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 10 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.

Illustrations by Brian Konnick
Washington Redskins Why it could work

Cousins might be playing too well for the Redskins to let him leave, whether by trade or through free agency. The team simply might not have a comparable option without making a play for a less-proven alternative. Washington could use the franchise tag on Cousins for a third time, which would cost about $35 million for the 2018 season. The transition tag presents a cheaper and riskier alternative carrying a projected price around $28 million.

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 one following the 2014 season. If the Redskins find the franchise or transition tag prohibitive, they could let Cousins walk. Cousins could try to force his way out of Washington by refusing to participate in the offseason program and training camp.

San Francisco 49ers Why it could work

San Francisco became the most obvious destination for Cousins once former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan became the 49ers' head coach. The team did not immediately sign the newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal. The Garoppolo deal obviously makes a Cousins pursuit less likely, but it also could have been a hedge. If Cousins is the quarterback Shanahan really wants, there's nothing stopping San Francisco from pursuing him if the opportunity presents itself.

Why it couldn't work

The 49ers acquired Garoppolo and could value him enough to keep him as their starter for 2018 even if they do not enter into a long-teram agreement with him. San Francisco will also have options in the draft. If Shanahan loves one of the draft-eligible quarterbacks, the team could select that quarterback and groom him as an alternative to Garoppolo.

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. And with the Jaguars faring well enough regardless, they will not be selecting early enough to land one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Why not pursue a veteran to upgrade a position that has been a problem for years and still is not in great hands?

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. Jacksonville also could have a shot at other quarterbacks such as Alex Smith, Case Keenum or Eli Manning.

Minnesota Vikings Why it could work

None of the Vikings' current quarterbacks has a contract beyond this season. The Vikings are an NFC contender as it is, but their odds for getting over the top and winning a championship could increase with Cousins. Minnesota has a history under general manager Rick Spielman of adding veteran quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Sam Bradford. Cousins would arrive in that tradition.

Why it couldn't work

The Vikings could be more likely to re-sign Case Kennum and/or Teddy Bridgewater. They know both players much better than they know Cousins, who figures to carry a far higher price tag that could be a deterrent.

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, and he's facing an extended absence after breaking his arm in Week 7. Pairing Cousins with David Johnson and a talented defense could keep Arizona competitive in a post-Palmer world. General manager Steve Keim might need to make a bold move at the QB position to keep Arizona in the mix.

Why it couldn't work

Palmer could return. The Cardinals also could use a higher draft choice for a quarterback to groom behind either Palmer or Blaine Gabbert. It's also unclear what coach Bruce Arians thinks of Cousins, a consideration if Arians returns for a sixth season with the team.

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

With a new coach and GM, the Bills might want to start fresh with their own quarterback, which could be a 2018 draft choice in combination with Nathan Peterman, depending upon what Peterman shows over this season's remaining weeks. Tyrod Taylor is another consideration, although the team's decision to bench him probably tipped the Bills' hand.

Cleveland Browns Why it could work

The Browns need another option beyond 2017 second-round choice DeShone Kizer, which could lead them to the veteran market. Cousins could finally stabilize a position that has been notoriously unstable in Cleveland for decades. New Browns GM John Dorsey was with Kansas City when the Chiefs acquired Alex Smith to stabilize an unsettled position. The thinking could be similar in Cleveland. Salary-cap space and draft capital give Cleveland ample resources to make a strong play for Cousins, no matter what it takes.

Why it couldn't work

The Browns will probably have their choice of quarterbacks in the 2018 draft. If they like or love one of the college prospects, why go all-in for Cousins?

Denver Broncos Why it could work

The Broncos will be desperate for a quarterback upgrade following a disastrous 2017 season. Does GM John Elway want to roll the dice in the draft after failing to get desired results with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch? Cousins would surely get more from the Broncos' weapons. He could be the quick fix Elway needs. Price could be irrelevant after what happened to Denver this season.

Why it couldn't work

The Broncos could be leery about spending big for a quarterback they do not know well. There could be more cost-effective alternatives in the veteran market.

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 isn't a long-term solution. Tannehill has also reached the point in his contract when the team could release him without negative salary-cap consequences. Cousins could solve a long-running problem in Miami.

Why it couldn't work

Coach Adam Gase might prefer what he already knows in Tannehill. That was the impression league insiders had as the season was getting under way.

New York Jets Why it could work

The Jets have no long-term 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. While McCown has exceeded expectations this season, he will be 39 as training camp gets going. The team can't bank on him for the future.

Why it couldn't work

The Jets could decide to target a quarterback early in the draft. That was the direction league insiders thought the Jets were heading as the season got going. It was assumed then that the Jets would hold one of the top few picks in the draft. How early they wind up picking could influence their thinking.