The Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins have one more day to reach a deal. Yet, an agreement remains as unlikely as it did four months ago when the Redskins first placed the franchise tag on Cousins.
The Redskins have until 4 p.m. Friday to reach a deal with Cousins or else wait until the offseason to try to strike an agreement. One source called a deal a “long shot” earlier this week. It’s the same phrase that’s been used often this offseason in connection to any sort of long-term contract for Cousins. In reality, long shot would be an optimistic word at this point and there hasn't really been any time either side appeared optimistic when speaking privately about any deal. Anything can happen last minute, of course, but it would take a major amount of bending by both sides to get something done.
Both sides want to be in business for the long term -- multiple people in the organization have said so publicly and privately -- but each side has a good reason for waiting. In Cousins’ case, he can make a lot more money by playing under the tag and then signing a contract in the offseason.
If he plays well, combined with a rising cap for a second consecutive offseason, Cousins could command at least $40 million in guarantees. Combined with this season’s tag number, that would give Cousins nearly $60 million in guaranteed income. If he signs a deal by Friday’s deadline, Cousins likely would receive around $40 million in guaranteed money -- but only if the Redskins increase their offer. Do the math.
Even a mediocre season could result in at least $20 million guaranteed next year, in which case Cousins would receive at least the same amount of money that he’s supposedly passing up now. Or more. Therefore, Cousins is sort of gambling but he’s doing so from a position of strength. His side is well aware of this fact.
If there’s still a stalemate next offseason, the Redskins again could use the franchise tag on Cousins, in which case he’ll make approximately $24 million. That adds up to nearly $44 million over two seasons for Cousins.
For the Redskins, they’d like to see more from Cousins before paying him an average salary that would make him one of the top-10 highest-paid quarterbacks. He’s started one full season, has yet to beat a team with a winning record (in games he’s started) and has no playoff wins.
But in his last 10 games of 2015, Cousins threw 23 touchdowns to three interceptions. That showing, coupled with growth they’ve seen in his game this offseason -- in leadership, in helping with protection calls, in increased knowledge of the game and the offense -- are why they’d like to keep him long term. But at what price? They clearly differ in Cousins’ value at this point. It's hard to blame them for wanting to see more than just one good season before shelling out that sort of cash. But those who have worked with Cousins believe his arrow continues to point up, that last season was the start of something and not an aberration.
It would obviously make sense for the Redskins to sign him now, perhaps getting him at a better price. They currently have nearly $40 million in available cap space in 2017 (with the ability to create at least $10 million more room with just a couple moves) so they can absorb a big deal next offseason, too. And they’d still have room to re-sign linebacker Junior Galette if he, too, has a big year, though if they have to tag Cousins they couldn't use it on Galette.
But, as the numbers show, there’s good reason for Cousins to let the season play out.
The gamble for Cousins really is in the form of an injury. In a worst-case scenario for Cousins, he suffers a season-ending injury that limits him in the offseason as well. But short of that, he’s in a good position and has told teammates he’s willing to bet on himself.
It’s what he’s done since coming out of high school when only one school from a power conference, Michigan State, offered him a scholarship. By his redshirt sophomore year, he was a starter and team captain. He entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick behind the much more heralded Robert Griffin III. Griffin is now in Cleveland.
All along, Cousins has believed in himself more than others and it’s worked out each time. Cousins is well aware of how much the talent around him helped last season; he’s also someone with an intense inner desire to succeed. Teammates and coaches say they’ve seen an even more confident Cousins this offseason, someone who has been more clear, and vocal, about what he expects from receivers on their routes or in his input with the offense. Talking to quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, and heeding their advice, is part of that growth.
If no deal is reached by early Friday evening, Cousins once again hopes that belief pays off. If it does, it would cost the Redskins a lot more money, but it’ll also mean they have a legitimate player at the game’s most important position. Both sides would have the security they covet.