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Kyle Shanahan-Kirk Cousins pairing possible, but not a lock

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins recalled the first time he heard from Kyle Shanahan after the 2012 draft. Cousins said during his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan that Shanahan, then the Redskins offensive coordinator, told him his goal was to develop him, then most likely trade him.

Cousins developed but was never traded. And both statements could lead to a reunion. Because he’s again playing on a one-year deal, an opportunity for a long-term contract could occur this offseason. That is why Sunday’s game against the 49ers -- the team Shanahan now coaches -- will be a bit different.

Cousins’ focus has been on the season; it’s why he didn’t skip the voluntary spring workouts or mandatory minicamp. But the question of his future doesn’t linger too far from any discussion of him.

So, thanks to Sunday’s opponent, here’s an all-too-early look at the situation:

Is he a lock to San Francisco?

Nothing is a lock at this point. There’s no doubt the 49ers would be on Cousins’ radar -- likely at the top if he’s free. He remains a fan of San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, and the feeling is mutual. Cousins liked the connection he had with Shanahan on a football level; one thing Cousins would love to find if he leaves is something akin to what Drew Brees has had with Sean Payton in New Orleans.

Also, from an X's-and-O's standpoint, Shanahan loves using bootlegs and play-action passes -- two strengths of Cousins’ game.

But Cousins also wants to win. While the 49ers have been competitive, they’re still 0-5. Are they a quarterback away from contending? If not, how soon would that occur? This is not just about making a lot of money and reuniting with a coach he likes. If it were that simple then, yes, the 49ers would be the primary destination.

In an ideal world for both sides, Cousins would sign in free agency and the 49ers would peddle a high pick for more talent.

California's income tax could be a sticking point, however. At a maximum of 13.3 percent, it’s the highest rate in the nation. Then there’s also the matter of the 49ers being in position to possibly draft a quarterback with a higher ceiling. In that scenario, it would depend on if Cousins is a free agent or on the franchise tag again. It’s one thing to pay him a lot of money; it’s another to surrender high picks plus that sort of cash. That’s not the best way to rebuild.

Along with that, it’s hard to imagine the Redskins trading with the 49ers and giving Shanahan the guy he wants. If that combination flourishes, it would look bad for the Redskins unless they have a grand alternative in place. So while this marriage would make sense, there are ways it could be blocked.

What about the Redskins?

If they want to keep him around another year, they’ll likely have to do it via the franchise tag for a third year. It’s not out of the question: If the Redskins end up winning say 10 or 11 games and then a playoff game -- and he’s playing well -- then why wouldn’t you tag him?

The price tag would be prohibitive: $34 million (the cap will rise around $10 million or so, about the cost of his raise) and they do have other pending free agents to re-sign. But tagging him would enable the Redskins to try to trade him, giving them some level of control if there’s no chance of a long-term deal.

Cousins remains in a wait-and-see mode. But, as in July before the deadline to sign him, things will have to change in order to entice him into a long-term deal. This goes all the way back to the first offer in the 2016 offseason of $12.5 million per year (which would have ranked 24th in the NFL). It’s certainly been noticed how long it took the organization to warm up to Cousins as the potential long-term answer.

Owner Dan Snyder made it known to Cousins this spring what he thought and that he was all-in on him. It led to better vibes and a feeling things were changing. Team president Bruce Allen’s statement after Cousins failed to re-sign didn’t help. But rather than being a sticking point, that just more or less symbolizes the situation.

Cousins saw how the organization treated Robert Griffin III when it viewed him as its guy. The Redskins have warmed to Cousins -- they will have paid him $44 million in two years after all; they offered him a two-year $53 million deal in the spring. It’s not as if they dislike him. They couldn’t entice him to engage in serious talks this offseason, much the same way he couldn’t get them to do so in 2016.

Could the Redskins make him a pitch that gets him to stay? Anything is possible, but it’s going to take a lot more work for that to be successful.

If not these teams, then who?

Let’s be clear: It’s still way too early to speculate on Cousins’ future with great depth. But there are several teams in need of a good quarterback. What if Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger indeed retires? Just know this: Cousins and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell are tight from their Michigan State days. Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith was in Washington when Cousins was drafted.

Imagine how Jacksonville would look now with a legitimate quarterback. Cousins lacks strong ties to the organization and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone comes from a different coaching tree than those who have worked with Cousins. There are other teams, but these two would provide Cousins a chance to win immediately with good talent around him (if they’d even want him; we’re several months from finding out).

Cousins will have plenty of choices after the season, starting with the 49ers – unless the Redskins make one big choice of their own.