One insider reveals the long-term contract Redskins should have offered Kirk Cousins
Cousins is set to play a second straight season on the franchise tag, but it didn't have to be this way
Back before he readabout his team's negotiations with Kirk "There Is No T In My First Name" Cousins a week ago, and before team brass further complicated this already messy process, Washington team president Bruce Allen was actually on to something.
Way back in February, when Allen spoke about how coming up with a fair contract extension with his team's franchise quarterback didn't have to be all that difficult or trying, he had a point.
"I don't think it's as complicated as everyone wants to make it," Allen told a local radio station at the time. "And we'll get together with his agent, and I'm sure we'll come to an agreement."
Well … about that second part.
The reality was, finding a sweet spot with Cousins didn't have to be an ongoing saga with plot twist after plot twist. It should've been resolved by now. If Washington wants the quarterback as much as they claim to, they should've been Tweeting out photos of him signing his deal years ago. Now, one week after further clouding the situation by treating Cousins more like a scorned outgoing free agent than a man making $24 million to lead their team this season, the football world is still trying to fathom why the franchise made such a meal of these negotiations yet again.
It didn't have to be this way. Not close.
Had Allen simply allowed his well-respected contract/cap guru, Eric Schaffer, to do what he does best, I have no doubt the sides could have bridged much of their gaps and resolved this quagmire once and for all. Had owner Dan Snyder opened the wallet and got out of the way, I wouldn't be writing this column mere days before players report for a training camp in Richmond with a cloud or two already hanging over it. Had Washington been a little creative, rather thanthat basically only guaranteed one season besides the already guaranteed 2017 -- and yet tried to steal five more years of controlling Cousins for that bargain-basement price -- there may have actually been something for the sides to discuss at the deadline.
Had Washington seemed to be really trying to make this work, then maybe Cousins' side would have had reason to offer counter proposals (anyone knocking them for staying quiet and playing this out doesn't get how business is done in the NFL; an offer this low merits no response).
But that's not how it works in Washington. This was, entirely, a Snyder/Allen production, and basically the rest of the organization was on vacation and out of the office as the deadline to extend players on the franchise tag approached. This is what Washington fans are left with once again: a half-hearted statement in a foolish attempt to win their hearts and minds, which ends up making those who crafted it look more the part of fools. And, at the same time, Cousins is still the big winner in terms of cash -- he's pocketing $44 million in two years and starting at free agency or, worst-case scenario (barring injury), $35 million in 2018 on yet another franchise tag -- and on the public-relations front.
I've spoken to a number of NFL execs and agents over the last week -- none of them with a vested interest in this outcome (ahem, no brass from the 49ers or Rams, teams who could be lining up with open checkbooks for Cousins in March) -- and all remain dumbfounded at how Washington handled their business with the most productive quarterback the franchise has had in decades. There was a deal to be done here; it didn't have to go down this way.
One agent I highly respect -- not a household name from a big agency, but someone who has quietly built a thriving business and strong reputation with NFL execs -- took an hour at his own volition while he was on vacation to try to solve the riddle. He'd sat in his office and concocted an offer sheet that he believes would have kept Washington far from salary-cap hell, and satisfied the quarterback's desires at the same time.
I didn't put him up to it, but when he called me during my vacation and ran through the numbers with me, I was running to grab a pen and begin scribbling. It seemed to me to be what I, erroneously, expected Washington to do at the deadline: give Cousins, who turns 29 in August, a deal with sufficient guaranteed money to give him pause and take the bird in hand, rather than playing on the tag another year.
"It was simple math and a thinking outside-of-the-box strategy," the agent who created this offer sheet told me. "I said to myself, 'What kind of deal would be almost impossible for the player to turn down from an overall cash, cash-flow, overall APY and the ever-important new money totals / APY?' This is what I came up with .... It may seem abstract but would have been a great deal for all parties involved for this particular player, position and situation."
So, here's what he came up with. How about a nine-year, $210.25 million contract with team flexibility that could end up being as short as three years for $83.25 million, or amount to six years at $150.50 million depending on if or when Washington wanted to move on from the quarterback down the line? Yeah, it got me thinking too.
I found it an incredibly intriguing approach, to say the least, and one that would have at least prompted meaningful dialogue between the sides, I imagine. I massaged a few details to make it easier to follow the proposal and made one slight change, to come up with this breakdown.
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In 2017, Cousins would make $40 million, via a $35 million signing bonus and $5 million base salary (that bonus is prorated at $7 million per year for cap purposes over five seasons). So you are putting $35 million in Cousins' hand at the time of signing, instead of him earning $24 million through the course of 17 game checks from September through January.
In 2018, he'd earn $15.5 million, fully guaranteed at signing, with Washington having the option to convert his base salary into a signing bonus to provide further cap relief.
In 2019, Cousins would have a $7.75 million base salary with a $20 million roster bonus guaranteed for injury at the time of signing and becoming fully guaranteed if he's on the roster on the fifth day of the 2018 League Year (next March).
At this point, you have virtually guaranteed Cousins $83.25 million at the time of signing. So you've taken that $24 million he already had in hand for 2017, and that $28 million (transition tag) or $35 million (franchise tag) he virtually had in hand for 2018, and added an additional $28 million. To make it even more clear, you are now guaranteeing $59.31 million to Cousins on top of the $24 million he's already banked for this season. That would get his attention.
As the agent astutely points out, "the equivalent of $59,306,400 in new money over the 2017 franchise tag number ($23.94 million) is a new money APY of $29,653,300 per year." So Cousins can indeed gain a strong measure of bragging rights among other QB deals, but as you'll see Washington remains covered on the back side and in a flexible cap situation.
In 2020, he'd earn $23 million (which again can be prorated to a signing bonus for cap purposes.
In 2021, he'd earn a base salary of $22 million.
In 2022, he'd earn $22 million.
If we stop here, it's basically a six-year, $160 million deal. It seems like a lot, and I suppose it is, but think about how quickly Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford and Matt Ryan and others will be leapfrogging it. Consider all the hundreds of millions in franchise relocation fees rolling in and all the new money that will be coming in when the TV deals are redone in a few years, and also the fact that a new CBA will have been negotiated as well by the middle of this deal (one that might include even more cap relief for quarterbacks or some other such mechanism as well).
Cousins would get his brief time in the sun, others would vault his contract and Washington will have long-term security at the quarterback position, finally. At a cost, sure, but seemingly a reasonable one over time.
In 2023-25, under the agent's proposal, Cousins would earn $20 million a season. I'm not sure his reps would sign off on nine years of team control, and these figures could prove to be drastically low, but certainly this could have been a jumping off point to further discussions,
From Washington's perspective, this should be an easy contract to stomach. Cousins' salary cap figures, assuming the team converted his high early base salaries to signing bonuses, would be: $12M, $14.5M, $20.75M, $20M, $23M, $36M, $32M, $28M, $24M. By the time we get into the $30M area, heaven knows how high the cap would be, but trust me this will ring like a bargain by then. After three seasons, the team is essentially through the guaranteed portion of the contract and can treat Cousins more as a year-to-year commodity -- which seems to be Washington's preference throughout the drawn-out ordeal.
Is this the end-all and be-all? No. But it's a template that could be worked from and molded. Cousins might want more backside protection in terms of another roster bonus. Certainly, an incentive package could be in order.
But at the very least it would have displayed a modicum of effort and sincerity in their quest to secure their quarterback long-term. It would have negated that desperate six-paragraph statement Allen read. It would have been a proposal worth standing behind, and addressing at a press conference (because unlike what Washington actually offered, it would have been defensible; they could have actually fielded questions about it without being laughed off the podium).
And all it required was one hour and a notepad from someone with nothing to gain or lose. Make no mistake, the ball has always been in Washington's court here; Cousins is smart to be perfectly fine with going year-to-year if no viable alternative is provided. While it's not impossible the sides finally come to some multi-year agreement in January, before the franchise tag must be applied again, nothing Allen said or did last week helped that cause.
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