It would be nice if the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins could get together on a long-term contract, but the best thing for both parties is probably the Redskins using the franchise tag on the quarterback.
Cousins is a free agent and looking to get paid after a season where he finished first in the league in completion percentage and seventh in yards-per-attempt. The Redskins are trying not to overpay a quarterback with whom they have yet to beat a team with a winning record. Both sides have reasons to dig in their heels.
My interest is the Redskins side of things, so I’ll focus there. Cousins played well this year and he was excellent down the stretch as the team won its final four games and the NFC East title. But it was apparent how much he depended on vastly improved pass protection (thanks to first-round draft pick Brandon Scherff at guard and the hiring of Bill Callahan, the best offensive line coach in the game). And he depended on having DeSean Jackson to stretch the field and Jordan Reed to be the go-to guy underneath.
The Redskins managed to get through an entire home schedule without having a single winning team on the docket and they went 6-2, keying their NFC East crown. When they had to step up in class against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, the protection wasn’t quite as good, the receivers weren’t quite as open for yards after the catch and Cousins looked a lot more pedestrian. The playoff loss was by no means his fault, but it did show he could not (at least not yet) elevate a supporting cast beyond its natural capacity. He’s part of a system, not the top gun.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but Cousins is rumored to be looking for elite quarterback money, in the $20 million per year range over the long haul. This is just not something he has demonstrated he can do. The Baltimore Ravens overpaid to keep Joe Flacco and have been hamstrung ever since. The Chicago Bears, even more stupidly, just overpaid Jay Cutler without any pressure to do so whatsoever and are hamstrung. Betting $80-$100 million on Cousins over a 4-5 year stretch isn’t a gamble the Redskins should be taking.
Now if you slap the franchise tag on Cousins, you’re still stuck overpaying him at $20 million or so. But it’s only for one year. You can look at that overpayment as the cost of getting another season to truly evaluate how good he’s going to be. More teams will be prepared for the Redskins and for Cousins in particular this time around. The schedule is going to be better. Washington general manager Scot McCloughan can make a long-term decision then with much more reliable information when the 2016 season is over than he can right now. The franchise tag money is the price of that.
If the ‘Skins could lock up Cousins for $15 million a year for five years and maybe $40-$50 million of that guaranteed, it would make sense. But let’s flip the script and ask why that makes sense for the quarterback.
Cousins believes in himself (or if he doesn’t we should ask why we’re even having this conversation about his future). It’s only reasonable to think he believes he’ll play better next year, with an entire offseason to prepare as the starting quarterback and the specter of RG3 no longer hanging over Redskins Park. With a division title, however mediocre, under his belt, there’s some goodwill in the bank against the inevitable bad performances, something he didn’t have last year.
If you’re Cousins, why wouldn’t you bet on yourself for the long haul? Particularly when the short-haul of accepting the franchise tag means taking a $20 million annual salary that no one ever though you would get.
A long-term deal at a reasonable price is the optimum situation. But both sides have reasons to hold firm and that’s why the franchise tag makes a lot of sense for Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins.