Kirk Cousins had just finished a workout in the hotel gym in Minneapolis when he saw the text messages on his phone. And that's when he learned the news: The Washington Redskins had agreed to a trade that ultimately ends the quarterback's career with the franchise.
The Redskins will receive quarterback Alex Smith once the trade is official on March 14. The Redskins will give the Kansas City Chiefs a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller. Cousins will then become a free agent at the start of the league year.
"I knew it would be a tough decision if it came down to deciding what to do in free agency," Cousins told ESPN's NFL Live on Friday. "So the fact that the decision was made for me gave me relief. It certainly was tough emotionally to know I was having to leave a city that I had so many memories."
Cousins also told NFL Live that he spoke to several members of the organization the following day, including owner Dan Snyder and coach Jay Gruden.
"Coach Gruden called me the next day and communicated that my desire to draw the process out through March was going to make it tough on them," Cousins said. "They couldn't afford to wait so they had to make a move. They wanted to do a deal, but because I wanted to go a little longer it put them in a tough spot. So they made the trade. I understood that. He said, 'I wish you all the best. We had a good run and look forward to seeing you in the future.' "
Cousins also told Sirius XM Radio on Friday that the subsequent days since the news were "not as bad as you might think."
"It came as a surprise," he told Sirius. "I certainly hadn't heard anything. In this league, I learned curveballs come all the time. I expect to be a free agent come March 14. We'll see if that plays out. If it does, it's a unique opportunity I look forward to. I haven't had a chance to pick where I play since 2007, when I chose to go to Michigan State."
Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2012 by Washington, started the past three seasons and topped 4,000 yards each time. He played the past two years under the franchise tag, but the Redskins wanted to either sign him to a long-term deal or move on.
The Redskins named him the starter in August of 2015, at which point then-Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan has said he suggested signing him to an extension. The Redskins, with Robert Griffin III on the roster and with uncertainty over Cousins' future, wanted to wait.
"I had no idea what was going to happen," Cousins told NFL Live. "At the time if the Redskins had come to me with an extension, I probably would have signed it because I didn't know what was going to take place. But after that season we knew the franchise tag came into play and it certainly dictated this entire process."
The Redskins approached him in December of 2015, when his play was surging, about a deal. But under the advice of his agent, Mike McCartney, Cousins wanted to wait. Their first offer after the season was for $12.5 million per year and their best offer was for $16 million per year with $24 million guaranteed. Instead of signing that offer, he made $44 million the past two years playing under the tag.
Last offseason, there was no chance he was going to sign, though the Redskins made multiple offers.
"After the 2015 season I was ready to do a long-term deal," Cousins told NFL Live. "It seemed the team needed more time. We understood that. After the 2016 season was played and [offensive coordinator] Sean McVay left to go to LA, I felt I needed more time. There was really no chance of doing a deal at that point. Then we got to this year and I was ready to do something, but I also wanted to take my time and allow the process to work itself out and it put Washington in a tough spot. They didn't want to wait so they went ahead and made the trade."
Cousins said that, until Tuesday, he thought there was a good chance he'd end up in Washington. Several hours before the trade leaked out, one source close to Cousins said they had no idea if the Redskins would tag him or let him test the market. In previous years, his side had an idea of what might happen.
"I was keeping an open mind," Cousins told USA Today Sports on Friday. "I think Washington can win. I think they're in a good place. I think they're in a position to be successful."
Cousins told USA Today it would be difficult to move on from playing with teammates, singling out running back Chris Thompson, among others. But Cousins said he was glad to hear several players lobby their teams for him, from Denver linebacker Von Miller to Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas.
"Anytime you hear positive things from your peers it means a great deal," Cousins told USA Today. "It shows there are a lot of great options and hopefully we can find the best possible fit."
There are expected to be a number of suitors for him and Cousins reiterated that winning remained his top priority. But he also knows that teams change so much, leading to yearly changes in who wins. He mentioned Jacksonville as an example; the Jaguars had not won more than five games since 2010 yet reached the AFC Championship Game this season.
"It's a unique experience that may only happen one time in my career," Cousins told Sirius XM, referring to free agency. "As a result, we want to enjoy it, take full advantage, make sure to make the right decision. We don't know how it's going to end so it's hard to say right now, but I certainly do look forward to the opportunity if it comes."