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Jaguars big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for Redskins, bad for Kirk Cousins

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Jaguars big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for Redskins, bad for Kirk Cousins

Blake Bortles and the Jaguars went to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers in the NFL's Divisional Playoff Round. 

Seriously. 

A team few thought would win many games this season, let alone two playoff games, will travel to New England next week for the AFC Championship game. 

And Bortles was a big part of their success. 

The Jacksonville quarterback wasn't great, but he was exactly what the Jaguars needed. Bortles completed 14 of 26 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 35 yards on five carries. 

But wait, why is a Redskins reporter writing about this? 

Jacksonville's big win in Pittsburgh could be good news for the Redskins.

With Kirk Cousins possibly hitting free agency this offseason, the Jaguars were long considered a potential landing spot for the Washington passer. 

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Now, with Bortles leading the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game, that scenario seems far fetched. 

Keep in mind two things:

  1. Bortles is under contract for 2018. Jacksonville picked up his $19 million option for next season, and while it's guaranteed for injury only, he could command more than that on the open market. In the crazy world of NFL quarterbacks, Bortles at $19 million might be a bargain. Remember, Chicago paid Mike Glennon $14 million last season.
  2. Jags owner Shad Khan reiterated that Bortles is the future in Jacksonville before the playoffs began, and his stance will only be solidified by the win in Pittsburgh. 

Let's be clear: Cousins is a better passer than Bortles. The Redskins QB posted better statistics than Bortles in every major passing category, and the gap wasn't insignificant.  With or without Jacksonville, Cousins will have a robust market in free agency.

Cousins will also carry a higher price tag, possibly as a high as $30 million if he hits true free agency.

Jacksonville has built their team on the defensive side of the ball, and offensively, they run a ball control run-first game. The Jags have more than $111 million tied up in defensive players in 2018, and only $17 million in salary cap space. 

Considering all that, would Jags boss tom Coughlin want to pay up for Cousins when he has Bortles already in place?

Maybe. 

After Jacksonville's big upset win in Pittsburgh, however, it seems much, much less likely. 

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Jamison Crowder open to contract extension with Redskins, per source

Jamison Crowder open to contract extension with Redskins, per source

Heading into 2018 in the final year of his rookie contract, Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder would be open to a contract extension this offseason, per a source with knowledge of the situation.

Crowder "likes it" playing in Washington and feels very comfortable with his role in head coach Jay Gruden's offense, per the source. 

In three years with the Redskins, Crowder has averaged about 750 receiving yards and four touchdowns per season. His best year came in 2016, when he grabbed 67 passes for 847 yards and seven touchdowns.

Expectations were high for Crowder coming into the 2017 season, and while he had a fine season, the year was not a big success. He ended 2017 with 66 catches for 789 yards and three touchdowns. All three marks were lower than 2016.

There are reasons for the statistical dip.

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Crowder played much of the year injured, dealing with hamstring and hip injuries that dated all the way back to training camp. Further, Crowder saw much more attention from opposing defenses in 2017 than he had in 2016 or 2015. 

"I think he was dealing with something early in the season. I think he had some soft tissue injuries here and there that may have slowed him down a little bit, but I think towards the end of the year he started feeling a lot better," Gruden said. "Probably didn’t get the production we all anticipated we would get and I think a lot of that has trickle-down effect with some of the players that we lost not only at receiver, tight end and running back but also at offensive line from time to time."

Much of that difference came from playing with Josh Doctson and Terrelle Pryor instead of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Crowder plays the slot receiver position, on the inside of offensive sets, and certainly benefits when there is more production coming from players on the outside. 

Still, Crowder finished 2017 as the Redskins leading receiver.

"I don’t have any concern," Gruden said of Crowder going forward.

In the past, Washington has moved to extend some standout players' contracts before they reach free agency. Typically, these players are drafted and developed by the Redskins. 

Last season, Chris Thompson and Morgan Moses were the latest Redskins players to get contract extensions from the club, and in the recent past, players like Jordan Reed, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams all fit that bill. 

A fourth-round pick in 2015, Crowder would be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season. That could mean the chance at a big payday, especially if he's able to break through the 1,000 yard mark next season. 

For Crowder, however, there could also be value in a contract extension. The 5-foot-8 wideout from Duke has never made more than $1 million per season, and in 2018 will make about $850,000.

While that's good money in the real world, in the NFL, it's peanuts for a productive receiver. 

Last season, Pryor made $6 million and had just 20 catches for 240 yards. Doctson, playing on a first-round rookie deal, made $2.2 million and had 35 catches for 502 yards. 

An extension for Crowder would very likely come with a healthy pay raise, and while he wouldn't get to pursue free agency in 2019, he would have long-term financial security on a team he likes. 

For the Redskins, an extension could provide roster clarity and keep the cost down for a player of Crowder's talent. As it stands now, the Redskins only have Crowder, Doctson and seldom used Robert Davis and Maurice Harris under contract. Barring a collapse in 2018, Crowder's price would be much higher on the open free agent market than it would this offseason with an extension. 

While the slowdown in receiving production can be explained, his output as a punt returner draws more confusion. After two solid seasons returning punts, Crowder struggled in that area in 2017. Asked about punt returns for next season, Gruden allowed that changes could be coming. 

"He had a couple dropped, muffed punts and he had a couple fumbles and that’s something that we cannot have," the coach said. "We need to create big plays. We didn’t get it done this year. I’m not blaming Jamison. Maybe we have got to block better for him, give him better looks, but [it’s] something we have to address."

Still, Crowder's contractual value comes from his skill as a slot receiver, not a punt returner. Should he lose that gig in 2018, it will not have much impact on his free agent market the following season. 

The Redskins front office has done a good job of identifying "core Redskins" players they want to keep, and locking those players up before they get to free agency. If Jamison Crowder is one of those players, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest he should be, the young wideout might be next in line for an extension. 

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Pay close attention and it's clear to see what Kirk Cousins really wants

Pay close attention and it's clear to see what Kirk Cousins really wants

If it wasn't obvious before, it sure is now: Kirk Cousins wants to hit free agency. 

Unfettered, free to the market. Capitalism in its purest form.  

And why shouldn't he? As the Redskins quarterback has repeatedly explained, Cousins has not been able to pick where he played football since 2008. That was when he elected to attend Michigan State for college. As a professional, he's been forced to play for the Redskins since 2012. 

He will turn 30 in August, and wants to shape his future. Cousins explained his decision will not be just about money, but control. 

"Money is not the driving factor in this decision to go another 16 games,” Cousins said last week in a radio event with 106.7 the Fan's Grant and Danny. “It’s just not what I’ve built my life on. That’s not what it’s about."

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What does that mean for the Redskins? 

Trouble. 

Cousins talked at length last week with about his future (video above), and while he didn't make much clear, he doubled down on a position Redskins fans should remember. 

In 2017, Cousins and his representatives decided not to engage in contract negotiations with the Redskins. Washington made an offer that included $54 million guaranteed and showed Cousins the Redskins "were all in last summer."

Still, despite his team being "all in," Cousins and his camp decided not to talk about a long-term deal. Instead, the QB played on a one-year deal that paid him $24 million. 

That wasn't the first time Cousins eschewed a multi-year deal with Washington. 

Speaking last week, Cousins explained that late in the 2015 season, the Redskins tried to sign their passer to a contract extension. As Cousins tells the story, the offer came before the Redskins played the Bears in early December 2015. His agent, Mike McCartney, told the quarterback to turn down the offer. 

“Going into this game, I’m thinking I kind of like the comfort and security the Redskins are offering. But Mike said, you don’t want to do this, you want to go play this out and then go from there. Well, I was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month those last four games, we won all four and we went to the playoffs and the rest is history.” 

As for “the rest is history,” well, Cousins is right. 

Since refuting the Redskins' offer in 2015, the organization has twice used a franchise tag to keep Cousins. In turn, he’s made $44 million the last two seasons, more than almost every other NFL player during the same time.

Washington should have made a stronger effort in 2016 to sign Cousins before using the first franchise tag. The team didn’t, and it was a big mistake. 

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In 2017, however, the team tried. Cousins wouldn’t talk, even though he admitted the offer was legitimate. 

In 2018, is it even worth trying for the Redskins?

The evidence is clear: Cousins wants to be a free agent. 

Cousins’ self-described timeline for negotiations will force Washington team president Bruce Allen to use either another franchise tag or a transition tag before the deadline in early March. While Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has made clear he doesn't want his quarterback playing on another one-year deal, Cousins reiterated that he doesn't mind. 

"I'm OK with a one-year deal. It doesn’t scare me a whole lot, I’m OK with it, I think it’s a very fair contract and I don’t have any quarrel with it so I would just sign and go play football," he said. 

Everybody knows what's at stake. The Redskins could lose their franchise record holder for passing yards in a season, and the first QB to ever start 16 games three years in a row. He has said almost all the right things, but Cousins has never truly commited to the Redskins. Washington has made multiple missteps in the process, but at this point, it seems that Cousins' priority is testing the market and controlling his future. In 2018, or beyond. 

Either tag him, or Cousins will hit free agency.

And that’s exactly what the quarterback wants. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!