The Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins had made no progress toward a long-term contract as NFL free agency opened Thursday, and speculation about the team trading the quarterback continued.
The Redskins have given Cousins no indication they have plans to trade him and publicly have expressed confidence in reaching a long-term agreement. Still, many league insiders and analysts believe a trade would be in the team’s best interest, and ESPN reported Thursday that Cousins had asked Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to trade him.
Washington is committed to paying Cousins $24 million as their franchise-tag player next season. After that, Cousins is a free agent, meaning the Redskins would be entitled to nothing if he signed with another team. Trading him now would get the team something in return.
The Redskins potentially hampered any potential trade plans by placing the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins on Feb. 28 instead of the nonexclusive tag, which would have allowed the quarterback to shop himself to other teams. In that scenario, had Cousins signed an offer sheet with another team that the Redskins declined to match, they would have received two first-round picks as compensation.
But by using the exclusive tag, the Redskins ensured that only they could control potential trade solicitations. Meanwhile, team president Bruce Allen said last week in a radio interview that the team used the exclusive tag to avoid trade scenarios.
Whether Cousins beseeched Snyder for a trade wasn’t clear. Multiple people familiar with the team’s inner workings said they weren’t aware that any such request was made. Neither Cousins, his agent nor Snyder responded to inquiries about the supposed conversation.
However, multiple people within the organization and around the league have believed for some time that Cousins prefers the idea of a fresh start over signing with Washington for the long term.
Publicly, Cousins has talked about the importance of continuity but also has said he wants to play for a team that truly wants him. Although Coach Jay Gruden has lobbied for Cousins, the quarterback has never felt completely wanted by Snyder and Allen despite two franchise-record setting seasons as a starter.
Were a trade to happen, it likely would come just before April’s draft. That’s when the Redskins would have the most leverage because a team that missed on a quarterback in free agency would be more desperate and willing to part with more draft picks. People familiar with the situation say Allen is determined to recoup as rich a bounty as possible for the quarterback but that his asking price has been too high.
A long-term deal probably wouldn’t get done until closer to the July 15 franchise tag deadline because that’s when Cousins will have the most leverage. If the Redskins fail to get a deal done, then they likely would lose Cousins on the open market next year.
The franchise could use the transition tag on him in 2018 and commit to paying him $28 million for another year, but that would be a large hit against the salary cap, and another team could still outbid Washington, giving Cousins the fresh start he is believed to want.
Despite the ongoing distractions involving Cousins and the fate of former general manager Scot McCloughan, who was fired Thursday evening, the Redskins made some moves in free agency.
After starting wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson signed with San Francisco and Tampa Bay, respectively, and starting defensive end Chris Baker also left for the Buccaneers, Washington made three signings and set up visits with other players.
The Redskins signed defensive end Terrell McClain away from the Cowboys and defensive tackle Stacy McGee from Oakland.
McGee, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound fifth-year veteran, agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal, and McClain, a 6-2, 302-pound sixth-year pro, agreed to a four-year, $21 million deal.
Washington also signed former Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million, including $6 million in salary the first season.
Meanwhile, the Redskins were scheduled to host Cleveland Browns free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor on Thursday night.
McCloughan had advocated strongly for bringing back Garcon, but in the former GM’s absence, the Redskins decided it was best to move on from the veteran after five seasons.
Washington attempted to lure Jackson back with one last attempt Thursday morning, but the three-time Pro Bowler had his mind made up Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Buccaneers were able to provide more money for Jackson, 30, and he felt it was a better situation.
Baker, 29, was eager to re-sign with the Redskins last offseason after a career-high six sacks in 2015. He promoted his cause on social media and during one tongue-in-cheek encounter with McCloughan during a news conference, but nothing came to fruition. After Baker played out the final season of a three-year deal worth $9 million, the Redskins opted to seek alternatives along the defensive line, starting with McClain and McGee.