Redskins, Kirk Cousins face multiple key dates in contract decision

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden wants it settled. Quarterback Kirk Cousins does, too, but he also said he's willing to hit March without signing a long-term deal with the Redskins. Because of that, the Cousins-Redskins story will once more play out during the offseason.

That would mark a third straight offseason in which Cousins' contract status with the Redskins becomes a key storyline. The question will be whether there's finally a long-term resolution -- and how that occurs.

Here's a look at the key offseason dates for Cousins and the Redskins:

Feb. 20: The first day the Redskins can use the franchise or transition tag on Cousins. If the Redskins use a third franchise tag, according to the collective bargaining agreement, they can only use the exclusive one. That means Cousins could only sign or negotiate with the Redskins. However if the Redskins applied the exclusive tag and failed to work out a deal, they could try to trade him. In that case, they could give him permission to speak to other teams that might be interested.

March 6: Deadline to apply the franchise or transition tag. This comes right after the NFL scouting combine where teams and agents gather in one location, which could lead to informal what-if discussions.

If the Redskins opt for a third franchise tag, Cousins' one-year salary would be $34.5 million. But if the Redskins went this route, it would be to either sign him to a long-term deal or, failing that, to trade him. The risk would be that he doesn't like other opportunities and declines a long-term offer and plays under the tag. It might not make the most sense; it is an option that some close to Cousins believe is possible.

As of now, the Redskins have about $52 million in cap space for 2018; having him play for that amount would not be helpful. Even the transition tag at $28.8 million would occupy a large chunk of space. They can create more room with a few other moves, but it still wouldn't leave them a lot to be aggressive this offseason. If they use the transition tag, they can match any offer -- but receive no compensation if they don't.

There’s no guarantee this would lead to a long-term deal; it would require Cousins to truly want to sign with whatever team offers him a contract. Otherwise, he'll once more play in Washington on a one-year deal.

March 14: The start of the new league year, which also means the start of free agency and the ability to trade players. If the Redskins opt for no tag, Cousins would become an unrestricted free agent. They could let him test the market and gamble they'll be his best option. Or if the number is too high they could let him walk and receive a compensatory pick in 2019.

With Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco -- assuming the 49ers work out something with him -- the obvious landing spot has been removed. There are teams with more cap room than Washington who need a quarterback, including the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets. But would those represent better spots for long-term success? The grass-isn't-always-greener philosophy will be in play. Other quarterback-needy teams such as Arizona, Denver and Jacksonville would have to free up space to sign Cousins and then make other moves.

Also, if the Redskins tag him before the deadline and realize they can't make a deal, they could now trade Cousins.

April 2: Teams with new coaches can start working out. This might not impact Cousins at all, but if a team with a new head coach wants him, it would be helpful to have it worked out by this date so they can get to work.

April 16: Reporting date for teams with head coaches who are returning. Cousins has been big on not missing any offseason work, so there's little doubt he would want some sort of resolution by this point (teams would want the same).

April 26: The first round of the draft. Another arbitrary deadline, but pertinent because if the Redskins want to get a trade done, it would make sense to have it completed by this date so they can benefit from a draft pick in 2018.

July 16: The deadline for franchise players to sign a multi-year deal. Redskins fans should be well-versed in knowing the following: After this date, no long-term deal can be reached until the season ends.

July 23: The deadline for any team to sign Cousins if the Redskins use a transition tag designation. After this point and until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, the Redskins have exclusive negotiating rights.