Last year, the Redskins gave Kirk Cousins the franchise tag on the last possible day. It looks like that is what will happen this year, with the deadline coming at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
However, Cousins getting tagged and then signing the offer shortly after that was the end of the process. This year it looks like it could be the beginning of it. And when it starts, the Redskins will be going into territory where no NFL team has gone before.
It appears that the Redskins and Cousins will have difficulty coming to terms on a new contract. The gap between the team’s valuation of Cousins’ worth in a long-term contract and what Cousins believes he can get on the open market appears to be vast, perhaps several million dollars a year or more. And since Cousins likely will be on the open market in 2018 if he plays out this year on the tag there is no incentive for Cousins to compromise.
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This leaves the Redskins in a box. They can either pay Cousins a significant amount more than they think he is worth, a move that would hamper their ability to pay other players what they are worth. Or they can let another team pay him and move on at the quarterback position.
When faced with such choices in the past, NFL teams have just paid the quarterback whatever it took to get the deal done. The Redskins don’t appear to be inclined to do that.
Since it doesn’t look like they are willing to bite the bullet and pay Cousins they must figure out the end game. Their options are limited. Just letting him go into free agency does not appear to be a realistic way to go. They can franchise tag him, pay him $23.94 million in installments of $1.41 million due each of the 17 weeks of the regular season, and then figure out how to handle 2018 when it comes around. Next year they could let him walk, franchise tag him a third for whopping $34.5 million (unlikely) or give him the transition tag. That tag would be less expensive at $28.7 million and it would give the Redskins the right to match any offer sheet.
None of those 2018 options seems to be particularly attractive. The franchise tag is prohibitively expensive, the transition tag is only slightly less so but it gives the Redskins only the chance to match an offer made to Cousins without the option of taking draft pick compensation. And with either tag, Cousins could simply sign the tag, play out the year on it and become a free agent in 2019 with all tag options off the table.
Their other option is the tag and trade this year. This would entail Cousins getting tagged and then working out a trade that may bring less than the two first-round draft picks as compensation. In fact, it could bring a lot less.
No matter how they proceed, the Redskins will be in uncharted waters. No quarterback has played a second season on the franchise tag. And no quarterback who has thrown for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons has played the next season for another team. So, either way the Redskins are doing something that never has been done before.
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If the Redskins move on from Cousins, whether it’s this year or next, they will be saying no to the NFL conventional wisdom that says you pay whatever it takes to hold on to your quarterback. When, say, the Patriots do something unconventional or when the Seahawks don’t follow the NFL orthodoxy the assumption is that they know what they are doing and that everything will turn out fine.
However, the Redskins do not enjoy a sterling reputation for being smart operators. Their last major quarterback decision, trading three first-round picks and a second for Robert Griffin III, quickly turned into a disaster. They will get no benefit of the doubt no matter how they proceed here.