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Kirk Cousins saga could culminate in 2018 transition tag

Washington Redskins v Chicago Bears

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins warms up prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

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The rules of the franchise tag make it highly unlikely that Washington will use the device both in 2017 and in 2018 on quarterback Kirk Cousins. But there’s a little-known rule that could come into play next year.

In 2017, the franchise tag would give Cousins a 20-percent raise over his $19.95 million franchise tag from 2016, which becomes $23.94 million for 16 games. Next year, the franchise tag would result in a 44-percent raise, which would be $34.47 million.

This means that Washington, as a practical matter, wouldn’t use the franchise tag on Cousins in 2018 -- if they use it in 2017.

But the Collective Bargaining Agreement provides another route. Washington could apply the franchise tag this year and the transition tag in 2018. By rule, this would result in only a 20-percent increase over Cousins’ $23.94 million compensation in 2017.

That approach would cost $28.78 million in 2018, but that would be nearly $6 million less than a third use of the franchise tag. More importantly, it would make the formula for a long-term deal based on the franchise tag more affordable (or less unaffordable) than it otherwise would be. Instead of a long-term deal premised on Cousins making $23.94 million this year and $34.47 million next year, Washington could offer $23.94 million plus $28.78 million over the first two years of a long-term deal. That’s $52.72 million over two years. Yes, that would make Cousins the highest-paid player in football. But what others make doesn’t matter when a player’s leverage is determined by the rules of the franchise and transition tags.

While the transition tag carries no compensation, it would Washington the right to match any offer Cousins attracts on the open market in 2018. The question then would be whether Cousins wants to sign an offer sheet that Washington would be inclined to match, or one that Washington wouldn’t match.

Washington started down this path in 2016 by using the franchise tag and not signing Cousins to a long-term deal. He now has the upper hand, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t use it.

When owners take full advantage of business leverage, they’re praised for being shrewd. When players do it, they’re often called selfish. Regardless, Cousins currently has nothing to lose by letting things play out.

If Washington tags him again this year, Cousins gets $23.94 million for one more year -- and either $28.78 million in 2018 or a clean shot at the open market. If Washington doesn’t tag him, the open market will set his value now.

Either way, Cousins will win. All that’s left to be determined is who pays him and how much.