I wouldn’t want to play poker with Kirk Cousins.
When the pending free agent quarterback was asked on Sunday night if he wanted to return to the Redskins in 2017 he said, well, nothing.
“It’s really not my decision to make,” said Cousins. “They chose to tag me and the same is true this year, so if they don’t choose to tag me then I think that question is answered at that point, but right now the ball’s not in my court.”
The part about it not being his decision to make at this point in time is not accurate. Since the Redskins’ season ended at about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday he has been free to negotiate with the team. He could sign a new contract this afternoon.
Of course, that’s not realistic. It will take time for a deal to get hammered out. But Cousins could instruct his agent to negotiate the best deal he possibly can with the Redskins and get it done prior to the March 1 deadline for teams to designate franchise players. There are risks involved in waiting that are outlined below.
And perhaps he has set the gears in motion for a new deal with Washington. Cousins has thrived in Jay Gruden’s offense and the number of teams that have systems that cater to his strengths is limited. The appeal of sticking with what has worked over starting over with a new coach in a new system at the age of 29 has to be strong.
But Cousins has no reason to tip his hand right now. By keeping a neutral public stance he leaves the impression that he’d be just as happy to stay or go. Taking that stance is straight out of Negotiations 101.
One thing that Cousins has to consider is the risk of taking steps back on the field. In 2015, when the team needed him to come on strong down the stretch he delivered. In their last five games of the season when the team had to go on a run to make the playoffs he posted a passer rating of over 100 in each game and the Redskins went 4-1. This year the team needed a similar run in the last five games and Cousins had passer ratings in the 70’s in three of those games. The Redskins lost all three and they missed the playoffs. Here is a more detailed comparison:
The difference is stark. Last year he broke most of the team’s major single-season passing records and it felt like he accomplished a lot. This year, he broke his own records but given the way he finished it feels more like he compiled empty stats.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that the Redskins shouldn’t do what they can to try to get him under contract. This is not a reason to put forth a lowball offer (again).
But Cousins needs to tread carefully. If the Redskins tag him again and his late-season passer rating hangs around the mid-80’s again and he throws one touchdown and three picks (including the final, fatal one) in two critical home games in games where they were solid favorites he may find himself with a much lower value than he has now. He could be well advised to get as much as he can now in case he suffers from another late-season swoon.
Now, it’s not like Cousins will have to settle for minimum salary if he plays on the tag in 2017 and he does stumble in crunch time in December. Given the shortage of quarterbacks in the league, his performance could drop off significantly and some team out there would be willing to sign him to a five-year deal making at least $18-$20 million per year in 2018. Perhaps he would be comfortable rejecting a deal worth, say, $22 million per year knowing that the furthest he can fall would still have him near the very top of income earners in the country. That’ a nice cushion to have.
The only member of the Redskins organization who has spoken on Cousins is head coach Jay Gruden.
“I don’t know what Kirk has to do as a quarterback to prove that he belongs in the National Football League as a starter,” he said after the Giants game. “I think he had a great year.”
Gruden, however, doesn’t write the checks. He can lobby Scot McCloughan, Bruce Allen, and Dan Snyder to get a deal done but that’s all he can do.
This is in the very early stages. But decisions need to start taking shape. That franchise tag deadline is just 57 days away and the clock is ticking.
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