Some offseason, Washington Redskins. It began with a team official anonymously detailing Scot McCloughan’s alcohol abuse to justify firing the popular general manager. And it ended Monday afternoon with Bruce Allen, the team president and director of deception, breaking policy and common NFL courtesy, releasing the details of a failed contract negotiation with quarterback Kirk Cousins and demolishing a relationship’s trust just to combat a little criticism.
Two despicable bookends, crunching hope — that’s the best way to describe the past four months. For all the good the franchise has shown over the past two years, it has not changed. In fact, a modicum of success has made Washington only more arrogant, insufferable and dangerously unhinged.
First, the franchise dismissed McCloughan, a talent evaluator who set the team on the right path, while embarrassing him as best it could and shunning sensitivity toward the disease of alcoholism. Now, it wants to paint Cousins, who has helped turn around the team with his performance and professionalism, as greedy and unreasonable in negotiations.
Is it any wonder why Cousins is so reticent to commit long term to this travesty of an organization? Of the many things a player doesn’t want his franchise to be, I’m guessing petty and classless are high on the list.
The window to sign Cousins to a multiyear deal closed at 4 p.m. Monday, which means he will play under the franchise-player tag — a one-year deal that will pay him approximately $24 million this season — for a second straight year. Anticipating the backlash, Allen sent a statement in which he broke protocol to “clarify our negotiations” with Cousins. In it, he revealed an offer that Washington made to Cousins in May: $53 million upon signing and a total $72 million in guarantees when counting money guaranteed only if the player gets injured. According to Allen, the deal “would have made him at least the second-highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.”
The way Allen constructed his words and presented his side, it makes Cousins look bad. It also eliminates the context of the quarterback market and this specific negotiation with Cousins. It’s one thing to throw out general numbers and hope that media and fans get caught up in the amount. It’s another thing to understand NFL reality and conclude that this deal, while considerable to the average person, wasn’t a great offer for Cousins’s situation.
According to reporting from The Washington Post’s Mike Jones, Washington’s May contract proposal — essentially five new years added onto his 2017 franchise-tag salary — didn’t fully guarantee Cousins anything beyond the 2018 season. Allen merely took the $23.9 million that Cousins was going to play for anyway this season under the franchise tag and added something close to the potential $28.7 million transition tag that Washington has considered placing on Cousins for 2018. After that, there were no full guarantees, only protection against injury, for the last four years of the deal. In addition, his non-guaranteed base salaries would go down every year, a time in which the 28-year-old Cousins will be in his prime.
From Cousins’s perspective, the offer didn’t warrant a response because it clearly was an inferior offer based on the leverage he has in this exploding NFL quarterback market. Think about it like this: When he signed the franchise-tag offer sheet, Cousins knew he’d make $23.9 million. Then, for the next five years, Allen was offering him about $29 million guaranteed. Even if you made the injury guarantees into full guarantees, the commitment would just be $48 million over the five years after the 2017 season. That’s an interesting, franchise-friendly starting offer. But it’s not something that Cousins was going to sign. And it’s so far from a realistic closing deal that it wasn’t even worth a response from Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney.
The silence from Cousins’s side, which Allen referenced in his statement, was a polite way of expressing, “Get real, dude.”
Instead, Allen pouted and tried to deceive the public.
So much for a Cousins contract not being “as complicated as everyone wants to make it.” That’s how Allen spun the situation in February. Five months later, a critical negotiating period has passed; there is no deal for a second straight offseason; and the truth of summer has withered all winter optimism.
Unlike a year ago, when Cousins was first tagged, this is no longer a process to verify Cousins’s talent after a career year. This is no longer a situation that Washington has under control, either. No, it isn’t as complicated as everyone wants to make it; it’s more complicated than anyone could imagine. And Allen’s silly, face-saving attempt only made matters worse.
Rarely has a deadline felt so literal: Time is up, and the possibility of a fair — or at least mutually digestible — deal is dead. We’ve reached 99.9 percent certainty that Cousins’s time in Washington will be over after the season ends.
There’s always a chance that something wild can happen — a better-than-anticipated season, a moment that makes both sides come together like never before — but that would be an upset. Cousins, who hasn’t always felt wanted here and who quietly has a difficult time stomaching the constant dysfunction, most likely will be gone.
For Washington, there’s no way back to respectability in this situation. This offseason represented the franchise’s best chance to sign its quarterback, who has thrown for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns the past two seasons, or trade him for a quality return. Either would’ve made good football sense. But doing neither? It’s a potentially catastrophic screw-up. Or, business as usual in Ashburn.
Now we all brace for impact. That’s what Allen did Monday by making a preemptive case that Washington has handled the negotiations properly but Cousins won’t come to the table. Allen might have changed the conversation, or added to it, but he is not thinking about what will happen next week: His quarterback, this player he supposedly wants to sign, will report to training camp and begin a probable lame-duck season under heavy questioning about his motives and desire to be here. Cousins will be more scrutinized than ever, furthering the belief that he will never get to relax and be happy in Washington.
It will be a weird season. It will be chaotic. It will be typical, sadly.
Mostly, however, it will be ugly, because that’s how this franchise likes it.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.