the 4 p.m. deadline.
The Redskins had tried during the early parts of the offseason to work out a multi-year contract for Cousins, who last year thrived in his first full season as a starter. General Manager Scot McCloughan and others in the front office initially hoped to retain the quarterback’s services without the use of the franchise tag, which for a quarterback translates to a fully guaranteed deal worth $19.95 million. Cousins — who with a strong 2015 preseason ascended from third-stringer to starter ahead of Robert Griffin III and Colt McCoy — also maintained a desire to remain with the Redskins. But the two sides could not agree on the quarterback’s worth.
So, to avoid the risk of losing Cousins in free agency, Redskins officials used the franchise tag in March to retain his services. Cousins promptly signed the deal, which gave him a dramatic increase on the $660,000 that he earned in the final year of the contract he signed as a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State.
Although Cousins signed the contract, McCartney and the Redskins’ negotiators still had the freedom to negotiate toward a multiple-year deal that perhaps would have featured a more salary cap-friendly salary than the franchise-tag figure, which counts 100 percent against the cap. But they had to reach that agreement by Friday, or else proceed with the franchise tag.
Washington’s chances of striking a deal never appeared great, however. People familiar with the situation said the team’s offer and McCartney’s asking price differed by a significant amount.
Despite the fact that Cousins put up impressive numbers (4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while leading the NFL with a completion percentage of 69.8), the Redskins had reservations about over paying for a player with such a limited body of work, people familiar with the deliberations said.
Meanwhile, confident in his potential and ability to only further drive up his value through strong play in a second straight season, Cousins and his agent felt no pressure to settle for less than what they perceived as the fair market value for a starting quarterback.
Cousins has said repeatedly that he didn’t have a problem with having to prove himself all over again and then revisiting the situation in the offseason. That’s now what he will try to do.
If he can produce statistics similar to 2015 or better, he positions himself for either a 20 percent raise (which is what he would earn if Washington has to use the franchise tag to keep him a second straight offseason), or more (if the sides can agree to a multi-year deal). There’s also the possibility that the quarterback would receive the opportunity to test free agency. But if he plays well and Washington contends for the NFC East title for a second straight season, it’s hard to imagine team brass letting Cousins walk.
Of course, if Cousins doesn’t play as well as he did last season, he could see his value drop. But given the steady improvement he made down the stretch of last season, and the massive contracts quarterbacks have received in recent years, this gamble of passing on a long-term deal and sticking with the franchise-tag deal for 2016 proved worth the risk in the eyes of Cousins and his advisers.
While Cousins has a clear-cut mission to shape his future, the 2017 offseason will prove more complicated to navigate for Redskins officials.
In addition to having to again try to re-sign Cousins, they also will likely have tough calls to make on potential impact free agents such as defensive end Chris Baker, outside linebacker Junior Galette and top wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Having to potentially commit a hefty salary to Cousins — particularly if it’s once more under the franchise tag, which means around $24 million — could prove restrictive.