Kirk Cousins was a stability test for the Washington Redskins, and they failed it. Now the Cousins problem can’t be fixed with 20 million dollars a year, or a dozen yellow roses, and it’s no use appealing to his loyalty, because the main signature of this franchise is always treachery and upheaval.
Cousins probably is going to cost $100 million. It’s that or trade him. If Washington doesn’t give him the big contract, someone else eventually will, he will join the free agent cotillion next season, and Washington risks being embarrassed that he will win with another team. It’s great to see an NFL player with this kind of leverage, and even better to see a smart guy really use it, refuse sentimentality and drive the hardest deal possible from a team that is undeserving of loyalty or leniency in negotiations. Cousins should get every penny he can — and Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen and Scot McCloughan should get what they deserve.
The front office insulted him, refused to make him a worthy contract offer last year, while hurling its checkbook at Josh Norman. Now Washington is the insecure party and Cousins is set for life, no matter what team he plays for, and every young player in the league should be banging on the door of his agent, Mike McCartney of Priority Sports, asking how he did it. Here’s the secret: Treat yourself as valuable even when your owner doesn’t. Don’t ever let a front office tell you who you are. You tell them.
If you listen to the tone of the remarks Cousins has made since last season ended about what’s “a fair deal,” and the need to be “selfish,” it’s obvious that the old “take one for the team” or “give us a hometown discount because you want to raise you kids here” pleas and ploys aren’t going to work with him. Nor should they.
Money equals respect. And Washington’s front office has never properly respected their own players. They’re always showing more respect to someone else’s.
It was one thing for Allen-McCloughan-Snyder to be unsure of what they had in Cousins back in 2014, when he still looked more like a kid who belonged at a toga party. But by the time Cousins took them to the NFC East title in 2015, everybody knew what they had, a guy who could play the position seriously and make every kind of throw, who was intelligent and dedicated and a leader. Any sensible team would have made the long-term deal. But no. This team is always Goldilocks; the grass is always greener; another player is more tempting.
What would it have taken to secure Cousins last year? They would have had to pay him like an above-average quarterback, which is what he is. They would have had to understand that there just aren’t many guys who complete more than 67 percent of their passes for more than 4,000 yards and toss for twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. Instead Washington’s reported offer would have ranked Cousins just 21st in annual salary. And then they went panting after Norman for $50 million.
“Ultimately, the offers kind of send a message, and you basically can connect the dots based off of those,” Cousins said shortly after this season.
So here’s the fix Washington’s economic geniuses are in now. After making it clear to Cousins they didn’t think he was worth above-average money, they are looking at having to pay him $44 million guaranteed for just two years. He made $19.95 million last season under the collective bargaining franchise-tag rule, and that goes up to $23.94 million in 2017. And they still don’t have him locked up. Next season if he plays like he has the past two, he’s going to command $40 to $50 million more as a free agent. He’s healthy and in his prime and guys like him just don’t come available — because other teams are smart enough to get them under contract. But not this team. No.
So now the trade rumors begin, because that’s probably Washington’s only way to get anything for him, as opposed to losing him to free agency after giving him $44 mil, which by the way is what he would have taken in the first place to sign a long-term deal.
After facing chronic pressure from the doubters at the top of the organization, Cousins has put all the pressure on them. He delivered the two best statistical seasons in franchise history to seize control of his economic fate: As Dan Steinberg pointed out, his numbers are identical to those of Matt Ryan, only without nearly the supporting cast. There is no reason to suppose he can’t do as much or more for another team. And there is no reason to suppose he wants to stay Washington, to play for a front office that always appears as intelligent as squirrels racing around trees.
“Owners are used to always having the leverage against players, and players will often capitulate for money,” ESPN analyst Jim Trotter observed this week. “Kirk understands what his value is, and he’s not going to short-sell himself.”