In four years with Washington, quarterback Robert Griffin III made a total of $21.1 million. In 2016, quarterback Kirk Cousins will make $19.95 million.
Cousins, the recipient of the team’s non-exclusive franchise tag, will receive that full salary, guaranteed, simply by accepting the tender.
Like all players, Cousins would prefer a long-term deal. But he now has the leverage to do a long-term deal based on making nearly $20 million in the first year — and nearly $24 million under the franchise tag in year two.
For that reason, Cousins should reject any offer that averages $15 million or less per year. Indeed, he should turn up his nose at an offer worth $17 or $18 million per year, unless he gets at least two years, if not three, fully guaranteed.
By betting on himself, as he necessarily did in 2015, Cousins definitely will make $19.95 million in 2016. Unless the wheels entirely come off his game, Cousins will set himself up for even more in 2017, when a second franchise tag will cost Washington $23.94 million.
There’s a chance they won’t tag him next year, exposing Cousins to the open market. Even then, he’ll already have nearly $20 million in the bank (minus taxes and agent fees, of course).
As one league source explained it, Washington G.M. Scot McCloughan is confident he can find a replacement for any player on the roster. And maybe McCloughan will spend the rest of the offseason looking for someone who could replace Cousins in 2017. Or maybe, before July 15, Washington will realize that Cousins is the answer, signing him to a deal that will seem unreasonably high, but only because the top of the quarterback market hasn’t changed in three years, even as the salary cap has gone up by more than 25 percent.
Regardless of whether a long-term deal will be finalized before the deadline, Cousins should sign the tag ASAP, before Washington decides to spend a lot less on another quarterback whose skills may be comparable to Cousins.