Kirk Cousins is playing on a one-year contract, which is what the franchise tag boils down to. There is a report that the team will try to identify an alternative to Cousins behind center if his contract demands greatly exceed what the Redskins are willing to pay. How will this play out? Cousins is locked in for this season but what about a year from now? Tandler and Tarik get out the crystal ball and analyze the situation.
Let’s start with the other side of coin first. I’m not completely ruling out Cousins being gone next year. He could have a 2016 season similar to the first six games of last year with more interceptions than touchdowns and a bottom dwelling passer rating of 77. That would make it highly unlikely that the Redskins would want to invest the $24 million it would take to franchise tag him a second time in 2017. That would open the door for Cousins to sign elsewhere.
But there is no logical reason to believe that Cousins will crater this season. There has been a lot of talk of a tougher schedule making things rough on him. But last year they played four games against the top 10 defenses (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA); this year they also play four of the top 10. Just like last year he will have chances to shine and some likely rough patches.
The Cousins of 2016 has two distinct advantages over last year’s version. He is getting the entire offseason to work with the first team; last year he and Colt McCoy shared second- and third-team reps while Robert Griffin III got the work with the starters. And he has added weapons in Josh Doctson, Vernon Davis and, the team hopes, closer to a full season from DeSean Jackson.
The most likely scenario is for Cousins to play well enough to earn either another tag or a long-term contract. If it’s the latter the question is settled at least for the next few years. If they play tag again the real drama will take place in 2018 when another tag will cost a whopping $34 million for one season.
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I was a little surprised the sides didn’t try harder to bridge the gap. But I can also appreciate the stance that each took. Burned by RG3’s epic flameout, the Redskins wanted more data on Cousins before committing. Meantime, Cousins’ camp saw no reason to accept less than the sum of back-to-back franchise tags ($44 million).
It's not an ideal situation for Cousins, who wanted to take ownership but had to settle for a lease. It is, however, a situation that he's got plenty of experience with.
I haven’t been shy about saying that I think he'll prove himself again. There's simply too much evidence to support that argument. Sure, the schedule gets tougher. And, yeah, defenses are going to be better prepared for him. But I still really like Cousins' chances based on a few things: the talent level around him is higher; he’s in lockstep with the coaches and completely in command of an offense that’s been tailored to his strengths from Day 1 of the offseason program; and, perhaps most importantly, he’s a more polished and confident player, which he displayed during OTAs and minicamp.
And, as I said earlier this week, I don’t suspect Cousins is the type of person to allow a disappointing negotiation to affect his attitude or performance. If anything, he’s the anti-diva, especially having gone through the ups-and-downs he endured in Washington the past few years.
That’s a longwinded way of saying I think Cousins is going to match, if not surpass, the performance he produced down the stretch in 2015. Which will leave the Redskins with just one option—handing over the guaranteed money they were so reluctant to part with this summer.
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