Report: Washington will “consider” applying franchise tag to Kirk Cousins

It’s the last football Sunday of the year. Which means that it’s the last chance for the people who cover football to make a Sunday Splash. Which means it’s Caddy Day at Bushwood Country Club.

Which means it’s time to be on the lookout for a little doody in the pool.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Washington will “consider” applying the franchise tag to quarterback Kirk Cousins. The goal would be to trade him to another team and to recover some of the compensation that will be sacrificed as part of the deal to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs.

Using the word “consider” is the ultimate reporting safe harbor. Washington doesn’t have to actually do it for the report to be right; they only have to consider it. And there’s no way to prove the report wrong, because Washington has no reason to shout down the report by declaring the team won’t consider it.

Even if they consider it, the move would be a stupid one, for 34.47 million reasons.

That’s the price of the third consecutive franchise tag this year for Cousins, a 44-percent raise over his $23.94 million salary in 2016 under Tag Two. It means that Washington would carry $34.47 million in cap space under Cousins’ name when the new league year begins on March 14. More importantly, it also means that Washington would be stuck with $34.47 million in both cash and cap obligations if Cousins promptly signs the franchise tender, making the one-year contract fully guaranteed.

And why wouldn’t he sign it? Sure, he’s currently fascinated with the idea of being the first healthy franchise quarterback to hit the open market unfettered, with the Broncos, Vikings, Cardinals, and Jets all possibly clamoring for his services. But none of them will be offering Cousins a contract that pays him an average anywhere close to $34.47 million per year.

Besides, Washington can’t trade him until he signs the tender. Which means that Cousins would have to be willing to fully cooperate with the team’s effort to game the system by trading him.

As a source with knowledge of the dynamics told PFT in the aftermath of the news that Washington would be trading for Smith, the tag-and-trade concept simply doesn’t work for Cousins. First, whatever a team is willing to pay Cousins on the open market necessarily will be reduced by whatever that team has to surrender in trade. Which means Cousins makes less if he cooperates with a tag-and-trade scenario. Second, Cousins’ new team would lose assets — player(s) or pick(s) — that would make it harder for that team to compete and win once Cousins arrives.

Ultimately, it becomes a game of both chess and chicken. Is Cousins willing to surrender his chance to cash in right now for another $34.47 million to stay in Washington for what would be only one more year? Is Washington willing to pay Cousins $34.47 million for one more year and either renege on the Smith trade or keep both Smith and Cousins on the roster for one year, at a gigantic combined cash and cap commitment?

Given the way Cousins has played chess/chicken over the last two years, it would be a shock if he’s the one to blink. He has made $44 million over two years doing the franchise-tag dance. If Washington wants to push it to nearly $80 million over three, why should he say no? Especially since he’d definitely get that shot at the open market in 2019, when it would cost $49.6 million to tag him again — if the CBA even allows a fourth tag.

So, basically, there’s a very real chance we’ll all eventually look back on this one in a month or so and say, “It’s no big deal.”