At the NFL combine last week, Scot McCloughan said that the Redskins would rather work out a long-term deal for Kirk Cousins rather than needing to use the franchise tag to keep him around.
“Well I’d rather not [use the tag], any year with any position. I’d rather just get a long term deal done and guarantee some money so you have that flexibility. But again, it’s an option that you have if you need to use, but me personally I like to take care of our own, get them locked in to an extension and not have to worry about the franchise tag.”
But sometimes the tag works out for the team just fine. If a player’s performance falls off after getting the tag the team isn’t stuck in long-term deal with a player who isn’t worth the money.
It worked out well for the Redskins in 2014. They franchise tagged Brian Orakpo and they never engaged in any serious contract negotiations prior to July 15, the deadline for agreeing to a long-term deal. Although Orakpo cost them in excess of $12 million for the year, they were able to move on from him after he produced one sack in eight games before suffering a season ending injury.
Yes, they did get a poor return on their $12 million. But they weren’t stuck with an albatross of a contract that may have dragged them down for years
Orakpo had been with the team for five years and had been the unquestioned starter since walking in the door. The Redskins had plenty of information they could use to gauge Orakpo’s value and his potential.
It’s a slightly different story with Cousins. He has been in the building for four years but he saw just occasional action before Jay Gruden named him the starter a couple of weeks prior to last season. After a shaky start Cousins caught fire and broke a few team passing records while leading the team to a 9-7 record and the NFC East title.
If there ever is a situation that calls for strongly considering a trial year before committing big, long-term dollars it may be this one.
While the Redskins like a lot about Cousins, from the way he prepares to his work ethic to his fit for Jay Gruden’s offense, they are not sure that he can continue to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes and post a 101 passer rating year after year. That doesn’t mean they don’t have confidence in him, it’s just that you can’t take a 16-game performance and projected over several years and assume that it’s going to remain just as good or better. Too much can go wrong.
Going back to what McCloughan said at the combine, it’s reasonable to assume that the organization would like Cousins on a long-term deal. However, McCloughan also said, “I’m not going to ruin the organization financially to do it.” How hard they might try to agree to a new contract is the key here.
There were reports that the Redskins started off with what only could be called a lowball offer of an average of $12.5 million per year. While they eventually brought it up to something in the vicinity of $16 million they still were not close to the $20 million average that Cousins’ camp is reportedly asking for.
It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins come up from that $16 million per year. Of course average annual value is not necessarily the most important aspect of a complex contract. The amount that is fully guaranteed at signing and how soon the team would realistically be able to get out of the contract without incurring a debilitating dead cap hit are also important in valuing a deal.
They could be content to leave an offer on the table that isn’t lowball and isn’t totally unreasonable regarding the other terms but is still one that they doubt that Cousins’ camp will accept. That would make the optics good while making it unlikely that Cousins will sign on the line.
They then go through 2016 and start again. If he slumps to being the inconsistent quarterback he was for his entire career up until the “you like that” game against the Bucs then the Redskins can act accordingly. If he plays as well as he did in the latter part of 2015 or better they end up with a deal that likely isn’t much harder to swallow financially than what Cousins’ camp has on the table now.
If Cousins has a great year and they have to pay more and commit to him for longer to keep him in burgundy and gold at least they will do so with a more solid level of confidence that they will be getting their money’s worth.