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Because the Redskins and Cousins could not come to an agreement by the Monday deadline, they can’t negotiate a long-term deal until after their season ends.
That means Cousins will become the first NFL quarterback to play under the franchise tag for a second consecutive season, earning $23.9 million. The Redskins had publicly stated numerous times that they wanted Cousins here for the long term. However, his leverage placed him in an earnings bracket the Redskins were unable or unwilling to reach.
The Redskins have viewed Cousins as being good, but not great, and their offers reflected that sentiment. They offered Cousins a five-year deal for approximately $20 million per season earlier in the offseason, with “low guarantees” according to one source. Another offer included only one guaranteed season in addition to the guaranteed money from the tag in 2017.
Team president Bruce Allen said Cousins was “obviously important to our team and fans.”
“Our goal was to sign Kirk to a long-term contract with the final objective of having him finish his career with the Redskins,” Allen said Monday in a statement. “On May 2, right after the draft, we made Kirk an offer that included the highest fully guaranteed amount upon signing for a quarterback in NFL history ($53 million) and guaranteed a total of $72 million for injury. The deal would have made him at least the second highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.
“But despite our repeated attempts, we have not received any offer from Kirk’s agent this year. Kirk has made it clear that he prefers to play on a year-to-year basis,” Allen said. “While we would have liked to work out a long-term contract before the season, we accept his decision.”
Cousins’ side didn’t counter the initial offer, knowing if he was franchised he’d make $23.9 million guaranteed — and then hit free agency in 2018, or be tagged again. If the latter occurred, he’d make either $28 million guaranteed under the transition tag or $34.5 million under a third franchise tag.
But the two sides had talked more in recent months, with Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, conducting at least two face-to-face meetings with Allen since late March. Owner Dan Snyder became more involved shortly before the draft, taking Cousins out to dinner and communicating with him through various means to let him know of his desire to retain him. It’s one reason multiple sources say Cousins would be open to signing a long-term deal in Washington after the season.
“We both share high hopes for this season and we are looking forward to training camp starting next week,” Allen said in the statement. “And we remain hopeful that a long-term contract will be signed in the future.”
Allen has said the team has options to keep Cousins around, presumably under another tag. But that would be an expensive proposition. If the Redskins use the transition tag and fail to match another team’s offer, they’d lose Cousins without compensation. If he leaves as a free agent, they’d receive a compensatory pick in 2019.
In the 2016 offseason, the Redskins’ best offer — made early in the offseason — was for $16 million per year, with $24 million guaranteed. That, coming after an initial offer of around $12.5 million per year, did not sit well with Cousins, multiple sources said. Cousins had finished the previous season strong, throwing 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the final 10 games.
But the Redskins made it clear that they wanted to see more from Cousins; a common refrain in the building was that he only played “nine good games.” Also, multiple people in the organization said at various times that they wanted to make sure they could take care of all 53 players on the roster and not just one.
In his two years as the full-time starter, Cousins has thrown for a combined 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. During these two seasons, Cousins ranked fourth in the NFL with a total quarterback rating of 71.3.
The Redskins won 17 games in those seasons, winning the NFC East in 2015. But they were 0-1 in the postseason and, with a chance to earn a playoff spot in the 2016 finale, they managed only 10 points versus the Giants — with Cousins being intercepted on a late-game drive.
In the Redskins’ last two home games — both losses — Cousins posted a total QBR of 55.2 versus Carolina and 22.2 against the Giants. In three of their last six games, he finished with a passer rating of less than 79.
If Cousins indeed hits free agency next offseason, San Francisco will become a leading contender to sign him. Cousins played two seasons under 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan when he was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator.
Also, if Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff struggles, the Rams could enter the mix and be a serious contender for Cousins. Coach Sean McVay was the Redskins’ offensive coordinator the previous two years and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur was Cousins’ first quarterbacks coach in Washington.