One of the reasons that the Redskins and Kirk Cousins’ camp are may be having difficulty in their contract talks is that nobody really knows what a long-term contract for Cousins should look like.
Executing contracts for free agent football players is in some ways like buying a house. To price the house, the real estate agent looks at comparables, recent sales of similar houses in similar neighborhoods. The agent will list the house somewhere around what those homes sold for.
The problem with figuring out Cousins’ worth is that there are no real comparable quarterback contracts to work with. He had sporadic appearances in his first three seasons in the league. Then he was named the starter, started off the year slowly but then caught fire (against some suspect defenses) and set some team passing records in the process of leading the team to the NFC East title.
And now his rookie contract has expired and he is set to become a free agent. Who else in this decade has gone from the bench to a record-setting, division winning, 16-game starter in the last year of his rookie contract? Nobody, really.
It doesn’t mean that Cousins’ team and the Redskins are going into the negotiations blind. Looking at average contract values per year, it’s clear that Cousins does not belong in the over $20 million neighborhood. The players in there are ones who have at least one Super Bowl ring (Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger) or have been playing at a high level for a long time (Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan).
But a deal below $15 million per year would put him in with the likes of Sam Bradford’s just expired deal and Nick Foles. That’s the low-rent district. Foles was benched and Bradford was inconsistent and injured. Their bodies of work prior to 2015 had some good moments but nothing consistently special.
So something between $15 million and $20 million per year seems right. But that’s a lot of room for negotiation when you multiply it by the four or five years a Cousins extension would probably cover.
The best thing to do here might be for the Redskins to put the tag on Cousins and to let the quarterback market play out in the spring. See what Sam Bradford gets and what kind of deal Colin Kaepernick receives if the 49ers decide to move on from him. Even the deal landed by Ryan Fitzpatrick could be useful as a guide.
A very useful guide will be Brock Osweiler’s new deal. He started seven games for the Broncos and they won five of them. His numbers were not quite as good as Cousins’ were (86 passer rating compared to 101 for Cousins) but the Broncos did beat the Patriots and Bengals with Osweiler at the helm. The Redskins and Cousins went 0-3 against teams with wining records. The deal will be a good comp.
As long as Cousins signs the tender, something that he is likely but not certain to do, it’s business as usual. Then the two sides could get together in June and, armed with more information on the quarterback market than they had before, get to work on a new deal. It’s likely that they will know about Osweiler’s deal early on since the Broncos are unlikely to tag him so he will have a contract with Denver—or with somebody—sometime in March.
Cousins and the Redskins would have until July 15 to get it done. There is plenty of downside to Cousins playing out 2016 on the tag for both the player and the Redskins that there would be plenty of motivation to get a deal done.
Determined parties plus a hard deadline is a good formula for making a deal. If those elements are present this summer a long-term deal for Cousins should result.