For Redskins fans wondering what might be the hold up in contract talks between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins, look beyond the money. With the franchise tag looming, Cousins' camp knows roughly the money on the table. Considering the $19 million franchise tag as a baseline, what is most important for Cousins and his agent Mike McCartney is the structure of a deal.
Why does the structure matter so much? Recent team friendly deals signed by the Bengals' Andy Dalton and 49ers' Colin Kaepernick have skewed the scenario for young quarterbacks looking to work out new contracts with their teams. For the Redskins and Cousins, former agent and salary cap expert Joel Corry said those deals should not even be a consideration.
"The money’s not going to be the issue, it's going to be the structure. They’re going to want something along the lines of Dalton and Kaepernick structurally," Corry said of the Redskins.
"Hell is going to freeze over before Mike McCartney agrees to that type of structure for Kirk Cousins."
Corry explained that unique circumstances brought about the Dalton and Kaepernick deals, and that will not be the case in Washington with Cousins.
"It’s basically a year-to-year proposition," Corry said of the deals Dalton and Kaepernick signed. "It doesn’t matter what the contract says if it’s that kind of structure, Mike McCartney’s not going to have Kirk Cousins sign that. You could make him the highest paid player in football with that type of structure and he wouldn’t do it."
So what will happen? Corry said the franchise tag "is probably legitimately in play." And that means a one-year deal worth at least a guaranteed $19 million. While that may sound like a lot, even as the franchise tag is likely to creep closer to $20 million, Corry pointed out that it's only about $4 million more than the team allotted for Robert Griffin III and his $16 million option for the 2016 season. Does that mean $16 million could make sense for Cousins?
"You’re not getting him for anything like $16 million per year," Corry said. "He’s gonna laugh at that.”
Even if the team places the franchise tag on Cousins, both sides can keep negotiating towards a long-term deal until mid-summer. And what might that deal look like? Corry said that McCartney will use the $20 million franchise tag as a baseline for a long-term deal. Further, if the 'Skins do franchise Cousins, it could mean they have to do the same next season, and that tag would carry about a $23 or $24 million price tag.
"I'm sure the first offer was over $20 million per year. I’ve not talked to Mike McCartney about that, but any decent agent the first proposal is going to be elite quarterback money."
And what's the sales pitch for Cousins and McCartney? Corry said it would go something like this: "He’s an ascending player, once the offense was tailored to him and DeSean was back, you saw what he could do."
The numbers back it up: Cousins broke nearly every relevant Redskins season passing record and led the team on a four-game win streak to close the season and win the NFC East.
"He had a phenomenal second half of the year," Corry said of Cousins. "He was a top 5 quarterback, granted it’s a small sample size."
It's almost more about what happens if the Redskins don't bring back Cousins than anything else.
"Fear of the unknown drives quarterback deals," Corry said. "McCartney knows he has leverage. He would do cartwheels if Kirk Cousins can get to the open market because there aren’t enough QBs for each team."
Looking at the numbers, Corry said adding up both possible franchise tags could give an estimate for the amount of guaranteed money Cousins might look for in a long-term deal. So, were the 'Skins to use the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017, Cousins would be due roughly $40 million guaranteed for those two seasons. Should the Skins offer a four-year deal with a suitable base salary and a guaranteed figure in that ballpark, maybe things could work out.
"If you’re gonna franchise him, you’re gonna have to pay him the average of those two franchise tags," Corry said. He added that Cousins and McCartney might "give you a little discount on the two franchise tags because [they're] getting it a little sooner."
What kind of discount? Corry suggested a guaranteed figure that gets to at least $36 million.
The big question in Washington is what happens next, as the clock is ticking. Corry said both sides will likely reinitiate conversations soon, perhaps next week at the NFL Scouting Combine, but that something will happen before the franchise tag deadline in March. Washington's chief negotiators Bruce Allen and Eric Schaffer know what's at stake, and in the end, it seems highly unlikely the sides don't work out a deal at least for a year. It's also possible that some in Ashburn aren't totally convinced by Cousins, which bodes well for the franchise tag.
"It might make more sense if they’re not sold on him, it's a nice problem to have if he goes out and does it again then you know for sure you’ve got your franchise quarterback," Corry said. "You’re not going anywhere unless you have a capable quarterback. You’ll pay for a QB if you have one, it ensures you’re going to be in the mix."
Asked bluntly who will be the starter come Week 1 in Washington, Corry had no doubts.
"It’s Kirk Cousins. They franchise him if they have to. They don’t have any other options," he said. "What's your alternative? Colt McCoy? RG3? You’re gonna end up last in the division with that."