After Kirk Cousins’ big game against the Packers on national television, the quarterback’s contract status for 2017 has become a topic of national conversation. One thing that everyone agrees on is that the five-year veteran in his second full season as a starter is going to get paid.
And he should. Since becoming a starter, even counting his “slow” start prior to the “You like that!” comeback win over the Bucs, Redskins are 15-10-1. The team’s defense and running game have not been outstanding. Cousins has completed 68 percent of his passes for an average of 7.8 per attempt with 46 touchdowns and no interceptions and a passer rating of 100.4. His full resume at this point is not that of an elite quarterback at this point but those are elite numbers.
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Some think that it is not a slam dunk that Cousins will be back with the Redskins next year, that some in the organization believe that Cousins’ numbers are the result of Jay Gruden’s offensive system and a talented group of receivers. The theory is that they can get comparable production from another quarterback for a lot less money.
I think it’s hard to imagine that the Redskins will let Cousins walk in 2017 especially when they have the option to use the franchise tag on him again for $24 million. I’m not going to rule it out but I think it’s unlikely. But let’s leave the tag aside for the moment and go on the premise that he will sign a long-term deal with the Redskins at some point next year.
We are starting to get some thoughts on what “getting paid” will look like if Cousins signs a new deal. Spotrac, a website that tracks and projects player deals in most major sports, tweeted out this chart outlining their projection of Cousins’ next contract:
(click on the tweet to expand graphic on Twitter.com)
The top-line numbers on the deal are $115 million over five years, an average of $23 million per year. Total guarantees are $62.5 million with a $23 million signing bonus and a total of $40 million fully guaranteed at signing. The prosed deal would have Cousins under contract through the 2021 season, when Cousins will be 33 years old.
The proposed deal doesn’t have any easy exit points. It looks like they could let him go after the 2019 season with a dead cap hit of $17 million or after 2020 for “only” $12 million in dead cap.
The cap hits of $31.25 million in the last two years of the deal look alarming but they’re not. It would be about 15 percent of a 2020 salary cap that early projections have at around $205 million. An equivalent cap hit under today’s $155 million spending limit is around $23 million. It’s a bit of a squeeze but not unmanageable.
Besides, I don’t see the Redskins squeezing a $115 million deal into a cap hit of just $7 million in 2017. They are going to have at least $60 million in cap space available next year. The smarter cap move might be to frontload the contract and make the 2017 cap hit something closer to $20 million by giving Cousins a higher guaranteed salary in the early years instead of the some of the signing bonus, roster bonus, and option bonus.
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Except for those few details, numbers like these are going to be on the table starting shortly after the Redskins season ends, whenever that may be. The $23 million per year is about where his market value will be barring a severe slump or a deep playoff run. Yes, it’s higher than the average annual values of all but two quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Drew Brees. But as the cap goes up and paydays for quarterbacks like Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota come up, and Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning negottiate extensions, Cousins’ deal will not compare as favorably.
We will see if the Redskins are willing to pay up or if they will again go down the rabbit hole chasing after a competent quarterback.