- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2017

ASHBURN — Despite months of talk about getting a deal done, the Washington Redskins never made Kirk Cousins an offer he couldn’t refuse — or even one that came close.

For the second year in a row, team and quarterback were unable to come to a long-term deal, putting Cousins’ future in Washington after this season in doubt.

Cousins will play the 2017 season, just as in 2016, on the franchise tag. The 28-year-old passer will earn a fully-guaranteed salary of $23.94 million.

Team President Bruce Allen, meeting with a small group of reporters at Redskins Park Monday, made the announcement just after the 4 p.m. deadline to negotiate a different contract had passed.

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 this season, we accept his decision.”

Allen, who would not take questions after reading a prepared statement, took the unusual step of going into detail on the offer the Redskins made Cousins.

Allen said the Redskins had offered Cousins a deal on May 2, just after the draft, 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.

In other words, a pay cut.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Redskins best offer was a five-year extension on top of the tag worth less than $110 million. That works out to just over $22 million in average value, while Cousins will make $24 million this year alone.

Allen said that the deal would have made Cousins the second-highest player by average annual value in NFL history, but $22 million would put Cousins around sixth, even when most new starting quarterback deals set new high-water marks.

That may be why Cousins and agent Mike McCartney, according to Allen, never made a counteroffer. That also indicates Cousins’ desire to hit free agency, learn his true value, and potentially go elsewhere.

Unless the two sides come to a long-term agreement next winter, the Redskins still have two options for 2018: The $28.7 million transition tag or the $34.5 million franchise tag. Neither is ideal.

Should Washington apply the transition tag, it would risk losing Cousins and getting nothing in return should if the San Francisco 49ers or another potential suitor were to make the quarterback an offer the Redskins chose not to match.

A third franchise tag could be cost prohibitive. The Redskins will likely have the cap space, but $34 million is a huge sum to pay a player who could walk after a year.

A player can only be franchise tagged three times so, if Washington tried to negotiate a long-term deal after applying the tag, they would be faced with a higher price tag and no option for the following year.

Essentially, the Redskins face the possibility of losing an upper-tier quarterback who has thrived in their system to one of the have-nots in a league that doesn’t have enough good passers to go around.

Top quarterbacks are stars and most teams would gladly unload a truckload of cash for the privilege of having one. But the Redskins have been hesitant.

“It will be a telling date as it was last summer,” Cousins said, describing the deadline, in May.

Throughout the spring, the Redskins‘ brass repeatedly expressed optimism that a long-term deal would get done.

“He signed [the franchise tender], and obviously we have an option for next year on him but our goal is to get a long-term deal, that hasn’t changed and we’ve had those discussions,” Allen said in an interview at the owners’ meetings in March. 

Allen said Monday that the Redskins’ final objective was to settle on a contract that would allow Cousins to “finish his career with the Redskins,” but the offer Washington made was relatively low.

Cousins would earn $53 million guaranteed on this year’s tag and next year’s transition tag — the lower figure — alone.

Then, he’d get another chance to cash in in 2019, where he could command money in the range of $26 million per year with record guarantees. It would take nearly $60 million to give Cousins a record amount at signing; $87 million over the lifetime of a deal. 

Accepting the Redskins deal would have meant leaving millions on the table.

With the salary cap having gone up at least $10 million each of the last four years and the Redskins having rolled over an extra $9 million in cap room this year despite last year’s tag, the bottom line wasn’t the rub.

Reluctance on both sides to commit long-term, however, may have been.

The Redskins drafted Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the same draft in which they selected Robert Griffin III second overall after trading four high-value draft picks to the then-St. Louis Rams for the right to do so. Griffin’s presence overshadowed Cousins, who was treated like an afterthought while Griffin got second and third chances despite struggling with injuries and performance. 

Cousins, who twice asked the Redskins to explore trading him, struggled in limited action until midway through 2015 — the “You like that?” game against the Buccaneers — when he rallied the team and cemented himself as starter. 

Since then, Cousins has excelled. As the starting quarterback for the past two seasons, Cousins has compiled a 17-14-1 record for a team that hadn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-1997, completed 68.3 percent of his passes and thrown for over 9,000 yards.

After throwing 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 14 games spread over his first three years with the team, Cousins’ decision-making improved drastically. He has thrown 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions over the past two years.

Last year, the Redskins had the fifth-best offense in the league by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, a statistic that measures efficiency and success and factors in both situation (or for a team, the situations of individual plays over time) and opponent.

Still, disagreement over Cousins’ value has lingered in Redskins Park.

Ousted general manager Scot McCloughan was reportedly eager to sign Cousins to a long-term deal averaging about $12 million per year in 2015, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report.

In July of 2016, a long-term deal would have cost the Redskins upwards of $20 million per year. Cousins was coming off his best stretch of games as a professional at that point, with a coach who believed in him — but he’d had as many bad starts as good ones overall.

It was also becoming clear that Cousins wasn’t going to cave to a below-market offer, even if it offered consistency or security. Had the Redskins put their money on him at that point, it would have paid off richly, but they decided not to, lowballing him with an offer that reflected their view of his standing among other quarterbacks, not the market itself. 

Ultimately, Washington wanted to see more from Cousins and the franchise tag served as a one-year “prove it” deal.

For the most part Cousins proved that he’s a star player and a team leader, but the game-ending interception he threw in Week 17 against the Giants with a playoff berth on the line did not go unnoticed. Neither did a three-turnover performance against the Panthers on “Monday Night Football” two weeks earlier.

The Giants loss spurred an organization-wide evaluation that defined the franchise’s goals this offseason, and Cousins’ performance in that game impacted the way he is perceived.

“We should not have lost the last game of the season, and from that Giant game on, the direction of this organization was, ‘We have to get better. We have to find out ways to win that game when we have that opportunity,” said Allen in June, after the team restructured its front office.

Senior Vice President of Football Operations Eric Schaffer was the main point of contact in Redskins Park emailing back and forth with McCartney, but Allen and owner Daniel Snyder, who took a more active role in courting Cousins this year over last, were and are the true decision makers. Allen met face-to-face with McCartney and both parties praised Cousins publicly and privately.

Two key questions remain. The first is what will happen this year. Cousins has a season to deepen his bond with coach Jay Gruden, who players like and who has been an advocate for Cousins in the building. Gruden will be calling plays this year.

Despite questionable leadership on the organizational level, Washington offers an excellent offensive line, good players at the skill positions and an offensive-minded coach who is good with quarterbacks.

Allen’s public airing of a contract offer seems like an attempt to place responsibility for the contract impasse on quarterback and is unlikely to go over well. But Cousins has always been a team player who hasn’t let his contract status affect his play or Washington’s locker room.

“I think being a starting quarterback you should be a leader and feel good no matter what his contract status is,” Gruden said in March. “I think having a long term contract maybe helps a little bit but I think when we get out on the field on the first game Sunday afternoon, people are going to look to him for leadership.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Cousins is open to working out a long-term deal next offseason, though that’s consistent with what was reported on Cousins this year and last, when nothing happened. Allen said that the Redskins “remain hopeful that a long-term contract will be signed in the future.”

The Redskins will have exclusive negotiating rights with Cousins between the end of the upcoming season and the start of the 2018 league year in March. Barring injury or serious regression on Cousins’ part, his price will be even higher then.

“I don’t know that it’s been different,” Cousins said, asked if there had been a change in tone from last year to this offseason. “I just think that it’s been good communication, just keeping the lines of communication open and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

The second question is what the Redskins would do if they did lose Cousins.

Backup Colt McCoy is well-liked but unproven. The price for even middling passers goes up and up, and Washington is all-too-familiar with the uncertainty of counting on even a top quarterback in the draft. 

Should Cousins hit free agency, he’d likely command an unprecedented salary, as talented, proven, healthy quarterbacks in their prime almost never hit the open market. The 49ers, coached by former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who loves Cousins, could have $100 million in cap space to play with next offseason. 

The Los Angeles Rams and coach Sean McVay, another former coordinator who had great success with Cousins last season, could also be interested if Jared Goff continues to falter.

The Redskins and Cousins have had five years, 46 games and 1,556 passes thrown to feel each other out, and they’re running out of time if they ever want to merge their futures. Last year, the team wasn’t ready to commit. This year, there wasn’t enough reason for Cousins to even try to stay.


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