It has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that quarterback Kirk Cousins will play in 2017 for Washington or San Francisco. Earlier in the day, Mike Silver of NFL Network suggested that, as of right now, it’s more likely than not that Cousins will play for the 49ers.
So how would that happen? Unless Washington rescinds the franchise tender (more on that to come), a trade would be the only way. With Washington likely expecting a major return for Cousins — and with Cousins likely expecting a significant haul on a long-term deal — it could be too hard for San Francisco to put it all together.
That said, there’s a way for Cousins to force Washington to be reasonable as to its expectations. If Cousins, who has yet to sign his $23.94 million franchise tender, were to declare that he won’t be signing it until the week preceding the regular-season opener, Washington would have to decide whether to take whatever San Francisco is offering to get the deal done now or to launch a multi-month game of chicken, with the team embarking on the offseason program and then training camp and then the preseason without Cousins and Cousins risking that the $23.94 million tender will be yanked at any time.
But if the 49ers keep a roster spot, cash, and cap space on hold for Cousins, they could sign him promptly after the franchise tender is removed. They’d risk not having him for the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason, but if the tender is yanked that late they would get him for no compensation to Washington. (Also, Sam Bradford did pretty well in Minnesota last year, despite showing up on Labor Day weekend.)
If Washington doesn’t rescind the tender and doesn’t trade Cousins, he would earn $23.94 million for 16 games. After boycotting the entire offseason regime, however, Cousins surely would not be tagged again (franchise or transition) in 2018. At that point, the 49ers could sign him.
It’s unknown whether Cousins will implement this strategy. However, he still hasn’t signed the tender. Until it does, it’s possible that he uses the failure to sign it as a way to make a trade happen under terms with which the 49ers could live.