A tag and trade seems very unlikely. Let’s be clear on that.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen either.
As reports emerged over Super Bowl weekend that the Redskins are exploring the possibility of tagging Kirk Cousins in an attempt to trade him, many people dismissed the idea.
After acquiring Alex Smith via trade, and getting a contract extension locked up, it’s obvious Washington will make a change at QB in 2018.
It’s not as obvious that Cousins will get his ultimate wish: true free agency.
Here’s one scenario to consider, and know this is just speculation.
Cleveland owns the top pick in the NFL Draft along with the 4th overall pick. On top of that, the Browns have three 2nd-round picks.
Plenty of people expect the Browns to be interested in Kirk Cousins. They don’t have a good quarterback and haven’t for some time.
Cousins would give the Browns stability at QB like the folks in Cleveland haven’t seen since Bernie Kosar 30 years ago.
And, if you listen to what Cousins has said in the past, signing with the Browns should not even be close to an option.
Repeatedly, over and over, Cousins has said his free agency decision will not be just about money.
Well, if it’s not about money, Cleveland has to be the least desirable spot in the NFL. The Browns have exactly one win in the last two seasons. 1-31.
With a good draft and smart free agent signings, they could get better, and quick. But what’s better?
Winning five games in 2018 would be a huge step for the Browns, but a big step back for Cousins or any QB that wants to be competing at the highest levels.
Considering all that, the Browns might know they won’t get Cousins in free agency.
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And if Cleveland wants Cousins, they could use one of their surplus second-round picks and get him in their organization.
The Browns have a mountain of salary cap space, more than $110 million, and could take on the $34 million price tag for Cousins on a 2018 franchise tag.
As soon as Kirk arrives, the Browns would have until mid-July to work towards a long-term deal. Maybe with an impressive draft haul and an organization that believes in him, Cousins would sign long-term?
In Washington, its been clear for some time that Cousins’ priority was getting to free agency. Maybe with a fresh start elsewhere, that could change.
Or maybe it won’t matter.
If Cousins won’t sign a multi-year deal in 2018, the Browns could then use the transition tag on the QB in 2019.
That would carry an absurd $41 million price tag, but then Kirk could shop his skills around, and the Browns could match any offer sheet from another team. It might not be true unfettered free agency, but it's a first cousin.
There are plenty of reasons why this won’t work - insane salaries, Cousins reluctance to help the Redskins and hurt his future team, the sheer difficulty of attempting this sort of salary cap jiu-jitsu - but a similar scenario could unfold with other teams too.
The Jets have more than $70 million available to spend, no quarterback and a reported growing interest in Cousins. New York also has an extra second-round pick to dangle should trade talks actually take place.
Remember this though: Nick Foles’ playoff performance will put him high on the trade radar around the league. Super Bowl MVPs don’t ride the bench, and Foles won’t be doing that in 2018.
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Maybe Cleveland would rather move on Foles, who is under contract in 2018 at a crazy reasonable $6 million.
Maybe Cleveland wants a rookie QB to mold. There are plenty of good candidates, especially at the top of the draft where they hold two of the first four picks.
And the Browns did just add former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan to their scouting staff for the upcoming draft. McCloughan has been clear in his opinions about Cousins: the QB is good but not good enough to overpay.
The tag and trade will be very tough for the Redskins to pull off, and it will require Cousins to play ball and sign the tag. It’s quite possible he won’t, which would set up a WILD showdown.
The scenario to actually pull off this trade seems about as plausible as the casino heist in Ocean's Eleven, but every once in a while, life is stranger than fiction.
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