Agent's Take: How much Kirk Cousins can make in free agency, possible suitors

The Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year deals. Cousins, who was designated as a franchise player for a second straight year, will play the 2017 season for a fully guaranteed $23,943,600. This amount is a Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20-percent increase over last year's $19.953 million franchise tag.

An effort to strike a deal with Cousins as the deadline approached wasn't made. The Redskins reportedly had an internal disagreement about Cousins' value. Redskins president Bruce Allen disclosed in a statement issued right after the deadline that the Redskins extended  Cousins an offer on May 2 that contained $72 million in overall guarantees, of which $53 million -- a record for a QB -- was fully guaranteed at signing. The deal would have made Cousins the NFL's second highest-paid player by average yearly salary.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport subsequently provided more details of the Redskins' offer. It was reportedly a six-year offer for $133 million, which averages slightly more than the three-year extension Joe Flacco signed with the Ravens in 2016 for $22,133,333 per year. Allen's characterization of the offer doesn't reflect Raiders quarterback Derek Carr becoming the league's highest-paid QB by average salary with the five-year, $125.025 million extension he received in June.

Here are some frequently asked questions relating to Cousins' situation.

When can the Redskins sign Cousins to a long term deal?

The Redskins are prohibited from signing Cousins to a multi-year contract until the end of the 2017 regular season on December 31. Cousins reportedly is open to making a long-term commitment to the Redskins after the season. Allen's statement didn't do the Redskins any favors in this regard because Cousins is being blamed for the inability to make a deal.

Can the Redskins still trade Cousins?

Cousins can be dealt to another team up until the 2017 season trading deadline at 4 p.m. ET on October 31. A team must have enough salary cap room to absorb Cousins' current salary of almost $24 million in order to make a trade before the beginning of the regular season. During the season, a team must have the cap room to take on the prorated amount of Cousins' salary. For example, a team acquiring Cousins four weeks into the season must have $18,309,812 of cap room available for 13/17ths of his franchise tag.

The only teams with a glaring need at quarterback and the cap room for Cousins' full salary are the 49ers, Browns and Jets. The most recent relevant veteran quarterback trade data point is the Eagles receiving a 2017 first-round pick (14th overall) and a conditional 2018 fourth-round pick from the Vikings for Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater went down late last preseason with a gruesome knee injury.

The prohibition on signing a long-term deal until the season ends also applies to the new team with a trade. These constraints along with the timing make a trade highly unlikely. Quite frankly, the best time to trade Cousins was prior to the 2017 NFL Draft for draft choices that could have helped the Redskins this season. Cousins also would have had plenty of time to get acclimated to a new team. 

What's Cousins' status after the season?

Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason provided he isn't given a transition tag for $28,732,320 or a third and final franchise tag worth $34,478,784 between the designated period running from February 20 to March 6, or a long-term deal is worked out before the 2018 league year begins on March 14. Redskins president Bruce Allen recently indicated another franchise tag was a possibility although it seems implausible because of the steep cost.

A transition tag would only provide the Redskins a right to match an offer sheet. This designation could have limited value because a quarterback-needy team with an abundance of cap room could sign Cousins to an offer sheet that the Redskins couldn't or wouldn't want to match. For example, the Redskins might pass on an offer sheet using an inordinate amount of 2018 cap room or is fully guaranteed. The third franchise tag would prevent Cousins from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams.

The Redskins getting a deal done with Cousins before the end of the designation period would be surprising. Cousins would have little incentive to sign before the Redskins had to decide whether to let him become a free agent unless he is given an offer that sets new standards in most contract metrics like  average yearly salary, overall contract guarantees, money fully guaranteed at signing, etc.. The same would also apply to testing the open market if the Redskins didn't use a tag on him.

What type of contract could Cousins sign in 2018?

Cousins continuing his pattern of quickly signing is the most likely course of action with a third franchise tag. He would be in a position to make $78.375 million from three straight franchise tags. The extreme amount of contract leverage Cousins has had this year would pale in comparison to next year because he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 absent a long-term deal.

Quickly signing doesn't make much sense with a transition tag. The designation probably wouldn't be a deterrent to an offer sheet since the Redskins would not be entitled to any compensation by declining use of matching rights.

Cousins could be a litmus for quarterback salaries should he become an unrestricted free agent. Quality quarterbacks almost never hit the open market.

This is predicated on Cousins performing like he has over the last two seasons when he has been one of the NFL's most productive quarterbacks statistically. Cousins has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions to post a 99.3 passer rating. He has the NFL's third-best completion percentage, is fourth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passer rating and 12th in touchdown passes since the start of the 2015 season. Surprisingly, Cousins and Tom Brady are the only two quarterbacks to win player of the month honors in each of the last two seasons. 

It's conceivable that Cousins could command $30 million per year with $100 million in guarantees as an unrestricted free agent after another good season because there are more NFL teams than competent quarterbacks. Some of the quarterback-needy teams will have an abundance of cap space next offseason.

Which teams could be interested in Cousins?

The 49ers are expected to pursue Cousins next offseason whether he's a free agent or given a transition tag. There was plenty of speculation about the 49ers trading for Cousins earlier in the offseason because of his relationship with new head coach Kyle Shanahan. During Cousins' first two NFL seasons, Shanahan was Washington's offensive coordinator. The 49ers should have over $100 million in salary cap space in the offseason, assuming the 2018 salary cap is set in the $180 million neighborhood.

Other teams that could be potential suitors include the Browns, Cardinals, Jaguars, Jets and Rams. The Browns waited until the second round of this year's draft to address their quarterback needs by taking Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer. Quarterback could become a major priority for the Browns if Kizer can't beat out 2016 third-round pick Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler, who was acquired from the Texans in March, and the Browns have another dismal season. The Browns could have more than $80 million in cap room next offseason. Moving to the AFC North would be an easy transition for Cousins because Browns head coach Hue Jackson runs the same offensive scheme as the Redskins.

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Will Cousins reunite with Kyle Shanahan in 2018 in San Francisco? Getty Images

A veteran quarterback would make sense for the Cardinals should 37-year-old Carson Palmer retire after the season. The 15-year veteran contemplated retirement after last season. The Cardinals would have more than $55 million next year with Palmer's $14 million 2018 salary off the books.

The Jaguars have the potential to be a playoff team provided that Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, has a bounce-back year. Bortles regressed badly in 2016. A continuation of 2016 will likely prompt the Jaguars to part ways with him before his $19 million fifth-year option becomes fully guaranteed next March 14 on the first day of the 2018 league year, which would put Jacksonville approximately $70 million under the cap.

The Jets are clearly in rebuilding mode after letting a number of productive higher-priced veterans go during the offseason. This could put the Jets in position to take a quarterback at or near the top of the 2018 NFL Draft. Cap room won't be an issue if the Jets go the veteran route instead. The Jets should have more than $90 million of cap space in 2018.

New Rams head coach Sean McVay, who was Cousins' offensive coordinator in Washington the last three seasons, doesn't have a vested interest in Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, because he didn't draft him. Without significant growth by Goff this season, McVay could push the Rams to look in another direction at quarterback. Shortly after being named Rams head coach, McVay said in radio interview with a Washington, D.C. area station that a championship could be won with Cousins. The Rams will likely have in the neighborhood of $45 million in cap space if perennial All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald signs a contract extension making him one of the NFL's highest paid non-quarterbacks in the coming months.

What if Cousins regresses or gets hurt?

Cousins' downside with a regression or mediocre season is that he'll still be able to get a deal matching the last offer he rejected from Washington. That's simply because the demand for quality starting quarterbacks exceeds the supply. A down season won't override Cousins' two good seasons of 2015 and 2016. This is particularly true with the 49ers because of Cousins' history with Shanahan.

Cousins will have some mitigating factors if he doesn't perform like he did the last two seasons. There are major changes at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon departing to the Buccaneers and 49ers via free agency. Cousins isn't going to have the same type of rapport with free-agent pick up Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson, the Redskins' 2016 first-round pick (No. 22), who only played 31 offensive snaps last season because of injury. Cousins also lost his play caller, McVay, to the Rams.

More problematic than a down year for Cousins would be a career-threatening shoulder injury like the one Drew Brees suffered at the end of the 2005 season while playing with the Chargers on a franchise tag. Ditto for concussion issues. Despite the nature and timing of the injury, Brees signed a six-year, $60 million contract with the Saints as an unrestricted free agent in 2006. That was second-tier quarterback money at the time.

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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