Redskins Should Use the Transition Tag on Cousins. Not the Franchise Tag.

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I keep hearing that the Redskins could place a third conescutive franchise tag on Kirk Cousins this offseason. It would not make sense for the team to do that. It would be a bad business decision. It would be a massive mistake.

Washington has made several of those during this Cousins saga, which dates back to when he took over as a starter in August of 2015. But franchising him for a third straight season would be the team’s biggest blunder yet.

Sure, the Redskins made a mistake when they chose not to get a deal done with Cousins when they initially named him their guy three Augusts ago. Former general manager Scot McCloughan is on record as saying he broached the subject with his superiors back then but got blow-back about the idea. You should always pay players too soon rather than too late. They didn’t.

And sure, the Redskins should have paid Cousins after his breakthrough 2015 season. But they didn’t do that either.

Cousins and his camp even approached the club with an extremely team friendly offer that would keep his cap number under $20M a year over the course of a fully-guaranteed, three-year deal? The Redskins weren’t interested. All Washington had to do was commit to not moving on from Cousins until after the 2018 season. They chose not to.

Then there was this past offseason when the Redskins still didn’t make the quarterback a single offer that even approached market-value.

In fairness to the club, Cousins didn’t play ball this offseason as he had previously.

He spent a couple years telling his employer that the time to do the deal was before using the initial franchise tag. The Redskins didn’t listen. Then they made another sub-standard offer to kick-off a negotiation that never really got going. Rather than haggling over his value — like a dad buying a Christmas tree in a school parking lot — the veteran quarterback just waited on a second franchise tag.

Which brings us to the start of act-three, with curtains set to open again in just over a month.

Let’s get a few things out of the way as prerequisites to this conversation.

(1) The annual average value Cousins will make in the future is not nearly as important as the percentage of the salary cap he’ll make. The cap keeps going up, so paying him “the same as Matt Stafford got” doesn’t work. Stafford got $27M a year but that will now be the equivalent of $29M under the new cap. It’s like correcting for inflation.

(2) Thinking that Cousins is not as good as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady means he shouldn’t make what they make is not the way it works.

(3) The salary cap should be climbing from $168 million in 2017 to $180 million in 2018. It was $133 million just a few years ago. It explodes every offseason and with it so do salaries.

Okay, now back to why slapping a franchise tag on Cousins makes no sense.

A third franchise tag would pay Cousins a little more than $34 million. Assuming the salary cap climbs to the expected range of $180 million, Washington would be paying it’s quarterback 18.8% of it’s salary cap next season. This year, even while making franchise tag money, Cousins only makes 13.5% of the Redskins’ cap.  That’s a massive jump.

Here are some of the league’s highest paid passers this season and the percentage of the cap they take up.

Joe Flacco — 15%
Carson Palmer — 14.01%
Matt Ryan — 14.13%
Aaron Rodgers — 11.55%
Drew Brees –11.61%
Cam Newton — 11.19%

You can see that Cousins’ current percentage, while a bit high, is not out of wack with the rest of the league. A third franchise tag would catapult him into an entirely different stratosphere.

Paying a player $34 million if you thought you were going to get a deal done with him long-term would be a worth-while proposition. That’s unlikely. You would essentially be renting Cousins for one more season, delaying the inevitable of losing him, while you prepared for life after him in 2018. For what? A couple more wins? A chance to get hot and win 11 games for the first time since 1991?

That’s a bad idea.

That’s too much money to hold him hostage for one more season while he puts up big numbers, proves again that he’s worth a fat contract, only to let him walk. If you don’t get a deal done with him this offseason, a deal is not coming after 2018. You’re suddenly going to have an epiphany about a guy who is been in your building since 2012 and you’re going to be willing to pay him well over $30M a year, which is what it would take at that point? Not likely.

So what should they do?

The only play here is the transition tag.

I’ve seen where NFL Network among other outlets are saying that Washington is ruling out the transition tag as a viable option. They shouldn’t. Anti transition tag people are only focusing on the possibility of losing the player with no compensation. But, they aren’t considering that it is the only path to a long-term pact.

If you transition-tag Cousins three things could happen. Two result in him still being a Redskin.

(1) He could shop the market and sign a free agent deal with another team. The Redskins would then have five days to match that offer. Let’s say he agreed to a deal at $29M a year with the Denver Broncos. Washington would then finally know what the market is for him. They could then decide, do we want him at this price or not? They could match the offer, sign the deal with him and end this charade forever. Congratulations, you have your franchise quarterback.

(2) Or they could decide they don’t want him at that price, allowing him to leave for Denver. They’d be in the market for a passer with that $29 million to spend. The saga would be over and they’d be moving on right away rather than waiting another year and re-living the last three seasons a fourth time.

(3) He could shop the market and decide against signing with anybody, instead accepting the one year transition tag offer from Washington to make $28.7 on a one-year deal in 2018. This would give the Redskins one more season of Cousins’ quality play while they planned for life after him. It would also save them $6M in cap space to keep him on this tag rather than the franchise tag.

You see, the transition tag ends this horribly-handled fiasco that the team has fumbled worse than Matt Jones going off-tackle, once and for all. It’s time.

It also gets you the long-awaited answer as to what is the actual value of the player? The longer you wait to get that answer the higher his value is. It was $19M in 2016. Then $24M in 2017. It’s expected to be closer to $30M in 2018 (unless they tag him and make it $34M, of course).

Not to mention, there are a plethora of intriguing quarterbacks hitting the market this offseason. None of them will be as highly regarded as Cousins but maybe you get lucky and ask other clubs to reveal their cards at the perfect moment. I don’t love this quarterback class but there could be as many as four passers drafted in the top 40 picks.

Additionally, the free agent pile will include potential 2018 bridge options Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Blaine Gabbert, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Plus Tyrod Taylor could be looking for work and Eli Manning just got benched and could be released.

I’m not saying I would want any of those guys quarterbacking my team, but several of them will be fall-back options who are leading teams next fall. There are some names there that could be sold to fan bases. That’s a better free agent list than the disaster of a scrap-heap you normally see. Perhaps the timing to get a price-check is better now than it would be in a year?

Again, the longer you wait the worse this is going to get.

If the Redskins were Super Bowl contenders next season, I could endorse spending $34M to keep Cousins around. One last ride. One last shot at the title. But they aren’t. He and Jay Gruden are a couple of the only reasons why Washington isn’t headed for a 5-11 debacle this season. The Redskins are having a successful year considering their injuries and schedule, but they aren’t close to Super Bowl contention.

Why act like next year is your year? Keeping Cousins at that $34M is what you do if you think next year is your year. It gets you no closer to a long-term contract with him. In fact, it gets you further away from one.

If you want to sign him, the only way to get that done is to slap the transition tag on him and hope that he agrees to a pact with another club. Then you can lock him in and move forward with your long-awaited franchise passer.

And if he gets a sweeter deal than you are willing to match, than you throw your hands up and try to tell your fans that you tried. Some of them will buy it. The smart fans will know that you butchered this every step of the way.

But at least you’ll be able to sell some Baker Mayfield jerseys as you prepare for a long 2018 campaign.

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Grant Paulsen

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