The biggest story of the NFL’s upcoming offseason will likely be where Kirk Cousins ends up. If Cousins is unable to reach a long-term deal with Washington, he will become the biggest name quarterback to be available in six years. A lot of rumors will likely emerge between now and the start of free agency, but one that appeared in the media today makes a lot of sense.
Broncos beat writer Cecil Lammey on Denver pursuit of Kirk Cousins: "It sounds like the Washington #Redskins will not let Kirk Cousins go without getting something for him in return. The buzz is that Washington will transition tag Cousins then put him on the trade block."— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) January 30, 2018
I know that “buzz” from a Broncos beat writer of all people does not sound compelling, but the more I think about the idea of Washington using the transition tag, the more it makes sense to me.
The franchise tag is probably not a viable option for Washington. A quarterback tagged by his team a third year in a row receives a 44% raise from the salary. That would amount to a cap crushing $34 million cap hit for Cousins.
The transition tag might be a possibility, though. Teams are allowed to use EITHER the franchise tag OR the transition tag on one player each year. Most teams choose the franchise tag on a desired player because that essentially eliminates the possibility of the player signing with another team.
The transition tag costs less money. A player who receives that designation gets a one year contract offer at the average salary of the top ten players at his position, which is roughly between $28 million and $29 million for a quarterback. The player is, however, free to hear and receive offers from other teams. The key point is the original team has seven days to match any offer and retain the player. So if a team like the Jets made an offer to Cousins, the Redskins could give Cousins the same deal and keep him.
None of this would guarantee a Cousins return to Washington, but it would complicate things for the Jets. Could a team structure a deal to make it too difficult for Washington to match and keep its cap situation? Certainly, but Washington could gain some leverage. They would have seven days to leave the Jets in limbo, and the Jets would have to wait, risking their Plans B and C signing with other teams without knowing whether they would even get Cousins.
It would create a high stakes game of chicken, where Washington might look to make a trade to get something in return for losing its franchise quarterback.
Of course, we won’t know how this will actually play out for a while, but it could add an extra wrinkle to the Cousins saga and make the quarterback even more expensive.