- - Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The weekly referendum on Kirk Cousins and his contract — predicted here in this space before the start of the season — continues going into Week 12 of this NFL season, with no end in sight.

In fact, according to multiple reports, we can gear up for another season of Kirk Cousins payday debates next year as well.

The Redskins are reportedly prepared to franchise tag Cousins again next season if the two sides cannot reach a deal once again this off season, which means Cousins, who is making a $20 million guaranteed paycheck this year, will be able to cash in on a $24 million deal for next year.

Put your crayons away. That’s $44 million over two seasons.

If somehow, remarkably, Cousins plays next year with the franchise tag and no long-term contract, he would be in line the following year for a $35 million pay check.

That’s the most Peyton Manning, the all-time NFL earner, ever made in one season in his career. And that adds up to $79 million over three years.

No one seriously believes it will get to that point. That would seem, to put it kindly, foolish.

But it seems foolish that, based on various leaks coming out of Redskins Park, the franchise decision makers don’t want to break down and commit to Cousins with a long-term contract — at least some of the decision-makers.

This is not a myth or one of those Russian disinformation stories. We know this based on the lukewarm offer the team reportedly made Cousins this past off season — a deal that had just $24 million in guarantees, well below the market value established by a quarterback who may not even be as good as Cousins backup, Colt McCoy — Brock Osweiler, who got a four-year deal with Houston with $37 million in guarantees.

We also know this because Cousins himself told us, in his demonstrative display following his dominant performance in the 42-24 win over the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago, when he yelled on camera to Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan for all the world to hear, “How do you like me now? How do you like me now.”

Afterwards, Cousins downplayed the outburst and had nothing but good things to say about McCloughan. But he said it was a spontaneous moment. If so, it certainly wasn’t a moment of joy for his team. It was all about Cousins, and his relationship with his employer.

But was it directly meant for McCloughan, his boss, team president Bruce Allen or the man dancing up in the owner’s suite, Daniel Snyder?

Connecting the dots of dysfunction at Redskins Park is more difficult than ever, with four key decision makers seemingly involved now — one of them being coach Jay Gruden.

Ultimately, if Snyder wanted Cousins under contract for longer than one year, he would be under contract. So that hasn’t changed.

But who has his ear? Who is either trying to sell Cousins to the owner or talking him out of entering a long-term commitment to the quarterback?

If Cousins has any allies in the building, it might be a good time for them to come out and say so — specifically his coach.

McCloughan, if he is an ally battling Snyder and Allen on a long-term Cousins deal, can’t come out and declare his undying love for his quarterback — if that is how he feels — because he has to negotiate with the quarterback and his agent.

But Gruden can. The same coach who had no problem sitting down and telling the world how bad Robert Griffin III was — rightly, I might point out — should be able to publicly make the case for the quarterback who saved his job last season.

It may be time for Jay Gruden to stand up on a box and tell the world that Kirk Cousins should be the quarterback for the Washington Redskins for a long time.

Gruden said Cousins — who is among the league leaders at quarterback with 3,540 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions this year and is rewriting the Redskins record book (but I don’t want to bore you with statistics) — was playing at an “elite” level following his 375-yard, three touchdown and no interception performance against Green Bay. “The decision-making and the accuracy that he’s playing with is at a very high level — an elite level — right now,” Gruden told reporters.

And he also professed his “like” for Cousins. “We like where he is, we like where he’s going, (and) he’s going to continue to work, which is also why we like him.” Gruden said.

It may be time to say more.

Whether it was calculated or he simply couldn’t keep his mouth shut, Gruden’s public declarations about Griffin’s failings helped fortify support for a change at quarterback. It made it more difficult for the Griffin apologists (I’m not entirely sure of the plural use of this word here) to keep forcing the quarterback down the throats of the coaching staff.

As it was, the coach was forced to carry Griffin on the roster last year after his boss, Bruce Allen, declared that picking up the 2016 option on Griffin was a “no brainer,” which took away a roster spot from the coach. It also put the franchise at risk of having to pay Griffin $16.5 million this year if the coach had been forced to put Griffin on the field at some point last year, risking the likely injury, which would have guaranteed Griffin’s money this year.

If Gruden had not laid the groundwork for public opinion with comments like “It’s a production-based business. We haven’t won many games lately with him,” referring to Griffin, it might have been more difficult for the coach to finally force the issue and name Cousins the starter last year.

Gruden was criticized for his unusual public dressing down of Griffin, and supposedly told to shut up. It may be time for him to open his mouth again.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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