Washington has until Monday, 1 p.m., to presumably take quarterback Kirk Cousins off the 2018 market for any interested teams.
It does not look as if a long-term deal is coming before the league-imposed deadline, which means Cousins would continue to be a person of interest for the 49ers – and their fan base – throughout the upcoming season.
Kyle Shanahan, of course, was Cousins’ first offensive coordinator when he came into the league in 2012. Cousins saw limited action in his first two NFL seasons under the Shanahans.
But after taking over as the full-time quarterback, Cousins has thrived. He started 32 games the past two seasons and completed 68 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and a passer rating of 99.3.
Cousins is scheduled to play the upcoming season as Washington’s franchise player with a one-year, $23.94 million contract. If a multi-year contract is not signed by early Monday afternoon, he will not be eligible to sign an extension until after the end of the regular season.
In order for Washington to hold onto his rights for 2018, his franchise tag would leap to $34.47 million for one season.
The 49ers will have plenty of cap space in 2018 to go as high as they want to extend for any available player. Currently, the 49ers are $66.8 million under the salary cap. All unused cap space from one year can be carried over to the next. The 49ers have vowed to continue to roll over all of their unspent cap money.
If Washington places the transition tag on Cousins, the 49ers would have the flexibility of structuring a front-loaded offer sheet to take advantage of the league’s most cap space and prevent Washington from matching the terms of the deal.
The 49ers decided to be patient this offseason at the quarterback position. Rather than make a play to trade for Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, general manager John Lynch opted to build out the roster rather than mortgage the future at other positions for the club's potential franchise quarterback.
Brian Hoyer was Shanahan’s target on the free-agent market. After Atlanta backup Matt Schaub opted to remain with the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers secured Matt Barkley as the backup.
Lynch attended the pro day of every top quarterback in the draft, but the 49ers ultimately selected unheralded C.J. Beathard at the end of the third round to develop for the future.
Hoyer, 31, will get an opportunity to show that the future of the franchise is in good hands with him at the controls. He has shown the ability to be a solid quarterback. But in eight NFL seasons, Hoyer has started 10 games or more only once in his career.
If the 49ers make an improvement from the two-win team of a year ago, it could cripple their chances at addressing the position in the draft. If they approach the level of a .500 team, the 49ers would be selecting toward the middle of the first round and, potentially, they would not have an opportunity to select one of the top quarterbacks.
But the 49ers’ plan at quarterback will likely already be apparent by the time next year’s draft rolls around. If the 49ers aggressively go after a veteran quarterback, that will happen in early-March – nearly two months before the draft.
Cousins turns 29 in August, but it is now expected that quarterbacks can play at a high level past their mid-30s. The cost of obtaining him is more of an issue than his age.
Because of Shanahan’s rapport with Cousins, the 49ers’ minds will probably not be swayed too much by his performance this season. But how he produces in 2017 might determine how far Washington will go to retain him for at least another year.