One of the Super Bowl Sunday splash reports suggested that Washington will consider using the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins, as part of a plan to try to trade him. Although no plan premised on the franchise tag or the transition tag makes sense for Washington, nothing stops them from considering it.
As one source with knowledge of the manner in which Washington president Bruce Allen does business put it, Allen will try to conjure up something in an effort to salvage value for Cousins and, in turn, make it harder for him to hit the open market and finally get the long-term contract he deserves. As another source put it regarding Washington, “They are in the pettiness game.”
The pettiness game could blow up in their face.
If Washington applies the franchise tag, it will enter the 2018 league year with $34.47 million in cap space devoted to Cousins. Unless and until Washington rescinds the franchise tender, Cousins will continue to burden the books with a bloated cap number. That will make it harder to do business, especially when it comes to pursuing free agents from other teams.
If Cousins signs the tender, he’s guaranteed to receive $34.47 million in 2018. Washington could trade him once the tender is signed, but who would trade for a guy who is under contract for only one year, at that price? Cousins would have to be willing to cooperate with the effort to negotiate a more favorable long-term deal, but why should he? He can pocket $34.47 million for 2018, and then he would definitely hit the open market in 2019.
And so if Cousins is tagged and he signs it, there’s a good chance Washington would be stuck with him. Since the tag window closes a week before the new league year begins, a decision by Cousins to sign the franchise tender before March 14 could, in theory, cause Washington to back out of the Alex Smith trade.
There’s also a chance that Washington would tag Cousins and, if he doesn’t sign it, rescind the tag later, after teams in search of veteran quarterbacks have signed who they want — and after the free-agency market softens. But as Washington demonstrated two years ago, even a late-April decision to remove the franchise tag won’t keep a great player from getting big money; that’s precisely what happened after the Panthers removed the franchise tender from cornerback Josh Norman, who quickly signed for market value in Washington.
The transition tag also is a possibility, at a lower one-year rate of $28.7 million. But with no right to compensation and only a right to match, Cousins could simply sign a long-term offer sheet after Washington consummates the Alex Smith trade on March 14. At that point, there’s no way Washington would opt to keep Cousins based on the terms of a long-term deal.
So Washington basically is stuck. That won’t stop Allen from trying to come up with a way out of the box. It also doesn’t mean Allen won’t opt for doing something stupid over doing nothing. Still, in this case, the best move continues to be allowing Cousins to leave, counting his departure toward the net gains and losses that will determine Washington’s compensatory draft picks in 2019.