When Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tender, he forfeited the primary leverage that franchise-tagged players have: The ability to withhold services without financial penalty. But Cousins has a bigger objective in mind.
Per a league source, Cousins intends to be fully engaged in all aspects of the offseason program and preseason preparations, with or without a long-term deal. It’s what he did last year as a backup making $660,000, and it worked out pretty well. It’s what he’ll do entering the first offseason of his career as the clear-cut starter.
He knows he needs the reps, and he knows he needs the development. Cousins will get it as the unquestioned starter.
If, before July 15, Washington offers him a long-term deal that justifies giving up his $19.95 million payday in 2016 and a shot at the open market or a 2017 franchise tender of $23.94 million, Cousins will take it. If Washington doesn’t, he’ll collect 17 checks in the amount of $1.17 million each (nearly twice per week what he made all of last year), and he’ll prepare to hit the market or get tagged again in 2017.
So what will it take to sign Cousins for the long haul? Based on the tag, Cousins arguably should get $43.89 million over the first two years. As a practical matter, there’s likely a number between whatever Washington offered Cousins before tagging him and $43.89 million over two years that would get it done.
If not, the analysis changes in 2017, when $23.94 million plus a 44-percent raise for 2018 (i.e., $34.47 million) becomes the baseline calculation under the franchise-tag launch cycle that Washington has initiated. That’s $58.41 million over two years, if Washington waits a year and if Cousins delivers in 2016 like he did in 2015.
Cousins wants to stay in Washington, but his desire to do so — and to work as hard as he can to maximize his talents — doesn’t mean he has no leverage. He did all the right things a year ago, and he parlayed $660,000 into nearly $20 million. This time around, the relative stakes are peanuts.