The Redskins have won two of their last three games, with quarterback Kirk Cousins playing a major part in the two wins. Cousins is a free agent at the end of the season and talk is starting to turn towards the possibility of the Redskins and the quarterback beginning discussions on a new deal.
According to reports, no talks have started between the Redskins and Mike McCartney, Cousins' agent. Jay Gruden said yesterday that Cousins "is a guy we'd like to keep around."
Cousins’ signed the standard four-year rookie deal after he was drafted in 2012. This year he is making the fourth-year veteran minimum salary of $660,000 this season. That’s great money for most of America but it’s not much for a starting NFL quarterback.
What would a Cousins extension look like? With seven games left in this, his first season the full-time starter, there are still a lot of variables. But barring either a total collapse or a Cousins-led run deep into the playoffs, we have a comparable deal that we can look at to get an idea.
Nick Foles, also drafted in 2012, recently got a contract extension from his current team, the Rams. He was traded from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason. In Philadelphia Foles had one very good year as a starter. In 2013 he started 10 games, threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and posted an impressive passer rating of 119.2. That performance earned him a Pro Bowl selection.
He came back to earth in 2014, missing half the season with injuries and posting 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 81.4.
Despite those pedestrian numbers, the Rams made the trade and got to work signing him to an extension. They agreed on a two-year extension that put a little more cash in his pocket this year (the last season of his rookie deal) and put him under contract through 2017. The two-year extension is worth $24.5 million with $13.7 million of that guaranteed. He can also earn up to $4.5 million in incentives and the last year of his contract can be voided by meeting performance benchmarks.
Foles’ deal also is fairly painless for the Rams to get out of after 2016 since all of the guaranteed money will have been paid out. That is relevant now because he has been benched, although Jeff Fisher said that Foles will return as the starter at some point.
There is a key difference between Foles’ situation prior to this season and the one the Redskins have with Cousins now. Foles had a year left on his contract so the Rams were giving him his payday early. That perhaps led to something of a hometown discount for the Rams.
At most, the Redskins will be buying out less than two months of free agency for Cousins and probably less than that. Between that factor and the fact that the salary cap will grow by some $10 million per team this year could push Cousins’ deal somewhat north of $12 million per year.
I don’t see it going too much higher than that, however, barring a tremendous run by Cousins and the Redskins over the last seven games. There has been speculation that Cousins could end up in the $17 million per year range, perhaps higher. But you won’t find any one-year starters who are making that kind of money. Quarterbacks with contracts averaging from $17-$18 million per year are the likes of Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, Matt Stafford, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. That’s too high for Cousins, who will have 25 career starts under his belt at the end of the season.
The market is likely to force Cousins to take less per season than most starting quarterbacks will make (a deal averaging $12 million per year would rank 21st among quarterbacks) but he won’t sign a long-term deal at that price. And he will want some incentives and escalators in case he does outperform the contract.
Putting all of that together, we’re looking at something in the neighborhood of three years in the $35-$40 million range with about $15 million guaranteed. Throw in the possibility of adding a couple of million per year in incentives and make the third year void if Cousins plays well and you have the outlines of a deal.
Some of you who are not sold on Cousins as the answer for the future might think that $40 million is an outrageous amount of money to pay him. But quarterbacks are expensive and they are expensive because of simple economics—the demand exceeds the supply. If you don’t pay Cousins, the question becomes who do you pay? There is not a tree somewhere that a team can go to and grab a quarterback who can post a perfect passer rating in a game or lead three fourth-quarter comebacks in a four-game span including one from 24 points down.