Agent’s Take: Here's what it will cost Redskins to get Kirk Cousins' deal done

The Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins  have until 4 p.m. ET Monday to reach an agreement on a long-term contract. Once this deadline for franchise players has passed, the Redskins are prohibited from signing Cousins -- who was designated as a franchise player for a second straight year -- to a multiyear deal until the end of the 2017 regular season on Dec. 31.

Cousins didn't seem worried about his contract when questioned over the weekend at his annual football camp in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. That's for good reason. Cousins will be playing for a fully guaranteed $23,943,600 this season if a long-term deal isn't signed. He would become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 unless given a transition tag for $28,732,320 or a third and final franchise tag worth $34,478,784, which Redskins president Bruce Allen recently indicated was a possibility despite the exorbitant cost. A transition tag would only provide the Redskins a right to match an offer sheet. The third franchise tag would prevent Cousins from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams.

There have been conflicting reports about the likelihood of a Cousins deal. Our own Jason La Canfora put the odds of a deal at 80 percent about three weeks ago. Other outlets aren't as optimistic despite discussions reportedly being more positive than last year when an impasse was reached quickly. Most deals for franchise players occur at the eleventh hour. Defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson signing a five-year, $86 million contract with the New York Jets right before last year's deadline was a major surprise.

Reaching an agreement will require concessions from both the Redskins and Mike McCartney, who represents Cousins. The Redskins will need to be comfortable not only making Cousins the NFL's highest-paid player -- currently Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr  -- but establishing new standards in most key contract metrics.

The current NFL salary standards are listed below.

  • Average yearly salary: $25.005 million (Carr-Raiders)
  • Overall contract guarantees: $87 million (Andrew Luck-Colts)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $59.955 million (Ndamukong Suh-Dolphins)
  • Fully guaranteed at signing-QB: $47 million (Luck)
  • Fully guaranteed within 12 months: $61 million (Von Miller-Broncos)
  • Fully guaranteed within 12 months-QB: $60 million (Luck)
  • Three-year cash flow: $75 million (Luck)
  • First three new years: $85,552,481 (Carr)

The Redskins are also going to have to accept that any Cousins contract will have one of their most player-friendly structures. The five-year, $75 million contract given to cornerback Josh Norman after the Carolina Panthers pulled his franchise designation shortly before the 2016 NFL Draft is front-loaded. As the NFL's highest-paid cornerback, Norman is getting 49.33 percent of his deal ($37 million) in the first two years. He is making $51 million over the first three years, which is 68 percent of the total deal, whil $36.5 million was fully guaranteed at signing and contains $50 million of overall guarantees. These percentages are 48.67 and 66.67.

McCartney might be removing the almost $24 million Cousins is scheduled to collect this season from the equation when evaluating Redskins offers and his own proposals. This approach is more problematic with contract security than overall compensation. The same $125.025 million Carr signed for over five new years becomes a little more than $101 million over four additional years, which puts the average yearly salary at just over $25.25 million using this methodology. If the same view is applied to guaranteed money, at least $40 million would need to be fully guaranteed at signing on top of Cousins' guaranteed franchise tag, which put this figure at close to $64 million. Surpassing Luck's $87 million of overall guarantees would require $101 million in guarantees when accounting for Cousins' second franchise tag. The Redskins would surely take it into account. Requiring overall guarantees along these lines would likely be a deal breaker for the Redskins.

kirk-cousins.jpg
Kirk Cousins has the leverage over the Redskins.  USATSI

McCartney negotiated one of the most front-loaded contracts a franchise player has ever received in 2011 for defensive lineman Haloti Ngata . Ngata's five-year, $61 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens  included $40 million (65.57 percent) in the first two years and 72.13 percent of the money ($44 million) was in the first three years. McCartney will have to recognize that he won't be able to replicate Ngata's cash flow percentages with Cousins.

Compromises of this nature are essential to constructive negotiations. It's virtually impossible for the parties to make a deal before the deadline without them.

The franchise tag game

Allen didn't do himself any favors by putting another designation in play for next year, particularly a third franchise tag. Washington's use of franchise tags and the ability to keep Cousins off the open market again in 2018 if he plays under another one-year deal should help provide a framework for negotiations.

McCartney insisting upon as much as $58.5 million fully guaranteed at signing, which approximates the value of second and third franchise tags on Cousins, has validity thanks to Allen. Conservatively, the amount fully guaranteed at signing should be $52.675 million based on playing under the franchise designation this year and getting a transition tag in 2018.

Cousins would make $78.375 million from three straight franchise tags. He would be averaging $26.125 million during this span should it happen.

Average yearly salary

An examination of the financial relationship between the NFL's highest-paid and second-highest paid players by yearly average in each of the past five years (2012-16) was conducted to also help put into context Cousins becoming the league's salary leader. Players briefly at the top of the NFL salary hierarchy but overtaken because of a subsequent deal shortly thereafter, like with Joe Flacco in both 2013 and '16, were not taken into account. The chart below illustrates the difference.

YearHighest paidAvg. salarySecond- highest PaidAvg. salaryDifference
2012Drew Brees$20,000,000 Peyton Manning$19,200,000 4.17%
2013Aaron Rodgers$22,000,000 Matt Ryan$20,750,000 6.02%
2014Aaron Rodgers$22,000,000 Matt Ryan$20,750,000 6.02%
2015Aaron Rodgers$22,000,000 Russell Wilson$21,900,000 0.46%
2016Andrew Luck$24,564,000 Drew Brees$24,250,000 1.29%
Total
$110,564,000
$106,850,000 3.48%

The 3.48 percent difference between the highest-paid and second-highest paid player over the past five years suggests a $25.875 million average per year for Cousins.

Suggested contract

Taking into consideration the negotiating dynamics that have been highlighted and using the contract parameters that have been explored as a guide, below is a chart breaking down the suggested contract between Cousins and the Redskins.

  • Signing bonus: $22.5 million ($12.5 million within 15 days of execution; $10 million payable on 4/1/18)
  • Guaranteed money: $84.25 million
  • Fully guaranteed at signing: $61.75 million
  • Deal total: $130 million
  • Contract length: 5 years
  • Average per year: $26 million
YearBase salaryRoster bonus (7/22/17Signing bonus prorationSalary cap numberCash flow
2017$5,000,000 $12,500,000 $4,500,000 $22,000,000 $30,000,000
2018$21,750,000
$4,500,000 $26,250,000 $61,750,000
2019$22,500,000
$4,500,000 $27,000,000 $84,250,000
2020$22,750,000
$4,500,000 $27,250,000 $107,000,000
2021$23,000,000
$4,500,000 $27,500,000 $130,000,000

*2017 base salary guaranteed for skill, injury & salary cap

**2018 salary guaranteed for skill, injury & salary cap

***2019 salary guaranteed for injury; skill & salary cap on 5th day of 2018 league year

2018-21 offseason workout program de-escalator: Base salary will decrease by $150,000 in any season that Cousins doesn't complete at least 90 percent of the total scheduled workouts in the offseason program.

Discretionary right to convert base salary into signing bonus: The Redskins have the right to convert Cousins' base salary into signing bonus in their sole discretion at any time during the duration of the contract.

Making sense of the suggested contract

Cousins' structure is consistent with Norman's contract and the five-year deals that six franchise players (Dez Bryant, Cowboys; Cordy Glenn, Bills; Chandler Jones, Cardinals; Kawann Short, Panthers; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos; Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets) have signed since 2015. The percentage of money Cousins earns after each contract year is compared to the average percentages of the six franchise players and Norman's percentage in the following chart. Salary deferrals have not been taken into account.

Name1st year2nd year3rd year4th year5th year
Kirk Cousins30.77%47.5%64.81%82.31%100%
Josh Norman26.67%49.33%68%83.33%100%
Franchise Players29.84%46.21%63.86%81.63%100%

The franchise players had on average 43.6 percent of contracts fully guaranteed at signing. Cousins' $61.75 million, which would set a new NFL standard, represents 47.5 percent but is less than Norman's. Overall guarantees of $84.25 million would be 64.81 percent of Cousins' deal, which is under Norman again. The franchise players are at 61.47 percent.

Cousins falls short of Luck's $87 million in overall contract guarantees. The proposed contract contains more meaningful guarantees than Luck's. The last $6 million of Luck's guarantees are for injury only while Cousins doesn't have guarantees of this nature.

Cousins' $22.5 million signing bonus is $6.5 million more than Ryan Kerrigan 's $16 million, which is the largest one the Redskins have given to a current player. It is appropriate considering the franchise players' signing bonuses represented approximately 21.5 percent of their total contract values. Cousins' signing bonus is 17.3 percent of the total value of his deal, which is also less than Norman's. Since it is a common practice of the Redskins to defer a significant portion of a signing bonus to the following April 1, Cousins isn't getting his entire signing bonus before the 2017 season ends.

Creating immediate salary cap relief wasn't a primary concern given the Redskins' comfort with Cousins counting at almost $24 million this year under his franchise tag. Keeping the cap numbers in the other years manageable was more important. Cousins' remaining cap numbers are never above $28 million, which is less than the cost of using a transition designation on him next year.

The workout de-escalator and discretionary right to convert a portion of base salary into signing bonus to create cap room are standard provisions in Washington's most lucrative contracts. The Redskins shouldn't need to use this discretionary right since the object is a contract that doesn't need to be restructured.

Final thoughts

Any deal Cousins does now will pale in comparison to what he could get on the open market in 2018. It's conceivable that he fetches $30 million per year with $100 million in guarantees as an unrestricted free agent because there are more NFL teams than good quarterbacks. Some of those quarterback-needy teams will have an abundance of cap space next offseason.

The Redskins offering a contract in the ballpark of the proposed one would give Cousins something to seriously consider. It is my understanding that Redskins offers have been easy to reject so far during negotiations.

Quarterbacks routinely sign long-term instead of playing out their contracts when given a tempting offer. Cousins' time as the NFL's highest-paid player would be short lived by following the traditional quarterback route. His contract would become the salary floor for the contract extension Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to sign before the start of the regular season.

Cousins' descent down the NFL salary totem pole would continue in 2018. Aaron Rodgers is expected to sign a new deal with the Green Bay Packers next year when there are two years left on his current contract. The Atlanta Falcons will likely extend reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan's contract as well since 2018 is his contract year.

Former Sports Agent

Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Before his tenure at Premier, Joel worked... Full Bio

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