When the Redskins selected Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the plan was for him to serve as the backup for the second-overall pick, Robert Griffin III. But things don't always work out as planned, and after a stellar rookie season, RG3 floundered, Cousins eventually replaced him, and by 2015, it was clear that Cousins was now Washington's quarterback of the future.
Except that Cousins was set to become a free agency this offseason, which is why the team slapped him with the franchise tag. And unless the two sides come to terms on a long-term deal by July 15, Cousins will earn nearly $20 million in 2016, and more importantly, won't be able to sign a new contract until after the season.
Last month, Cousins admitted that "no progress" had been made on a multi-year contract, and on Friday, ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reported that "[N]othing is happening by way of negotiations between Cousins and the team, and nothing will be happening. The two sides won't be reaching a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline."
There's inherent risks for both sides; the looming specter of injury could cut Cousins' career short, or he could put up Hall of Fame numbers and substantially increase his value. By way of comparison, Joe Flacco entered the final year of his rookie deal in 2012, and the Ravens chose not to extend his contract at the time. Flacco ended up leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title -- and earning MVP honors in the championship game -- and parlayed that into the a shiny new deal that made him the NFL's highest-paid player. In the three years since, Flacco has suffered a serious knee injury and gone 22-22.
But Flacco -- like Cousins -- plays the most important position in football, and quarterbacks have leverage where other plays don't. Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan understands this.
"Let me overpay him if he's good," McCloughan told Bleacher Report in April. "If you have a productive guy, it helps everything, and it proves out. You look around this league and see the teams that are in the playoffs every year and look who the quarterbacks are. Look at the ones who win. It proves out."
As to what Cousins might be looking for, former agent Joel Corry, who contributes to CBSSports.com, gave these ballpark figures during a radio interview last month:
Joel Corry on a July Cousins deal: "You're going to have to give him $60M in guarantees, $35M in full guarantees and at least $20M a year."— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) June 30, 2016
Cousins' 2016 performance will determine much those numbers change by next offseason. Unless, of course, the Redskins choose to franchise him again, which will cost them roughly $24 million -- not an unreasonable sum for a franchise quarterback. Whatever happens, it's a nice pay bump from the $660,000 he made in the final year of his rookie deal.