The reality of the situation continues to be apparent: It’s hard to see the marriage between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins lasting beyond 2017. His price tag remains high; their love for him has a financial ceiling. And neither side appears willing to budge from its stance.
This really isn’t a case of both sides wanting to break away from each other. According to multiple people, Cousins likes playing in Washington. According to multiple people in the organization, the team truly likes Cousins. But the leverage Cousins enjoys isn’t about to change, and the Redskins clearly aren’t prepared to pay him what he thinks he can get.
That’s why with all the options as to what can happen if he’s tagged by Wednesday’s deadline, one has a higher percentage of happening: a trade. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said last week that he thought there was a better chance that Cousins would be traded than that he would return. It’s hard to argue against that, and some close to Cousins say that’s what the Redskins want to do anyway, knowing that signing him to a long-term deal will be difficult. It may even be impossible, given their different positions on what his ability is worth.
As of now, some in his camp view any deal reached at the July 15 deadline as an impossibility. It certainly would take an increased offer by Washington. I don’t know that this is a universal opinion in Cousins’ camp, but the point is that based on the Redskins’ actions to date, there’s no reason to believe their offer will increase that much. They clearly view him as good, not great. And there’s no reason for Cousins to lower what he believes he should get.
There’s also the matter of past slights still bugging Cousins, including an initial offer last offseason of $12 million per year with low guarantees. It was bad at the time; it’s ridiculous now. Had the Redskins given him $18 million per year – before the Brock Osweiler deal with Houston – with solid guarantees, then there’s a good chance he would have signed (but impossible to truly know). That deal would look mighty good now.
The Redskins’ problem is that there’s only one team Cousins will sign with right now, according to one source: San Francisco. So Washington doesn’t have much bargaining power with other teams. This isn’t just about Cousins maximizing his financial value; it’s about putting himself in the best position. Reuniting with a coach (Kyle Shanahan) who loves you in an offense you love? That’s a win-win for Cousins. But it's a tough way for the Redskins to maximize his trade value on the market.
Therefore, with a trade, the Redskins can get what they can for a player they’ll lose in a year anyway. Of course, if Cousins plays under the tag, he’s gambling that San Francisco – a preferred destination with Shanahan in charge – still will need a quarterback next year. But with a six-year contract, Shanahan can afford to wait. Use the picks this year on other spots knowing the quarterbacks will arrive in 2018.
It’s hard to say the Redskins definitely will trade him; it’s not hard to say they will try. With the combine starting this week – and agents in touch with teams – Cousins and his side should have a good sense of what San Francisco might do. If he signs the franchise tag right away, or within a few days, it likely means he knows what will – or won’t – happen. Cousins also knows a year from now he’ll be free.
The transition tag idea for 2018 at around $28 million has been floated. It’s not realistic. So if Cousins leaves after 2017, then the Redskins would get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019. If they can get a good return from the 49ers this offseason, it’s hard to imagine them saying no. Quite a bit of work remains for this situation to be resolved, whether via trade or anything else. But for the marriage to continue, the first step would be a willingness on both sides to alter their position.