Running out of options, the Redskins will need to deploy the non-exclusive franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins this offseason unless a long-term deal can be reached.
Why? Because nothing else will make sense.
As the Redskins season nears the final quarter, and thoughts about the franchise’s future come closer into view, the organization must again revisit what to do with Cousins.
For two straight years, the team used the franchise tag to retain Cousins. In 2016, it cost $20 million. In 2017, it cost $24 million.
In 2018, that figure jumps to a staggering $34 million.
The $10 million increase is significant, but compared to the other options facing the team, it’s the right path.
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Again, the Redskins should make every effort to get a long-term contract signed with Cousins, but history suggests that will be tough to complete.
Assuming a deal doesn’t get done by the late February deadline to use a tag, Washington must go with the non-exclusive franchise option.
Some will argue for the less expensive transition tag. Yes, that carries a lower price tag of nearly $29 million. That $5 million savings, however, amounts to about three percent of the projected salary cap.
Here's the quick math: This season, Cousins amounts to about 14 percent of the team's $167 million salary cap. Assume the 2018 NFL salary cap comes in around $168 million. The transition tag would eat up about 17 percent of that, the franchise tag would amount to 20 percent.
That (relatively) minor savings does not warrant losing a franchise passer, and odds are, if the Redskins use the transition tag, Cousins will leave.
The transition tag basically grants Cousins the opportunity to pursue free agency. He can talk to any NFL team he chooses, and sign an offer sheet.
The Redskins would have the chance to match any offer sheet, but two problems could arise. First, a team could front-load a contract in a manner that Washington would be unable or unwilling to match. Second, if Cousins signs elsewhere, the Redskins get no compensation.
By using the non-exclusive tag, Cousins can request permission to negotiate with other NFL teams. Should the Redskins grant permission, and a deal get reached between the QB and another franchise, then the two sides must work out compensation.
That compensation discussion begins with two first round picks. Losing a franchise passer like Cousins would never be easy, but getting a sizable package of draft picks in return would lessen the blow.
Remember, too, it’s entirely possible Cousins will not enter into talks about a multi-year contract with the Redskins. That was the route Cousins and his representatives chose during the 2017 offseason.
The quarterback still maintains all the leverage, and throughout this process has talked about his desire to get 'market value' for his services.
For Bruce Allen and the Washington brass, the priority should be simple: Sign Cousins long-term. If that doesn’t happen, give him the non-exclusive tag and see what happens.
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Yes, spending the extra $5 million guaranteed to go from the transition tag to the franchise tag could hinder the Redskins ability to bring back or sign new free agents. Of course. But it's also the only track to guarantee Cousins stays with the team, or if he leaves, the team gets compensation.
Not all free agent decisions are hits either. For example, Terrelle Pryor will cost the Redskins $6 million this season, and nobody would argue that value was comparable to losing Cousins. Plus, the salary cap will increase again next season, further driving down the overall percentage that Cousins will contribute to the entire Redskins salary base.
Also, under Allen, the Redskins rarely even use their full salary cap allotment. In 2017, the Redskins came in nearly $3 million under the cap. In 2016, the Redskins were $14 million under the cap, astonishing for a playoff contender.
The absolute worst case scenario would be to again pay Cousins for a one-year deal, and lose him to free agency in 2019. Unfortunately for Redskins fans, that worst case scenario remains very much in play.
Don't for a second think that just because the 49ers might have located their quarterback of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo that there will be less interest in Cousins on the open market. There are never enough quarterbacks in the NFL, and Cousins play in 2017 suggests he belongs in the conversation among the league's best passers. Plenty of teams will open up the bank vault for a shot at the Redskins passing yards record holder.
Working out a long-term deal with Cousins should be the goal in Washington this offseason, but the non-exclusive franchise tag should absolutely be the contingency plan.
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