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Offseason On the Brink...Of Genius?!?

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The Kirk Cousins deadline approaches, but its significance comes under question.

Washington Redskins Press Conference Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This week on The Audible, we got back to our roots. The top of the show featured an old-fashioned “Plead the First!” segment, which was our opening statement bit we used to do when we first started doing the show over a year ago. It successfully launched us into a fun half hour, made even more fun by the presence of DC-area royalty. Kevin McLinton, son of Redskins all-time great Harold McLinton, and former starting point guard for YOUR Maryland Terrapins sat in with us this week to kick around the pigskin.

Instead of bullet points, I will hit you with something I tried to put into words during the show regarding Kirk Cousins' contract situation. Here goes:

In the NFL, guaranteed money is the game. The headline-stealing deals with lots of zeroes are fun, but agents and players know that what counts is what is guaranteed. These days, franchise tags are useful when negotiating the guaranteed portions of deals. For example, given that two tags was going to net Kirk roughly $45 million, it stands to reason that Kirk’s agent wouldn’t have signed a deal for less than $45 million guaranteed two years ago (ahem...the 5 year, $90 million contract with $45 guaranteed that I publicly begged the team to do in 2015). Today, with tags that would guarantee $24 million in 2017 and $34 million in 2018, Kirk’s camp would be looking for a market-based guarantee of $58 million.

So far, so good?

I said it last year and I am saying it again this year: $19 million and $24 million are perfectly reasonable price tags for a franchise quarterback (which I argue we have). If that is true (after all, I have been wrong before **cough, Kendall Reyes, cough**), than the lack of urgency on the part of the Redskins to sign a long-term deal at this point starts to make at least some financial sense. Why? Because thanks to Derek Carr's deal—and the inevitable parade of quarterback contracts to come—the annual contract value market on Kirk is quickly moving above the $24 million line. We have kind of said goodbye to saving salary cap space by doing a long-term deal at this point—we might be able to carve out a million or two, but realistically, it would not result in anything overly meaningful. The team would have to step up to a major-league, long-term guarantee before a season in which they were basically paying him market. If $24 million is a fair payday for your signal caller, the Redskins likely feel as if there is no need to rush to pay him more—in the short term.

It will be a different story in 2018, however.

When we slap the third consecutive franchise tag on Kirk next year, the Redskins will be on the hook for $34 million on a one-year deal. Even after everyone else gets paid, the annual contract value for Kirk will be below $34 million per year, so it will behoove the Redskins to step up with a long-term deal. The team will get salary cap relief (not having to pay Kirk on a series of insanely escalating one-year deals) and Kirk will get his guaranteed payday. I might even argue that the kind of guarantee Kirk would get this year versus next year isn’t as far apart as you might think.

Soooooooooo...we will wait and see what happens before the deadline, but I continue to predict that this can gets kicked down the road AGAIN, culminating in a third consecutive franchise tag that will meaningfully drive all parties to the table (potentially parties from the San Francisco 49ers as well). While I have argued that the Redskins created this situation by making Kirk prove it and then by chasing the market, it is also true that the team has yet to be mortally wounded by their strategy. Yes, they could have locked Kirk up a couple seasons ago on a deal that would look sinfully cheap right now, but it was their right to make him play for it.

If Bruce Allen succeeds in locking Kirk up next season after tagging him a third time, I might have to really take a second look at this man with the wrinkled smile and golf tan. It could end up being his Sistine Chapel.