When the same media outlet that reported talks between Washington and quarterback Kirk Cousins had broken off when in fact they hadn’t (and indeed they hadn’t) reported that Washington would use the franchise or transition tag on Cousins, I was immediately skeptical (with all due respect).
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Washington has not made a decision on whether to tag Cousins. The source added that the current plan is to not use the franchise tag.
The franchise tag is impractical because the franchise tag would set Cousins’ value on a long-term deal. For Cousins, it would mean a starting point of $20 million for 2016 and a 20-percent raise ($24 million) for 2017. The alternative would be for Cousins to make $20 million for one year and then hit the market again — something he should jump at the chance to do.
The fact that Cousins would be crazy not to immediately sign the franchise tag shows how crazy it would be for Washington to apply it. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media has reported in the wake of the ESPN report of an inevitable tagging that the team is keeping all options open, including tagging Cousins and trading him. Unless someone else views Cousins as a $20 million per year quarterback (or is willing to pay him $20 million for one season), that won’t happen, either.
As to the transition tag, it could be in the range of $18 million per year. Again, the tag will drive the value of the long-term deal, and $18 million in 2016 plus a 20-percent raise in 2017 ($21.6 million) lays the foundation for a deal that Cousins has yet to fairly earn.
So Washington needs to let the market set Cousins’ value, whatever the market may be. And there’s surely no team crazy enough to offer a long-term deal at or above what it would cost Washington to do a long-term deal with either the franchise tag or transition tag as the starting point.
The real question is why someone would leak to ESPN that Washington will do something it hasn’t decided to do — any likely will never do? It’s not impossible that the team leaked the information in order to scare away other teams that would be inclined to engage in real negotiations with his agent during the Scouting Combine. With most teams currently assuming that Cousins won’t leave Washington, most teams won’t be inclined to waste time cobbling together a long-term offer that Washington likely would match. Not until the perception that Cousins is staying put changes will teams get serious about trying to grab Cousins.
By leaking that the tag is coming, the perception that Cousins isn’t leaving will linger through the end of the Combine, buying Washington more time to figure out what to do with Cousins.
The one wild card to keep in mind throughout this process is owner Daniel Snyder. With the team on the brink of cutting loose the fallen franchise quarterback for whom Washington gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick, Snyder may want to be certain that there’s no way the fortuitous fourth-round roll-of-the-dice from that same draft gets away — regardless of whether logic or common sense lines up squarely against using either the franchise tag or the transition tag on Kirk Cousins.
Either way, no decisions have been made to use either tag. And it would be a shock if either tag is used.