One Final Forensic Analysis of the Cousins' Contract Situation

As much as most Redskins' fans would like to move on from Kirk Cousins and embrace the Alex Smith era - I want to as well - there remains considerable disagreement over the terms on which Kirk left. What I'd like to do here, for posterity's sake, is memorialize the various steps in the process that led to his eventual transition to free agency and hiring with the Vikings.

Below is the timeline of events, as best I can re-construct them:


Kirk Cousins is drafted by the Redskins in the 4th round of the draft and signed to a 4-year rookie contract (through the end of the 2015 season) for $2,572,688 ($643,172 APY).

2015 Season:

In the final season of his rookie contract, Kirk Cousins starts 16 games, goes 9-7, and takes the Redskins to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The team approaches him in December of 2015 (about 12 games in) about signing a long term deal, but Kirk decides to "bet on himself" for the last 4 games of the season, knowing that at the end of his rookie deal, at the end of the season, the Redskins will either have to 1) Let him go; 2) Sign him to a long term deal; 3) Franchise tag him for $19.95M in 2016.

Well, I was the NFC offensive player of the month or whatever it was those last four games, we won all four and we went to the playoffs, and the rest is history.

Entering the 2016 Season:

Kirk played well enough at the end of the 2015 season that option 1 was ruled out. Option 3 was $19.95M guaranteed for 2016, with the prospect of around $24M guaranteed for a tag in 2017. The absolute floor for any starting negotiation for a long-term contract was the conditions of the tag: $19.95M/year and at least that much in guaranteed money. At this point, because of the way the tag works, the die was cast, and the inevitable set of outcomes were put in motion.

Realistically, any multi-year deal should have extended that annual amount into the future and probably doubled that guaranteed amount (as a second year tag would have guaranteed Kirk $24M additional salary in 2017).

The Redskins offer:

$16M/year, with $24M in guarantees - Yes, that's a lot of money, but it's an insulting offer. It's $4M/year less than what Kirk was going to get for doing nothing, and at least $16M less in guarantees than Kirk was in an easy position to be able to rely on. IT WASN'T A REAL OFFER. It wasn't the "beginning of a negotiation." It was a low ball offer that both insulted Kirk's talent (which at this point could have been debated) AND his intelligence (which at this point was demonstrated).

What would have been a reasonable starting point in 2016?

The Brock Osweiler Deal:

In March of 2016, Broncos' QB, Brock Osweiler signed a 4-year, $72M ($18M APY) deal with $37M in guarantees.

Would that have gotten the deal done with Kirk? It's impossible to say, but it would have been much closer to the reality of what he knew, at a minimum, he was going to get if he could stay upright in the following season. The Redskins failed to close the deal, and Kirk played the 2016 under the tag, a $19.95M APY, $19.95M guaranteed contract. The price was only going to go up from there.

Entering the 2017 Season:

Kirk played well enough in the 2016 season (8-7-1) that the team wanted to retain him, but they were caught in the franchise tag death spiral. Again, they had three options. 1) Let him go; 2) Sign him to a long term deal; 3) Franchise tag him for $24M.

Again, because of Kirk's play, option 1 was off the table. Now, the floor for negotiations began at the terms of the second tag, with the third tag coming into play for the out years. At a minimum, a long term deal needed to be $24M APY, with something in the neighborhood $58M guaranteed (a blend of the 2017 guarantee and a potential third year $34M guarantee).

The Redskins offer:

$72M ($24M APY), with $53M guaranteed.

Again, the APY was the bare minimum Kirk could have been assured staying on the tag, and the guarantee was less than the 2-year guarantee he was assured of under a third tag. What might have gotten the deal done?

The Matthew Stafford Deal:

In August 2017, Lions' QB Matthew Stafford was signed to a 5-year $135M ($27M APY), with $92M in guaranteed money.

To be fair, at this point, many fans, even those who were supporters of Kirk, recognized that this was a pretty steep price to pay for him, nevertheless, most of them (including myself) could have gotten behind it. What even those stalwarts - many of whom saw the writing on the wall - could NOT get behind was the prospect of tagging Kirk going into the 2017 season.

Once the tag was applied for 2017, it was apparent that the price to sign Kirk in 2018 ($34M APY) was not tenable. At this point, before the 2017 season, if the team were not going to sign him to a long-term, Stafford-like, deal, it was incumbent to trade him while he still had value. The 49ers were extremely interested at this point, and likely would have offered a first round pick. The one thing that COULD NOT BE DONE was to tag him. The team decided to tag him, and he played 2017 on a one-year $24M APY, $24M guaranteed contract.

2018 Season:

As we all know, after playing two tagged seasons for the Redskins on a deal that averaged $22M APY, with $44M guaranteed, the Redskins declined to apply a third tag ($34M guaranteed), and in March 2018, Kirk was signed to a 3-year, $84M ($28M APY) fully guaranteed contract with the Minnesota Vikings. The Redskins will likely receive a third round compensatory pick for Cousins in the 2019 draft.


This whole incident, and the way it played out has served as little more than a cautionary tale to GMs across the NFL and a sad reminder of the deep, historical incompetence of Bruce Allen and the Redskins' past front office. Here's hoping that this summation provides value to other decision makers in the future.