In the last two-plus decades, the Washington Redskins have sought some level of stability at quarterback. They’ve tried veterans. They’ve traded for aging stars. They’ve drafted four of them in the first round -- one of whom was quite costly to obtain.
And none of it worked. The Redskins have struggled at quarterback, and they’ve struggled as a franchise since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season. It’s no coincidence.
Which brings us around to why they used the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins. They do like him. They do believe in him. They do view him as a long-term solution and want a deal that extends several years. They’re not yet willing to pay him a certain amount because he’s only had one strong season. Can’t blame them for that thinking. They’re not alone in needing to see more before he’s paid at a certain level.
But this is the guy they want around. This is the guy they believe in, someone they say will benefit from an offseason as the starter.
And that’s why the franchise tag made a lot more sense than the transition tag. Yes, they could have saved money by using the transition tag. But after what they’ve been through as a franchise, they couldn’t afford to go that route. After all, the Plan B is … what?
Even though the Redskins hinted at the transition tag during this process, it was never considered a serious option. They knew it wasn’t wise to risk losing Cousins over what would amount to $2.25 million against the cap this season. That’s the cost of a decent backup. It’s also tough to tell the owner that they want to unload his once-prized pupil in Robert Griffin III -- for whom they gave up a lot to draft -- and now they want to gamble with the guy they think is better. No, that doesn’t go over well.
Yes, they could conceivably lose him under the non-exclusive tag, which gives another team a chance to sign him. But that team would have to not only meet his asking price, it would then have to surrender two No. 1 picks. That’s not happening. You can be the biggest Cousins supporter in the world and that would represent way too high a price to pay.
So Cousins will return. The only question is, will a long-term deal be worked out? Every player wants long-term security and Cousins is no different. On March 1, there’s no need to finalize a deal. It took a long time to get contracts done with Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan last offseason; both rejected early offers. I do know Cousins’ side and the Redskins will keep talking.
But another agent I spoke to Tuesday said he could easily see Cousins playing it out on the franchise tag (I know Cousins is OK doing so). He’s guaranteed nearly $20 million this season. And if he plays well, he’s in line for a huge deal or he’ll get tagged again at a cost of nearly $24 million (based on a 120 percent raise per the collective bargaining agreement). So he could conceivably make $44 million guaranteed in two seasons. The agent also said if he were representing Cousins, he’d go through the open tampering period to gauge potential interest for next offseason -- and then he’d sign the tender.
Even if Cousins has a so-so year, he would still get signed by someone and perhaps make $10 million a year. In that situation, he’d still walk away with nearly $30 million guaranteed in two years -- and likely much more.
So it’s up to the Redskins to sweeten their offer. But I don’t blame them for their hesitancy. They know he must be surrounded by good players to adequately compete. Just like Cousins doesn’t have to take any deal, the Redskins don’t have to give Cousins exactly what he wants, either. They can gamble and all it costs them is money (and, yes, cap space for players possibly), but if he plays well again and they win, do you think they’ll be bothered that much?
For Cousins, it’s been a steady progression to even reach this point. Along the way he has overcome a lot of doubt. Few pegged him as a Division I player, or anticipated him ever winning the starting job at Michigan State, or looked at him as a strong candidate to ever start in the NFL.
You want to know why Cousins might gamble on himself? It’s because that’s all he’s done in his career -- and it’s paid off each time.