Although it probably won’t happen until sometime this spring, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins is going to get paid.
Yes, he is either a work in progress or a flawed player, depending on what point of view you take. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both. Regardless, in the NFL even unfinished and/or imperfect quarterbacks can make a lot of money.
Cousins will be a free agent at the end of the season and assuming he starts the remaining three games this year he could be a rarity. Quarterbacks who started 16 games the previous season rarely hit the free agent market.
Because of that and the fact that Cousins has just one full season as a starter under his belt his value is hard to figure out, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry. He wrote a long, detailed look at what Cousins’ next contract might look like. And, because of the variables involved, he finds it hard to come up with anything definitive.
One possibility is for Cousins to get a traditional free agent contract that covers four or five years. Corry says that Cousins’ passing numbers are comparable to those of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith of the Chiefs. They are in the middle of contracts that average $17.6 million and $17 million per year, respectively.
The difference is that Stafford and Smith both had much longer track records as starters before signing their contracts. The Redskins may not be willing to commit that much to Cousins based on one season as the starter.
That is where a contract like the one Nick Foles signed with the Rams earlier this year could come into play. The deal was for two years and $24.5 million with $13.7 million fully guaranteed. There are incentives for both personal goals (like Pro Bowl appearances) and team success (such as playoff wins) that can add up to $4.5 million per year to the deal.
A deal like that would allow the Redskins to continue to evaluate Cousins while giving the player an opportunity to further establish himself and increase his earning power in a future contract he would sign in a couple of years before the age of 30. Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney might want a higher floor and higher ceiling
One option that Corry puts out there is the franchise tag for 2016. If Cousins has a strong finish to the season the Redskins might think of tagging him if they can’t come to a deal by the tag deadline in late February. That would give Cousins a $19.7 million salary for 2016. The two teams would have until mid-July to work out a longer-term contract or Cousins would play out the year with the tag and that guaranteed salary.
The Redskins will have the cap room to do it but they would rather not. That gives them incentive to make a deal sooner rather than later, well before the free agent market opens up in March. From Cousins' perspective, it would be a nice payday for one year but there would be no security in place.
Cousins could be tempted to explore the market but quarterback movement in the free agent market is rare in part because QBs like to stay in the system that made them successful. That doesn’t mean Cousins won’t go elsewhere and he is unlikely to give any sort of a hometown discount to the Redskins. But if McCartney thinks that a deal on the table is a good one, there is a good chance that Cousins will sign it.
There are still a lot of variables in play and there are still three important regular season games and possibly one or more playoff games to go in January. But the best guess right now is that Cousins stays in Washington and gets a three-year deal with the third year voidable with a base average of $13-$14 million per year with another $3-$4 million in incentives.