When Washington applied the franchise tag to quarterback Kirk Cousins, the right move was clear: He needed to immediately sign it.
Now that he has signed it, his next right move is a little murkier. Cousins could be a good soldier, showing up for all aspects of the offseason program and making the coach and the organization happy and hoping that the team will be sufficiently impressed with his efforts to give him a bigger contract than they otherwise would.
Alternatively, he could view himself as Kirk Cousins, Incorporated, and he could make business decisions aimed at maximizing his leverage and, in turn, maximizing his compensation.
When owners do it, they get praised for being shrewd. When players do it, they get criticized for being greedy and selfish. It’s a scam that shrewd owners have perpetrated on players (with the complicity of the media and then fans) for years, and it’s one of the reasons why the top of the quarterback market has remained stagnant even as the salary cap has gone up by more than 25 percent.
Here’s what Kirk Cousins, Incorporated should consider doing. KCI should consider boycotting the voluntary phases of the offseason program. KCI also should consider skipping the mandatory minicamp and gladly paying the fine for missing it (with $19.95 million guaranteed for this year, he can afford it). He should consider making a stand and refusing to participate until he gets the long-term deal that he deserves, based on the conclusion by the team that he deserves nearly $20 million for only one year.
The team won’t like it. Fans won’t like it. But Washington exercised its option to keep Cousins off the market, and Cousins now has options of his own to exercise.
Teams don’t give players more money as an act of charity or gratuity. They do it grudgingly, when the circumstances compel them to do it. Washington allowed the circumstances to compel them to commit $19.95 million to Cousins for 2016. Cousins widely seized on those circumstances to ensure that the money will be paid. Now, he needs to use the only leverage he has to get the long-term deal he wants.
Unless, of course, his plan is to happily take the $19.95 million, to suspend talks on a long-term deal, and to commit himself completely to forcing Washington to tag him again next year, to the tune of nearly $24 million. That entails the risk of a performance that won’t allow him to maximize his earnings in 2017 and beyond, however. Currently, he has the ability to parlay $20 million for one year into, say, $35 million over two and $50 million over more over three.
And his best way to do that could be to do nothing, until he gets his long-term deal.