The Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins have reached yet another critical juncture in their relationship. They have one week to strike a long-term deal or continue this contract dance next offseason. If no deal is struck by the July 17 deadline to place the franchise tag on players, Cousins will play a second-consecutive season under the tag.
A deal remains a long shot, but that doesn’t mean it won't happen. Here's a look at the situation entering the final week before the deadline:
What's the holdup?
Several issues exist. One, Cousins will make $23.9 million in guaranteed money this season by playing under the tag. If he plays out the season and then hits free agency, he could make another $50 million in fully guaranteed money.
So it's simple: Cousins' side wants an offer to reflect that leverage; the Redskins don't want to go nearly that high. If Cousins accepted an offer for, say, $40 million fully guaranteed, he'd end up leaving around $33 million in fully guaranteed money on the table -- unless it's an extension.
Cousins' agent, Mike McCartney, has met with Redskins president Bruce Allen on at least two occasions since late March. It's uncertain if the Redskins have made a stronger pitch than the five-year, $20 million-per-year offer made before the combine. Multiple sources close to Cousins have remained pessimistic; that hasn't changed in a long time.
The Redskins needed to get a deal done last offseason when the price was more modest -- by perhaps $5 million per year less on the average base salary. When that didn't happen, it became unlikely a deal would be struck this offseason because of the rising cost.
It did not sit well when the Redskins made low offers in 2015, when Cousins was coming off a record-setting season in his first full year as a starter. Their initial offer was for around $12 million per year, before upping it to $16 million per year with $24 million guaranteed. Because of the tag, Cousins knew he'd make $19.95 million guaranteed and then would be tagged again or hit free agency.
Cousins' side believed that if former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III had posted similar numbers, the Redskins wouldn't have hesitated to give him a big contract. And they wondered if Cousins was still viewed as a fourth-round pick (which he was in 2012). Inside the organization, it was clear last offseason -- and into the 2016 season -- that multiple people wanted to see more from Cousins before committing such a haul.
The timing has worked against the Redskins. Cousins excelled in the final year of his contract. There were missed opportunities, but it was the passing game that powered the Redskins' offense. Now Cousins' leverage works against them, too. The Redskins have been reluctant to pay him approximately $20 million more per year than backup Colt McCoy, whom they like.
Could this be Cousins' last season in Washington?
Yes, but you can't assume it's a foregone conclusion. It's not. For whatever reason, the vibe toward Cousins changed in mid-March, shortly after general manager Scot McCloughan was fired. Whether coincidence or not, the perception has been that the Redskins are more unified in their feelings toward Cousins -- or at least in how they're communicating their message. To be clear, it wasn't McCloughan preventing a deal in the past but, regardless, the tone has changed.
Owner Dan Snyder got more involved, too, and that's made a big difference over the past several months. There's been a much more positive tone, which matters. That might not get a deal done now, but it could set one up for after the season.
Another factor: Multiple sources close to Cousins say he was encouraged by how the spring workouts went. He was tight with former offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who called the plays the past two seasons before leaving to coach the Los Angeles Rams. One source said having coach Jay Gruden call plays for Cousins this season will lead to a tighter bond -- and they were off to a good start this spring. They obviously worked together in the past, but they'll work together more now, and a strong relationship would help the chances of a Cousins return.
Another potential factor will be the birth of Cousins' first child in September. Both his family and his wife's are on the East Coast. That won't stop him from going to, say, San Francisco. But it also could help keep him in Washington -- if all else is right.
Finally, shortly after Doug Williams was promoted to senior vice president of personnel, he said he wanted to keep Cousins "in the worst way." Those words were noticed by Cousins' camp.
Still, no deal now means the Redskins risk losing Cousins next offseason. San Francisco, with former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now in charge, would definitely be interested -- and that interest would be mutual. If Jared Goff stumbles badly with the Rams, they, too, would want Cousins.
Clearly, he'll have options. But if the good vibes continue, and the Redskins have a good season, then they definitely have a shot at keeping him. However, other teams potentially will have a shot, too.
Could they tag him again?
Neither one makes a lot of sense, but, yes, they are options. The Redskins could use the franchise tag on Cousins a third time, but it would cost them at least $34 million.
They could use the transition tag at a cost of approximately $28 million, something not everyone connected to Cousins views as a realistic scenario. The Redskins could match any offer by another team but would receive no compensation if they don't.
Also, there's just as good a chance that Cousins would sign the transition tag immediately. Combined with the previous tags, he would enter 2019 free agency having made $72 million guaranteed in three years.
Will they get a deal done?
My prediction is, and has been, no, with the caveat that anything can happen in this industry. Still, it would take a major change on both sides. Nobody close to Cousins has expressed any optimism that a deal will get done, barring a huge last-minute bump in the Redskins' offer. Even then, there's zero guarantee Cousins would sign now anyway, knowing he can take this year to get a good read on the direction of the organization, how it goes with Gruden calling plays and the success of the team.
A deal remains a long shot. It's been that way for a long time.