Following yet another disappointing season, the Washington Redskins are left analyzing how to improve for the coming years. The most important of these relates to the team’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins, with some believing it should sign him to a long-term deal. This would require the Redskins to finally commit to Cousins as their quarterback for the foreseeable future. Others argue the Redskins should continue signing him to the one-year franchise tag — which they’ve done the past two seasons — and some people even believe the cost of signing him would be far too great, therefore demanding the team let him go and have someone else take the reins as quarterback.
Given the Redskins’ struggling efforts to find a solid quarterback over the past few decades — I’d argue the team hasn’t had a very good quarterback since Joe Theismann in the 1980s — a quick look at Cousins’ statistics makes it evident that he should be signed to a long-term deal, no matter the cost.
Cousins is the Redskins’ single-season record holder for passing yards, having thrown for 4,917 in 2016, which ranks as the 15th-highest number of yards passed for in a single season in NFL history. This record dwarfs the team’s second-highest single-season passing yardage total of 4,166 yards, which was also thrown by Cousins — this time in the 2015 season. And, in only three years as the team’s full-time starter, he’s already thrown for the fifth-most yards in Redskins history at 15,749 yards. Of course, passing yards hold only so much importance, with touchdown passes, very likely, being a more important statistic. It’s therefore worth noting that in that same 2015 season, Cousins tossed 29 touchdowns, which is second-highest all time for a Redskins quarterback, only behind the 31 touchdowns thrown by Sonny Jurgensen — who’s arguably the best quarterback in the 85-year history of the Redskins’ franchise — in 1967. Also of note is Cousins’ 2016 touchdown total of 25, which ranks sixth in team history.
As these stats make obvious, Cousins is clearly among the team’s most impressive quarterbacks. Although I agree with those who don’t believe Cousins can be the sole reason for why a team wins the Super Bowl, he’s certainly a quarterback that’s capable of leading his team to this victory if the right talent surrounds him. The notion that a quarterback doesn’t need to be a superstar to win the Super Bowl shouldn’t be a foreign concept to the Redskins, who had one-hit-wonder Doug Williams as their quarterback for their 1987 Super Bowl victory, and Mark Rypien — who, other than his impressive Super Bowl winning season, had quite a mediocre career — as the quarterback on their 1991 Super Bowl winning team.
Those familiar with the NFL’s free agency process would understand the concept of the one-year franchise tag. Each team has the ability to place this tag on any player on its team. The tag is a one-year contract between the player and the team, allowing him to compete on that team for the upcoming season. The team then pays him a salary as mandated by the NFL. After the season ends, the player is once again void of a contract, and a team can decide to tap him with the tag once more, let him leave the team and play for a different franchise or successfully negotiate a long-term contract with the player. A serious problem for teams with re-signing a player to the one-year franchise tag, however, is that the salary mandated for the player increases considerably every year a team places the tag on him.
As already mentioned, Cousins has been tagged each of the past two years, with his first year’s salary being $19.95 million and this season’s tag price jumping to $23.9 million. If the team were to tag him next season — for a third straight year — they’d be required to pay him an NFL-high $34.5 million, which would be considerably above his market value. According to his last off-season, he’s most likely worth around $24 million. The benefit of tagging him is, of course, that the team doesn’t have to commit to him over a long period of time. So, if he performs poorly next season, the team’s management can decide to let him go since there’s no already-agreed-to, long-term contract. Yet the remarkably high price tag, combined with the fact that the team and Cousins would be in the same uncertain contract situation next off-season, makes it evident that another franchise tag would be far from beneficial for the team.
A long-term deal would still be quite expensive, as the Redskins would likely pay Cousins around the $24 million demanded by him last offseason, which is just shy of the $27 million salary earned by the NFL’s highest-paid player, Matthew Stafford. Yet this high price tag shouldn’t be unexpected, as even those with a rudimentary knowledge of football understand that the quarterback is the single most important player on the team. It’s therefore no surprise that the top 16 NFL salaries of 2017 all went to quarterbacks. NFL general managers clearly understand that having a good or even great quarterback is expensive, but that it also could be the difference between being a team competing for the Super Bowl title or spending January by a pool in a warm-weathered city. With that being said, the expectation that Cousins would be among the NFL’s highest-paid players if he were to sign a long-term deal shouldn’t dissuade the Redskins from offering him this contract. The best teams often pay their quarterbacks an extremely high salary, but typically reap the great rewards of being a team consistently challenging for the playoffs and the Super Bowl — something that hasn’t been true of the Redskins since the early '90s.
With the Redskins’ recent history of disappointing signings and less-than-mediocre player and team performances — such as the famous seven-year $100 million contract offered to defensive bust Albert Haynesworth in 2009 and this past off-season’s signing of wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, whose season has been filled with underwhelming performances — it makes sense that they’re approaching this important contract situation with great care. Yet Cousins’ stats indicate his potential as a long-term NFL quarterback, and certainly provide the team with a great reason to sign him to an extended contract. Although ending this contractual controversy won’t solve all of the Redskins’ concerns, it’ll provide them with essential stability in the quarterback position, therefore allowing them to focus on other areas of concern moving forward. With last year’s franchise tag deadline being March 1, the Redskins have a short time frame following the end of the season by which to decide how best to handle Cousin’s contract situation. Although they can sign him to the franchise tag by the aforementioned deadline, thus disallowing any other team from negotiating with the quarterback while they continue to negotiate for a long-term deal until the July 17 deadline, they’d likely want to sign him early in the off-season. This is especially due to the fact that he’d most certainly be pursued by many other teams offering him a high salary, thereby complicating the negotiations further with this greater competition.
Given all of this, the clock is hastily ticking for the Redskins to decide how best to handle Cousin’s contract situation.
Dan Ford is a senior international affairs and international business double major. Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.