In Washington, where the local NFL team is willing to pay quarterback Kirk Cousins $20 million for 2016 only but only $24 million on a long-term deal, the coming season will entail deciding whether Cousins deserves $24 million for 2017 (or a long-term deal with a lot more than $24 million guaranteed) or whether the team can find someone nearly as good but a lot cheaper.
Recently, G.M. Scot McCloughan addressed the predicament in an interview with Ty Schalter and Jason Cole of SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio.
“I want Kirk in a long-term deal, no doubt about it, but also I’m not gonna put our franchise in a situation where we’re gonna lose three or four younger guys that I think are gonna be good football players for one guy,” McCloughan said, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. “I won’t do it. You know, that’s just how it is.”
This explanation overlooks the reality that the team could have said plenty of 2016 cap space by extending Cousins’ deal. Currently, he counts for $19.95 million. A multi-year contract would have driven the cap number a lot lower. So the team could have had more flexibility this year, if Cousins had signed a long-term deal.
The broader issue isn’t the starting quarterback’s cap number now, but his cap number over the next several years.
“The quarterback position’s very, very important, but you know what, so is every other position,” McCloughan said. “We need football players. We need multiple football players, not one. . . . The thing about it is, the cap goes up every year, and the market’s the market. And especially the position Kirk plays, it’s pricey, but you pay for production. You get paid to win. I told Kirk, I told his agent, I tell all of our players: it’s not about the individual. It’s the sum of the parts. We have 53 guys on this roster. We’re gonna have 46 playing on Sundays. It’s not about the one individual. Now, like I said, if you produce, as the Washington Redskins, we’ve got no problem paying you — depending on what the market is. But you’ve got to also realize it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport.”
That’s the goal for McCloughan; to balance out the cap dollars in a way that allows the overall team to be as effective as it can be. And if he’s confident (as he is) that he can find a comparable quarterback on a slotted four-year rookie deal that doesn’t chew up more than $20 million in cap space per year for the next five or six years, it makes good sense from the team’s perspective to keep that option, and to fully explore it.
For now, McCloughan had no choice. He didn’t want to risk exposing Cousins to the market, and no other quarterbacks were readily available. So he opted to pay a premium for one year of quarterback play — and to preserve the option to pay another one-year premium in 2017 or to make a major, long-term investment based on the quarterback market.
Clearly, McCloughan doesn’t want to do that. And his first objective is to persuade Cousins to not insist on it.
“When his career’s over, it’s gonna be, ‘OK did you win any division championships, did you win any Super Bowls, what’s your win-loss record,” McCloughan said. “No one’s gonna think 10 years from now. ‘OK, well he made $50 million, he made $60 million.’ They’re gonna be like. ‘Ok, did he win or not win?’ And that’s the thing that’s so important from my standpoint as the General Manager is putting the pieces around him to make sure he’s successful. And [if] we do that, then we’re fine going forward.”
McCloughan is, basically, trying to persuade Cousins to become the next Tom Brady, at least from the standpoint of his contractual expectations. McCloughan wants Cousins to intentionally take less than he could get by way of money in an effort to get more by way of team achievements.
Using the tag on Cousins gives McCloughan another year to sell that approach. If it doesn’t work, McCloughan remains confident he can find someone else.
He’s never going to say to a reporter or during a radio interview or a press conference that finding another quarterback is the fallback. But it’s the only logical next step if McCloughan can’t convince Cousins to ignore the market and the leverage that comes from the franchise tag and take a deal aimed at giving McCloughan maximum cap space to surround Cousins with talent on both sides of the ball.