A year ago, Washington wasn’t inclined to guarantee at signing the amount that quarterback Kirk Cousins would have gotten under the franchise tag in 2016 and 2017. This year, that attitude changed; the back end of the deal was the problem.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the team’s offer that included more than $53 million guaranteed at signing covered the $23.94 million franchise tag in 2017 and the $28.72 million transition tag in 2018, and then some (by a little). The problem is that the team wanted four more non-guaranteed years after that.
In other words, the team wanted a two-year commitment and then a series of four one-year options. Cousins wasn’t inclined to commit to a deal that committed him (but not the team) from 2019 through 2022.
And that’s a smart move. If we’ve learned one thing in recent years, thanks to the growth in the cap and the decision of arguably the best quarterback in the game to sign from 2013 through 2019 at 2013 dollars (Aaron Rodgers), it’s that long-term deals don’t work for the players, beyond the first couple of years.
Last year, by not guaranteeing Cousins the 2016 and 2017 franchise tags at signing, Washington gambled and lost. This year, Cousins is gambling on the notion that he’ll at least play well enough to get the team to give him at least the transition tag next year. (If they give him the franchise tag again, he will have made $58.41 million over the same two-year window, $5 million more than the team offered.)
But how much of a gamble is it, really? Cousins threw for more than 4,900 yards in 2016. No matter what he does this year, someone will be interested in paying him significant money (remember, Mike Glennon is getting $16 million this year from the Bears) in March, even if Cousins regresses. (Indeed, if he regresses it will be easy to blame it at least in part on the team’s stubborn refusal to give him a real commitment.)
Bottom line: Cousins finally has shown all players the value of going year to year. Since teams essentially want to do that with every deal after the first two or three years of a long-term contract, why shouldn’t players subject to the franchise tag opt for one year at a time? The rules of the tag favor them, and the long-term deals usually don’t.