Joe Banner: If free, Kirk Cousins would become NFL's highest-paid QB

The Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins remain at an impasse, with one week left before the deadline for the franchise tag. It’s not exactly a surprising spot, considering the leverage of one side and the clear doubts on the other. And it makes sense for Cousins to stay unsigned.

So says a veteran of NFL front offices, Joe Banner.

He spent 17 seasons as president of the Philadelphia Eagles; two years as the CEO of the Cleveland Browns and two more years as a front office consultant to the Atlanta Falcons. He offers a unique perspective and understands the dilemma facing the Redskins -- and Cousins’ unique position.

“If I was the agent, I’d want to see if they tag me before I did anything,” Banner said. “If they don’t tag me, I’d love to hit the open market and if they do tag me, use that as the base to open the negotiations. It’s pointless to negotiate now until the player and agent know whether or not they’re getting tagged.”

Here’s why: If the Redskins somehow let Cousins hit the open market, Banner said it would result in a big payday.

“He’d get a huge deal and would become the highest-paid QB by a moderate amount,” he said.

Cousins' potential, and just how good he already is, has led to many debates. Banner places Cousins in the good-but-not-great camp. That doesn't mean his pay would be commensurate.

“We’ve all wondered if a quality quarterback actually hit the market in his 20s where he had six or seven years left to play and total unrestricted free agency, what is his real market value?” Banner said. “We don’t know that. No one has had that opportunity or had the patience to get tagged twice. He’s now very close and in complete control and whether or not that happens, that’s a powerful place to be.”

Banner said the options here are clear. The Redskins can let Cousins walk (which he said he doesn’t believe they’re considering), tag him or do a long-term deal.

And that would lead to a deal that will cost quite a bit.

“The only way you get it done is if you pay him,” Banner said. “You probably have to make him the highest paid, at least to this point. Losing him is a terrible option. Keeping him on a one-year deal is the best under the circumstances, but it’s not a great option and having to overpay with a long-term deal with a huge signing bonus. If you think he’s the answer, it’s a no-brainer. But if you think he’s good but not good enough to carry the team, that’s problematic.”

The question is: If the Redskins tag Cousins, would there be a trade market? Banner said he could see someone wanting to trade for Cousins, but to a point. There will be other choices for teams in need of a quarterback, whether via trade (New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo), free agency (if Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick become free) or the draft.

“How high the picks would be,” said Banner of a possible deal involving Cousins. “Could you get meaningful compensation in a trade? Here’s the problem with quarterbacks: It’s as big a difference-making position in all of sports and there’s a big short of talent versus the number you need. … The problem is if they trade him, where are they at the position that most defines your ability to win or lose?”

Some of that depends on how they view other solutions -- and if they believe Cousins is truly worth $20 million more than backup Colt McCoy.

Still, Cousins is in a unique position. He’s had success -- how much is due to him is part of the debate -- who plays the most important position and who is willing to play on one-year deals knowing the potential market that exists.

And that leads to this thought: Even if the Redskins come close to the offer Cousins is seeking, he might not sign. After all, a year from now he would have freedom to choose the best situation, which may or may not be Washington.

“Why would you take a deal [now] unless you really, really love where you are and think you have a chance to win big? You love your coaches, you love everything,” Banner said. “Let’s say they tag him and he hits the market [in 2018], that doesn’t preclude him from signing with the Redskins. So I’m sure that’s part of their private conversations. And you’re betting that you play reasonably well.

“If they tag him this year and he got hurt and it’s not career-ending but consequential but he’ll be fine for 2018? He still gets a massive deal. The risk of playing under the tag for a year is pretty small and the potential upside is very large. I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to negotiate on behalf of the Redskins.”