It’s time for “Deal or No Deal,” Kirk Cousins edition.
Barring something unforeseen, it’s unlikely that the Redskins and their quarterback reach a long term deal before the 4 p.m. Monday deadline. If they do not, Cousins will play this season under the franchise tag and earn a fully-guaranteed salary of $24 million.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, this may not spell the inevitable end of Cousins‘ time in Washington as Cousins is open to signing a long-term deal next year. But the uncertainty that hangs over the team is expected to stay in place for at least one more year.
In the meantime, all eyes remain on Cousins, who has merited an unusual amount of interest for a former fourth-round pick on a middling team, because of his potential to upend the market for quarterbacks this offseason. It’s not just the Redskins and Cousins who are hoping for different outcomes.
So, who else has a rooting interest?
The San Francisco 49ers, for one. They’re rooting for no deal, and the possibility of getting Cousins next year or even for 2019. This would also benefit backup Colt McCoy, who could move into the starting job in Washington.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is also watching closely. Stafford would like to see Cousins do a deal and push the market ever-upward before signing an extension himself. The bigger the better, as far as Stafford is concerned, but even a deal that nudges the market, rather than upends it, would be a plus. What would that look like?
One of the closer comparisons to Cousins‘ situation is Drew Brees’ contract negotiation with the New Orleans Saints in 2012. The Saints used the franchise tag on Brees but eventually came to an agreement on a five-year, $100 million deal before the deadline.
The Chargers franchised Brees in 2005 after his rookie deal ran out. The Saints were in a pickle because an arbitrator had ruled that that tag counted against Brees’ career total, meaning that the Saints were tagging him for the second time and, if they wanted to do so again in 2013 it would be the third and come at a 144 percent raise.
Brees was set to earn $16.37 million in 2012. Another tag would have paid him $23.57 million in 2013, giving Brees similar leverage to what Cousins has now, adjusting for inflation and the rising cap. Brees wound up getting $60 million guaranteed, a $37 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed in the first year.
As CBSSports’ Joel Corry, a former agent himself, astutely pointed out, Brees got a 4.17 percent raise over the next-highest paid quarterback, Peyton Manning, that year.
Derek Carr’s recent deal set his annual value at $25 million. A 4.17 percent raise over that figure is $26.0425 million. A deal where Cousins gets similar percentages in guaranteed money would work out to a five-year, $130.2 million deal with $78 million fully guaranteed and $52 million guaranteed at signing. That probably wouldn’t get it done, as Cousins‘ leverage starts with the fact that he could get, at minimum, $52 million guaranteed over the next two years on the franchise tag and the 2018 transition tag.
To sweeten the deal, Cousins could set a new NFL high water-mark with $60 million guaranteed at signing. The additional $8 million upfront would work out to $86 million guaranteed over the life of the deal. Five years, $130.2 million, $86 million guaranteed, $60 million guaranteed at signing.
A deal like this would reflect the leverage Cousins has from the tag in the early guarantees, but it also would reflect the fact that Cousins is not yet a true free agent, and is still under Redskins control because it’s based on the current quarterback market.
Anything under that would be cost-effective for the Redskins, who would already have gotten a significant win by resigning Cousins at all.
Anything above would please the NFLPA, Stafford and other quarterbacks, as well as Cousins and agent Mike McCartney.
Again, all of this will probably be rendered moot Monday afternoon, but it’s of value to understand the market in general and the scope of the negotiations in particular. It’s not just Cousins or the Redskins that this matters to.
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