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Like everyone, I had opinions on what the local NFL team should do about its quarterback Kirk Cousins.
In case you’re reading this column despite having literally no awareness of the top story in local pro sports, Cousins was slated to play this year under the franchise tag. That means that the team was able to prevent him from shopping his services around the league by forcing him to accept $24 million for the upcoming season. Cousins had agreed to this $24 million imposition with apparent good grace, and—according to team president Bruce Allen—negotiations were underway to work out a long-term deal, which would allow Cousins to receive even more money to stay for even longer. This is all a reasonably normal example of what passes for drama in the NFL offseason.
My belief was that the team would find a way to get the deal done. While people are still unsure if Cousins is authentically great, he’s inarguably above-average, by far the most consistently adequate quarterback the team has had in more than a decade, and I thought that Allen & Co. would ultimately do (and pay) whatever it took to keep him around.
It turns out this was dead wrong.
After the contract deadline came and went without a deal, the team released a statement from Allen. It was clearly intended to paint Cousins as greedy and unwilling to negotiate while presenting the team as generous and solicitous. But the statement did reveal two separate truths about the situation:
First, that the team had no interest in keeping Cousins long-term, and second, that Cousins has no interest in being here long-term.
The franchise’s offer and the brazen hostility inherent in releasing the statement about it clearly convey the team’s feelings. The spin was that it “included the highest fully guaranteed amount upon signing for a quarterback in NFL history ($53 million) and guaranteed a total of $72 million for injury.” They were quick to explain that “would have made him at least the second highest-paid player by average per year in NFL history.”
The only numbers that matter in NFL contracts are the guaranteed dollars. On the franchise tag, Cousins is guaranteed $24 million this year. Next year, the team could franchise him again for something like $34 million, or designate him with the transition tag, which would guarantee $28 million. Or it could let him test his value on the open market, which would guarantee some enormous sum.
So the $53 million the team is boasting about is pretty comparable to the money that Cousins is all but guaranteed by signing nothing: the $24 million this year and the $28 million for the transition tag in 2018, totalling $52 million. Even if we don’t know all the numbers, the team’s offer would tie Cousins up into his mid-thirties, likely past his prime, before he could ever negotiate his next deal. By not taking the offer, Cousins maintains flexibility and increases his likelihood of another astronomical payday within the next year or two.
The rest of the reported details are irrelevant, dropped in to convince casual readers that the team is friendly and kind. But the actual message that the offer sent to Cousins and his agent was, “We don’t really want to sign you.”
The team reported Cousins’ response this way: “Despite our repeated attempts, we have not received any offer from Kirk’s agent this year.”
Observers have suggested that Cousins didn’t counter because he didn’t want the team to leak his demands and make him seem greedy, a concern that seems exceptionally valid in hindsight. But to utterly fail to respond, to simply let the inadequate offer sit there … that only says one thing: “While I will be a good citizen and play this year under the franchise tag, I have no interest in playing here any longer than I absolutely have to.”
So we seem to have a team that doesn’t really want its quarterback, who, in turn, doesn’t want to be on the roster. The best-case outcome for the team at this point is for Cousins to be successful this year and for another franchise to match the offer and give up two first-round picks to sign him. Or, if all the franchise cares about is spite and bile, the best-case scenario for it is to trade Cousins to Cleveland tomorrow. Meanwhile, the best-case outcome for Cousins is that the team, fed up with the whole situation, trades him to San Francisco posthaste, where he can play for his old coach Kyle Shanahan.
But the likeliest outcome is that, after another decent season, we have to sit through one more interminable six-month negotiation during which these people pretend to like each other all over again.