With the Redskins playoff hopes all but dashed, much of the focus has now turned to the offseason and the looming decision on what to do with Kirk Cousins. There are four basic options available to the Redskins: Re-sign him long term, use a 3rd straight Franchise Tag costing over $34M, use a Transition Tag costing $28.7M, or letting him go to free agency with zero restrictions.
Of these options the Redskins seem to be the least likely to let him walk with zero restrictions, and that makes sense given that Cousins is in the midst of another top 10 QB season. Regardless of what you think of Cousins, letting him go without even trying is just horrible asset management (though perhaps par for the course with the way the Redskins have handled this situation). Re-signing him long term would be the ideal way to retain Cousins as not only would you lock in your QB spot for the next 4-6 years, but you would also have cost certainty and an ability to manipulate the cap hits as needed.
Unfortunately that is far from a guarantee that he will agree to a long-term deal before free agency starts, so that leaves the final two options. The third straight Franchise Tag would offer either compensation via a trade (or allowing him to sign a tender elsewhere), or guarantee that he is a Redskin in 2018, but it comes at a price of $34M+ which would be well above the top of the QB market. The Transition Tag doesn’t come with the same compensation or guarantee that he will be a Redskin in 2018, but it comes with some control over the situation and a more tangible pay increase that is closer to the top of the QB market and could even be surpassed next offseason with extensions to other QBs.
Now the fear with using the Transition Tag is that since their isn’t any compensation attached, it is basically the same as letting Cousins hit the market without any restriction. For some players or other positions that might be true, but in the QB market the right to match the contract could be a significant deterrent.
For a team to sign Cousins they will need to pay him an amount and structure it in a way that the Redskins wouldn’t want to match. That is not an easy thing to find when the Redskins have shown themselves willing to pay Cousins at or near the top of the QB market the last two years under the Franchise Tag. Also, since the QB market is so expensive to begin with either in money and or draft picks, it’s not as if the Redskins are benefiting by letting Cousins walk and replacing him with a lesser option. Finally the Redskins are actually in a really strong cap situation, as they currently sit with a projected effective cap space of $54M for 2018 according to Overthecap. That is good for the 8th highest amount in the league.
That level of cap space will make it tough for a number of teams currently behind the Redskins in cap space to structure a deal that would be prohibitive for the Redskins to match. Teams like the Steelers (if Roethlisberger retired) or the Jaguars could be very intriguing fits if they could backload the contract in an open market deal, but there is almost no chance they could come up with the cap space to prevent the Redskins from matching.
This eliminates a lot more suitors (or significantly makes them more unlikely options), than people realize for Cousins. Here is a list of QB needy teams with their projected cap space and how or why the transition tag could impact them:
Browns: $116M- Cleveland will have the most cap room next season, but they also have to be the toughest sell by far for Cousins. The Browns do have some attractive qualities given their young core and high number of draft picks, but it still looks like a massive rebuilding situation.
49ers: $108M- San Francisco would have made some sense with the Shanahan connection, but the recent trade for Jimmy Garoppolo makes it likely they stick with him long term. If he suffers a serious injury over these last four games that could change, but otherwise it seems unlikely they will be a contender.
Jets: $75M- The Jets have exceeded expectations this season, but on paper look to be one of the least talented teams in the league. They have some reasons for hope, but this still looks like a rebuilding situation, and that will be a slower process if they have to front load the contract to prevent the Redskins from matching.
Vikings: $58M- The Vikings are expected to retain either Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, but if the price gets too high on them they could make a run at Cousins. Keenum has been really good this year, but he’s never come close to this level of production before and it’s not as if he’s exactly young as he’s the same age as Cousins. If the Vikings. If the Vikings were to pursue Cousins, I’d peg them as the favorite. That is a great situation to go to, with plenty of weapons, and an elite defense to support him. Minnesota also is in a very healthy cap situation, and they don’t have any big free agents to re-sign.
Bills: $34.7M- Buffalo can create about $10M more with cutting Tyrod Taylor, but that still is well behind the Redskins number, and this is a team that has a lot of needs as well. Not sure if Cousins would consider them in the first place, and they are unlikely to be able to outbid the Redskins comfort zone.
Bengals: $38.7M- The Bengals could jump in the mix and look to cut or trade Dalton, but I would still guess they are a long shot. They look like a rebuilding club, and the Bengals have never been known to be major spenders in a bidding war.
Cardinals: $27M- The Cardinals would add another $14M if Palmer retires to their cap space and they could maybe look to go all in for Cousins, but that wouldn’t leave much to fix their other holes if they try to front load the deal. If Palmer doesn’t retire then they aren’t a factor.
Broncos: $27M- The Broncos can create some cap room with a few minor cuts, but unless they cut Talib ($11M), they probably won’t even have the money to consider Cousins under a Transition Tag. Now if they could backload the deal on the open market I think they would make a strong push.
Giants: $26.8M- The Giants can free up another $15M cutting Eli and Brandon Marshall, but that still puts them at only $42M, and to make matters worse their two best (really the only two quality) offensive linemen Pugh and Richburg are both free agents. Not exactly an attractive situation for Cousins even if he was on the open market.
There are other teams that could get in the Cousins mix under the right conditions, but they seem even less likely, and none of those teams have more money currently than the Redskins. Of the teams listed above, the Browns and Jets are the biggest threats financially, but they are unlikely to be atop Cousins wish list. The Vikings are probably the biggest threat from a financial and fit situation, but it’s unclear that they would choose to go Cousins over Keenum or Bridgewater at this point.
What do you think. Who can really outbid the Redskins that Cousins would opt to go to?