It’s not the salary-cap hit that matters most when it comes to quarterback Kirk Cousins' future contract. Rather, it’ll be the space it occupies on the Washington Redskins' cap (or whatever team he ends up with).
The cap is projected to be around $168 million; the Redskins' adjusted cap space, thanks to the unused portion they can carry over from last year, is expected to be around $183 million. As of now, they have $64 million in available cap space.
If the Redskins place the franchise tag on Cousins again, he’d count $23.95 million. That would take up 13.1 percent of their adjusted salary cap. Six quarterbacks carried a higher percentage this past season.
But if Cousins signs a long-term deal, he’d likely count less against the cap in the first year. So if he counted, say, $20 million, it would be 10.9 percent of the adjusted cap (same as corner Josh Norman). Of course, the key will be when Cousins' number hits the high point in two or three years, what percentage does it occupy? That will depend on where the cap goes and how much carryover the Redskins can bring into that year. But Washington must stomach that potential figure in agreeing to a deal.
Though the Redskins can improve multiple ways -- they've managed the cap well and have nine picks this spring -- will they want to commit that sort of space to a quarterback they're not convinced is a top-10 guy?
Of the top 10 quarterbacks last year in terms of salary-cap hits, four signed their contracts in 2013: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. The other six were signed in 2015 or ’16. That also includes Cousins, who played under the franchise tag.
Only five of them led their team to the postseason this past year. And the futures of two quarterbacks -- Romo and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick -- with their current teams is uncertain.
The contract that should be applauded is Green Bay’s with Rodgers. The Packers deserve credit for signing him to an extension in the spring of 2013 with two years remaining on his deal. That enabled them to spread out a $33.25 million signing bonus, dumping $6.65 million into 2013 and ’14.
So even though Rodgers’ five-year extension, which ends in 2019, averages $22 million, he’ll never count that much vs. the cap. The result? Green Bay has one of the top quarterbacks at a cap-friendly percentage. Of course, at the time of the deal Rodgers already had won a Super Bowl and it was clear Rodgers was capable of reaching the Hall of Fame. A long-term deal was a no-brainer.
Cousins' resume isn't as strong, and there are debates over how good he is -- and can become.