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Destination Cousins

Kirk Cousins could become the NFL's highest-paid player in 2018. You like that?! Here are all the places the QB could land.

By Mike Sando

Kirk Cousins and the Redskins haven't come close to working out a long-term deal, and there are no indications that anything has changed. Washington could place an unprecedented third consecutive franchise tag on Cousins this upcoming offseason, but it would cost close to $35 million.

If that price becomes prohibitive for the Redskins, Cousins could hit the market and become one of the few productive starting quarterbacks to ever reach free agency.

Before diving into why Cousins might (and might not) fit with the nine teams most likely to have starting QB needs in 2018, a quick word on the teams that did not make the cut. Rams coach Sean McVay was Cousins' offensive coordinator from 2014 to '16, but Jared Goff's improved performance makes L.A. a less likely match. Likewise, four teams with aging quarterbacks -- the Steelers, Chargers, Saints and Giants -- could become more viable candidates as circumstances evolve. Denver? The Broncos like Trevor Siemian and still have Paxton Lynch, but with John Elway as GM, nothing ever seems off the table.


Illustrations by Brian Konnick
Washington Redskins Why it could work

The Redskins are playing well enough to make keeping Cousins a priority, even if it means using the franchise tag a third time, which would carry a one-year price tag approaching $35 million. The team simply might not have a comparable option without making a play for someone such as Jimmy Garoppolo (if available) or Andy Dalton or AJ McCarron, who previously played under Jay Gruden.

Why it couldn't work

Cousins appears to have shown little interest in re-signing with the team after Washington failed to step up with a top-shelf contract offer once Cousins became eligible for a new deal following his third NFL season (2014). If the Redskins find the $35 million franchise price prohibitive, they could let Cousins walk.

San Francisco 49ers Why it could work

San Francisco is the most obvious destination for Cousins now that former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is the 49ers' coach. San Francisco's decision to bypass quarterbacks in the 2017 draft after signing Brian Hoyer as a bridge to the future increased speculation that the team was targeting Cousins in 2018. The draft ammo San Francisco added in the Mitch Trubisky trade with Chicago could help the 49ers justify acquiring Cousins by trade if necessary.

Why it couldn't work

The 49ers could be well on their way to securing a top-five pick in the 2018 draft, which could let them land a college prospect with greater perceived upside than Cousins possesses. Why pay top dollar for Cousins if Shanahan is confident he can mold a more talented alternative at a lower price?

Jacksonville Jaguars Why it could work

The Jaguars have in place a talented defense and No. 1 running back, but Blake Bortles could be too inconsistent to remain the starter beyond this season. Even with Bortles performing at a less-than-optimal level, the Jaguars could fare well enough this season to pick later than usual in the draft order. Why not pursue a veteran after whiffing on Blaine Gabbert and Bortles in recent drafts?

Why it couldn't work

The Jaguars' defense and running game could be strong enough for the team to compete for a division title even with Bortles' inconsistencies. The team could use a 2018 draft choice on a quarterback to compete with Bortles next season, in which case Cousins wouldn't factor into the equation.

Minnesota Vikings Why it could work

With Sam Bradford's health a major concern and Teddy Bridgewater's career in question, the Vikings have become a version of the Bradford-era St. Louis Rams: a team that might contend if only its quarterback could play. The Vikings have zero dollars committed to quarterbacks beyond this season, and they have a history under general manager Rick Spielman of adding veteran quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Bradford.

Why it couldn't work

Bradford could return to health and play well enough for Minnesota to re-sign him during the season, which would remove the Vikings from the market for another veteran.

Arizona Cardinals Why it could work

The Cardinals will be in the market if Carson Palmer does not return. His contract runs through 2018, his age-38 season. Pairing Cousins with David Johnson and a talented defense could keep Arizona competitive in a post-Palmer world.

Why it couldn't work

Cousins lacks the physical stature and throwing ability that coach Bruce Arians seems to covet, which could make Cousins a less-than-ideal fit if Arians returns for a sixth season with the team. Arizona might not be drafting early enough to snag one of the top QBs, which would make Cousins more appealing as a free agent.

Buffalo Bills Why it could work

Tyrod Taylor's future with the team remains uncertain beyond this season, which could put the Bills in the market for a quarterback. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has ties to former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who remains one of Cousins' top advocates. Dennison was offensive coordinator under Shanahan from 2006 to '08. Of course, the Kyle Shanahan connection matters most, and that is not present in Buffalo.

Why it couldn't work

Taylor has generally exceeded expectations in Buffalo and could win the job heading into next season, especially if the Bills defy expectations by making a playoff run. General manager Brandon Beane has also talked up rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, who could be seen as an affordable developmental version of Cousins.

Cleveland Browns Why it could work

The Browns will probably need another option beyond 2017 second-round choice DeShone Kizer, who leads the NFL in interceptions. Cousins could finally stabilize a position that has been notoriously unstable in Cleveland for decades.

Why it couldn't work

The Browns look like they'll be drafting among the top few overall selections. They have resisted chances to select Carson Wentz, Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes II and others in recent years, but if the 2018 quarterback class is as strong as advertised, Cleveland might finally decide to draft one early. Through Week 5, the Browns have the best odds of drafting No. 1 overall.

Denver Broncos Why it could work

The Broncos entered the season with no established long-term quarterback. Trevor Siemian has been inconsistent to start the season. If the QB picture remains in limbo and the Broncos' season becomes a disappointment, general manager John Elway could make an aggressive move for a veteran quarterback to win big while Denver's defensive personnel remains near its peak.

Why it couldn't work

The Broncos could wind up winning with Siemian, or they could turn to 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Even if they aren't sold on either quarterback, they could be leery about spending big for a quarterback they do not know well.

Miami Dolphins Why it could work

Ryan Tannehill's season-ending knee injury will force the Dolphins to at least consider alternatives for 2018 and beyond. Jay Cutler doesn't look like a long-term solution. Tannehill has also reached the point in his contract when the team could release him without negative salary-cap consequences.

Why it couldn't work

Coach Adam Gase might prefer what he already knows in Tannehill and/or Cutler. That is the impression league insiders had as the season was getting under way, but with Miami's offense stuck in neutral, opinions could change.

New York Jets Why it could work

The Jets have no plausible solution at quarterback, which means all options need to be on the table. Cousins would stabilize a position that has seen Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez as primary starters over the past five-plus seasons.

Why it couldn't work

The Jets, despite a better-than-expected start to the season, could draft early enough to target one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.