- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Unable or unwilling to sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal, Washington on Tuesday slapped the exclusive franchise tag on the 28-year-old quarterback, guaranteeing Cousins either plays for the Redskins next season — or for a team willing to compensate the Redskins in a trade.  

The announcement means that, short of such a trade or the dimming prospect of both parties agreeing on a multi-year deal by mid-July, the record-setting Pro Bowler will earn a lucrative $24 million this season in what in all likelihood will be his last in Washington.

Cousins earned $20 million in 2016 under a non-exclusive franchise tag after he and the team were unable to agree to a long-term contract. Tagging Cousins a third time would be prohibitively expensive for the Redskins, opening the door to the possibility the team could lose their starting quarterback after next season and get nothing in return.

Cousins greeted the team’s action Tuesday with all the playfulness of a franchise quarterback coming off a career year who knows he’s holding the better hand: “Tag! I’m it!” he tweeted, moments before the Redskins made the announcement official.

The announcement comes amid a confusing off-season for the Redskins that began last month with team president Bruce Allen telling reporters that getting a deal done with Cousins wouldn’t be “as complicated as everyone wants to make it … We’ll get together with his agent, and I’m sure we’ll come to an agreement.”

Instead team owner Dan Snyder and general manager, Scot McCloughan, have been silent on Cousins’ status.

The team’s ambivalence toward Cousins, which dates back to 2012, when he was drafted in the fourth round as a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, also raises questions about coach Jay Gruden, who enters the fourth year of a five-year contract with no guarantees for his future or for the future of the quarterback he named the team’s starter in 2015 over Griffin.

Cousins rewarded the Redskins for that decision with an NFC East title and a record-setting year, then followed up in 2016 with new franchise records for passing yards (4,917) and completions (404), while throwing for 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. One of those came in the season finale, a win-or-go-home loss to the New York Giants.

Despite having one of the league’s top-rated offenses, the Redskins finished 8-7-1 and out of the playoffs after losing four of their last six.

While negotiations have dragged on since, Cousins has publicly said all the right things, even telling ESPN 980 he didn’t mind another franchise tag: “I want to be where I’m wanted and if they tag me and that tells you that you’re wanted. They are not going to tag you or commit to you if they don’t want you.”

Tuesday’s decision also gives the Redskins time to work a deal with teams — like the San Francisco 49ers, led by former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — believed to be interested in acquiring Cousins.

Whatever the Redskins would gain in such a trade — and the team has needs across the boards, especially on the defensive side of the ball — Gruden and Co. would be looking at putting a new quarterback in charge of the offense.

That could mean the Redskins going after an available veteran, like Tony Romo, expected to be released this spring by the Dallas Cowboys; rolling the dice on backup Colt McCoy, a one-time starter in Cleveland; or handing the keys to a rookie in an effort to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle success the Cowboys had last season with Dak Prescott. 

It would also mean Cousins is gone, creating a whole new quarterback problem for an organization that always seems to have one.

 

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