Redskins president Bruce Allen said last night that the team has started to have contract discussions with Kirk Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, and they are going well.
“We feel good,” Allen said. “Kirk wants to be a Washington Redskin, and we want Kirk to be a Washington Redskin. It will work itself out.”
But what will the Redskins’ salary cap look like when it does work itself out? Will the Redskins be able to retain their own good players and pay free agents to fill holes?
In the short term, certainly, his contract should not be an issue. If the Redskins want to they can squeeze Cousins’ deal into a very tight 2016 salary cap spot.
Cousins’ contract is likely to average between $15 and $20 million per year, probably close to the higher figure than the lower. The contract the Chiefs gave Alex Smith in 2014 averages $17 million per year, perhaps a bit less than Cousins will get, but close enough to use it to illustrate how Cousins’ deal could be structured.
Smith’s 2014 salary was $1 million but he still got plenty of cash in the form is an $18 million signing bonus. That structure made the first-year cap hit on his deal $4.6 million.
The Chiefs pay for that bargain cap hit as the years go by. The cap hit jumped up to $15.6 million last year, $17.8 million this coming season, $16.9 million in 2017 and $20.6 million in 2018.
The Redskins may want to smooth out the cap charge increases for Cousins’ contract. Since Bruce Allen has been involved in contract negotiations the organization generally has taken more of a “pay now” approach when it comes to big contracts. They could easily craft a contract for Cousins with a cap hit of $10 million in 2016.
How will that set up the Redskins’ salary cap for 2016? Based on the league estimate of $153 million per team, they currently have about $12.3 million in cap space (cap data via OverTheCap.com). When Robert Griffin III is released prior to the start of the league year on March 9 that number will jump to $26.4 million. They would have opportunities to create more by releasing some veterans but even at that they could comfortably carve out the $10 million for their quarterback.
Cousins’ cap numbers would go up from year to year. Let’s say his deal is for four years and $72 million, an average of $18 million. After that first-year cap hit of $10 million the cap hits could go $17 million in 2017 and then $19 million and $21 million. The remaining $5 million could go into a dummy fifth year that is voidable and would create a dead cap charge in 2020.
Keep in mind that the salary cap is likely to continue to increase annually. It's going to increase about $10 million from 2015 to this year and the NFLPA anticipates similar jumps. That means that Cousins' cap will remain roughly the same in terms of the percentage of the cap it eats up.
Still, other players like Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan will have increasing cap numbers as well and it will take some careful cap management to work around Cousins’ contract. The key will be Scot McCloughan’s ability to continue to stock the team with quality draft picks who can help the team win while drawing relatively modest salaries.
It’s a lot of money but it’s the going rate. A contract with an average of $18 million would make Cousins the 12th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. That may be a bit high for a quarterback who has started just one season and doesn’t have a playoff win on his resume. But keep in mind that the cap will go up and quarterbacks signing new contracts will surpass the value of Cousins’ deal.