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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. Will he leave this offseason?

Washington could place an unprecedented third consecutive franchise tag on Cousins, or name him its transition player, but the price tag would fall between $28-35 million.

If those prices become prohibitive for the Redskins, Cousins becomes one of the few productive starting quarterbacks to ever reach free agency. A trade could also solve the stalemate.

Here we consider why Cousins might (and might not) fit with 14 teams that could have starting QB needs.


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.

Arizona Cardinals Why it could work

The Cardinals, for all their talk about Blaine Gabbert, will be in the market for a QB 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 Gabbert. It's also unclear what coach Bruce Arians thinks of Cousins, a consideration if Arians returns for a sixth season with the team.

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 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? This team seems desperate for a veteran after faring so well with Peyton Manning. 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, and if the Broncos are drafting early enough, they could see a solution there.

Buffalo Bills Why it could work

Tyrod Taylor's future with the team appears shaky at best, which will 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. But with the Bills showing little interest in Taylor, they are going to need QB help one way or another.

Why it couldn't work

With a new coach and GM, the Bills might want to start fresh with their own quarterback, not with a veteran from another team. That could involve drafting a quarterback to compete with Nathan Peterman, Taylor is another consideration, although the team's decision to bench him probably tipped the Bills' hand.

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 for the future 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.

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. Miami will also have options in the draft and in a veteran market that could be robust beyond Cousins if Alex Smith, Case Keenum and others become available.

Jacksonville Jaguars Why it could work

The Jaguars have in place a talented defense and No. 1 running back, but Blake Bortles could be seen as too inconsistent to remain the starter under his $19 million salary for 2018, despite his recent improved play. 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

Bortles' production has improved lately. If the team thinks he is on the right path under different coaching, why make an expensive play for Cousins? The team could sign a veteran or use a 2018 draft choice to add competition/insurance for Bortles. 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 higher price tag that could be a deterrent.

Pittsburgh Steelers Why it could work

Ben Roethlisberger has talked about retirement in the past year, and a growing number of league insiders think he might walk away. If he does, the Steelers would be in the market for a quarterback to run an offense loaded with talent. Cousins would be a safer bet than a rookie who might need years to develop and could become a bust.

Why it couldn't work

Roethlisberger could return, and if he does, the Steelers could draft a potential replacement. They would not be in the veteran market at all.

New York Giants Why it could work

Whomever the Giants hire as head coach and GM could decide it's time to part ways with Eli Manning, whose awkward benching and reinsertion into the lineup could signal that he's on his way out. For the Giants, signing Cousins could weaken a division rival while strengthening their long-term outlook at quarterback.

Why it couldn't work

The Giants could be drafting early enough to select their quarterback of the future. They could keep Manning for another year and use him as a bridge to whichever quarterback they draft. The Giants also could decide Manning can function well enough to start for the next few seasons if the team upgrades its offensive line and running game while getting healthy at receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Why it could work

The concerns over immaturity that followed Jameis Winston from Florida State into the NFL again appear relevant amid allegations Winston sexually assaulted an Uber driver in 2016. The league is investigating. If keeping Winston becomes untenable or the Bucs simply determine they need more maturity from the position, Cousins could make sense for them.

Why it couldn't work

The Bucs could remain committed to Winston. They also might want to funnel their financial resources toward upgrading other areas, including their pass rush.

Indianapolis Colts Why it could work

Andrew Luck's long-term health is in question. If Luck does not return to health, the Colts could suddenly be back in the market for a starter.

Why it couldn't work

There have been no indications -- yet -- that Luck's injury situation will end his career. Even if Luck's status is in question, the Colts could draft a replacement in 2018. They also might think Jacoby Brissett can be at least serviceable if given a baseline level of support.

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

Garoppolo has been outstanding in his first few games with San Francisco. Why would the 49ers make a strong play for Cousins if they already have a promising quarterback? The draft could provide another alternative to Cousins, but Garoppolo's acquisition and early success is the obvious deal breaker here.