- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — According to Jay Gruden, the Redskins have a good chance of keeping Kirk Cousins around long-term.

“We’d like to keep Kirk here obviously and we think he’s going to be our quarterback for a long time,” the Redskins’ head coach said Wednesday morning, while meeting with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. “And to have that opportunity to negotiate with him and get a long-term deal is what we want to do.”

The Redskins placed the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins Tuesday, putting him in line for a $24 million payday in 2017 unless he and the team can come to a long-term deal before July 15.

Gruden seemed to acknowledge that the Redskins may have irked Cousins by low-balling him in contract talks before the 2016 season, when he also played under the tag. Should the 28-year-old quarterback reach free agency and test the market next year, the Redskins would be just one of 32 potential bidders, but Gruden said he felt the team could avoid that situation.

“Both parties have to come up with something,” Gruden said. “We can offer him the world, and if he doesn’t want to sign it, he doesn’t have to sign it and we have to do, maybe, a better job. I think it’ll happen. I really do. We’ll wait and see. I’m going to coach the players that are here, and I fully anticipate Kirk being the quarterback.”

Gruden said he’d rather have a deal done sooner, rather than later, so the Redskins can make decisions in free agency with Cousins‘ deal squared away.

“We’d love to have a long-term deal done, obviously, and hopefully that will happen here in the near future but we do like where he’s going with his game and we feel good about having him here as a Redskin for a long time,” Gruden said.

Asked why the team chose to use the exclusive version of the tag on Cousins, as opposed to the non-exclusive version the Redskins used last year, Gruden joked around.

“It’s got a cooler name to it,” Gruden said. “That’s all I know. I’ll leave all those tags up to [President] Bruce [Allen] and obviously [General Manager] Scot [McCloughan] and [General Counsel] Eric Schaffer and let them deal with the tag names.”

The exclusive tag prevents other teams from negotiating with Cousins. It does not, however, prevent the Redskins from sending him elsewhere in a sign-and-trade deal.

Gruden’s comments made it seem highly unlikely the Redskins would willingly part with the two-year starter, but Cousins‘ trade value may have risen slightly Wednesday anyway after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots are not expected to trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, citing league sources.

If Garoppolo is truly off the market and the Patriots are not simply trying to drive up his price, Cousins is more valuable because of the scarcity of available options at the position. For teams like the San Francisco 49ers or Cleveland Browns, one less viable option on the market means that all those left over can demand more.

With Colin Kaepernick choosing to opt out of the final year of his contract in San Francisco, the 49ers have to add a passer, either through free agency or through the draft.

“We don’t have any on our roster,” San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said when he was asked about his team’s quarterback situation. Shanahan, of course, is a former Redskins offensive coordinator and is very familiar with Cousins.

The Browns, on the other hand, have three quarterbacks on their roster — Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan — though none of them played well enough last season to help the team avoid a league-worst 1-15 record.

Cleveland owns the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks in the upcoming NFL draft, and Browns GM Sashi Brown said he’s listening to offers on Cleveland’s top pick. Brown also raised eyebrows when he said he could envision a situation in which the Browns began the season with those same three quarterbacks on the roster.

That seems an unlikely outcome, as Cleveland would have to be willing to sacrifice a year of development for many young players. If the Browns don’t see their quarterback of the future in the draft or among the available professional prospects, however, Brown would apparently rather soldier on until he finds the right fit.

The oft-injured Griffin, released by the Redskins at the end of 2015, signed a two-year $15 million deal with the Browns and began the 2016 season as the team’s starter. Limited by injuries to only five games, he’s due a $750,000 roster bonus on March 11 and another $6 million this season if the Browns keep him.

When a team believes it has found the right quarterback, there is rarely a price that is too high to pay. If the Redskins believe they have that in Cousins, that will apply to them just as it would to Cleveland or San Francisco. And unlike those teams, with a competitive roster and a coach entering the penultimate year of his contract, they can’t afford to wait around.

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