- - Monday, June 12, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Fourth of July is Independence Day, but Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins might have to wait an additional week this year before celebrating his freedom — in one form or another.

Either a contract extension will be reached, putting an end to countless discussions about his future with the team. Or he’ll play a second consecutive season under the franchise tag, virtually guaranteeing himself a roster spot with San Francisco, Los Angeles or elsewhere in 2018.

Is it wrong to suggest we should rejoice either way?

Any decision that allows us to retire this subject is worth a toast. Here here!

I have the feeling that members of Cousins’ camp ultimately will raise their glasses in anticipation of hitting the open market after the upcoming season. But Washington has until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with the quarterback.

Negotiations are drawing interest from far outside the DMV, particularly in Oakland and Detroit.

The Raiders and Lions are dealing with their own quarterback questions, though neither Derek Carr nor Matt Stafford have as much to prove. Oakland and Detroit know what they have under center, whereas Washington — despite two stellar seasons from Cousins as a starter — still seems uncertain.

The only uncertainty regarding Carr is whether he’ll break Andrew Luck’s record average salary of $24.6 million per year.

“The $25 million benchmark is the next step for franchise quarterbacks,” NFL Network reporter Ian Rappaport said recently on “Good Morning Football.” “It’s the next place quarterbacks want to go and say ‘Alright, I achieved this; I have crossed this threshold.’ If there’s any quarterback perfectly slotted for this number it’s Derek Carr. We know the Raiders have no concerns about him. He’s their franchise guy.”

Maybe even literally.

Carr could play under the tag if he doesn’t reach an agreement for the 2018 season. But it’s just as likely that the Raiders consummate their love affair with the second-round draft pick and give him the biggest contract in NFL history. At least both sides are open about their desire for each other.

“I’ve made it very clear that I don’t want to play for anybody else,” Carr told reporters after a recent OTA. “They know that. They’ve told me how bad they want me. So, we’ll see.”

Carr vows to play the 2017 season under the final year of his rookie contract if an extension isn’t reached before training camp. Due to make $1.15 million this season, the two-time Pro Bowler would be sports’ biggest bargain since Steph Curry. The Raiders will report to camp in late July, about two weeks after the league-mandated cutoff date for a deal between Cousins and the Skins.

It stands to reason that Carr and the Raiders are paying close attention to Ashburn. So are Stafford and the Lions.

Detroit is weighing the merits of placing its quarterback atop the pay scale. Stafford, a free agent after the upcoming season, reportedly will wait to see what happens with Carr — who’s likely in no rush to precede Cousins.

In Ashburn, the quarterback is playing his own waiting game. He appears content to depart if Washington doesn’t show him the love (and money) he believes is deserved.

At this point, he might bolt on principle. But he’ll never admit it.

“We all don’t look much further than this season,” Cousins said on “Redskins Nation” last month. “… I feel good about the direction we’re headed and we’ll see where it ends up. But bottom line is I’m in a good place right now and now we gotta just go win a lot of football games.”

Negotiations might be pointing up. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, team owner Daniel Snyder has become involved and Cousins’ contract talks have “an improved, encouraging tone. … There’s no doubt it’s been more positive lately,” Schefter wrote last week citing anonymous sources. “Everything has been much more positive in the past several months.”

Later, while discussing his report on SportsCenter, Schefter said a deal between the two parties remains difficult. “It’s not necessarily going to happen,” he said. “But the way it was explained to me was, even if it doesn’t happen now, there’s enough progress and enough encouraging signs that even if they don’t get it done now, that maybe they can get it done after the season when they would be allowed to negotiate again.”

Doubtful. By then, Carr and/or Stafford could have Luck-like contracts — or franchise tags — making prospects even more unlikely that Cousins would sign for anything less.

We won’t be free from this Cousins-mania on July 4. But it could ignite blockbuster fireworks in two markets later this summer before flaming out in D.C. and leaving Washington burnt.

Five weeks and counting …

• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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