Shortly after the season ended, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins started looking ahead to the following one, talking with his coaches and mapping out a plan. Even at that point, there was uncertainty about his future in Washington -- would the Redskins make him a legitimate offer? Would they tag him again?
It’s not as if he’s ignored his contract situation -- and it’s not as if he doesn’t have his own questions/concerns. Who wouldn’t? But as the Redskins return Monday for voluntary offseason workouts, Cousins' focus must be on 2017 and not on playing a second year under the franchise tag. All indications this offseason suggest his focus will indeed be on 2017. His contract will be a topic; that doesn't mean it'll be a focal point.
It’s a potentially awkward situation, again. Barring a change in thinking -- or a dramatic increase in the Redskins' offer -- Cousins will play under the tag. Washington could tag him next offseason for a third straight year, though it would be expensive: either $34.5 million for the franchise tag or $28 million for a transition tag in which the Redskins would receive no compensation if they failed to match another team’s offer.
The focus on the contract will be heavy, coming after good games or bad. It’s easy for that to weigh on a team and a player. Also, there will be players who wonder why the Redskins didn’t sign him long term -- I’ve heard from some via text message this offseason.
"I don't know how difficult it is really, he is making a lot of money and he is doing a nice job," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "He is having fun, the players love him, respect him and rally around him. The business side of it with the agent and our people is what it is, and it’s that way with a lot of guys."
Cousins, indeed, will make $23.94 million -- hardly a sum that warrants sympathy. Maybe the Redskins don’t believe in him enough to pay him that much per year over, say, five years. But it’s hard to call it a slap in the face, either, when he will be receiving it for one season. There are worse indignities.
Gruden is right that a number of Redskins will play on one-year deals. But no position is scrutinized like quarterback, especially one playing on the tag for a second straight year. How much do they believe in him? Will it hinder his ability to lead?
"Having a long-term contract maybe helps a little bit," Gruden said, "but when we get out on the field on the first game Sunday afternoon, people are going to look to him for leadership. He is going to provide it whether it's a one year deal or a two year deal."
Cousins is a good one to handle this situation, considering he did so in 2016. Besides, it's not as if there are ongoing talks, nor can there be after the July 15 deadline, to provide distractions.
"What’s important for those guys to remember is you’re either getting paid or becoming a franchise player because you played at a high level," said former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who saw up close last season how Cousins handled playing on the tag. "Don’t lose sight of what got you to this spot."
One reason he signed his franchise tender last month was to ensure that, when the workouts began today, he was present and leading the offense. Cousins talks to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. One piece of advice: Take every rep, even in the offseason. Cousins listened and that remains his desire.
He organized the trip to Florida with some of his receiving weapons: Terrelle Pryor, Josh Docston, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed. He spent two hours with Pryor going over plays and hand signals. When they reconvene Monday for the workouts, Cousins can throw to his targets. No coaches can work on the field with them, but with Cousins having played three years in this offense, that’s not a big deal.
"In a perfect world you want your quarterback to be an extension of the coaching staff," Gruden said. "When you look at the great quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, they are an extension of the coaching staff. The coach doesn't have to go out there and tell everybody what to do all the time, sometimes the quarterback can just go out and whisper to them. It helps when you speak the same language and that takes time. It's not perfect yet, but being the third year in the system he will feel a lot more comfortable in that role."
The Redskins don’t have to love Cousins enough to pay him what his leverage dictates (though owner Dan Snyder has let him know he wants to keep him around). But they do have to have a quarterback. Provided his play remains the same, Cousins will be fine after this season. There will be more pressure on the Redskins to make sure they can say the same.