Washington Redskins

Who’s really to blame for the Kirk Cousins contract mess?

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2017, file photo, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs onto the field before an NFL football game against the New York Giants in Landover, Md. The NFL salary cap for the upcoming season will be $167 million per team, up more than $12 million over last year. This is the fourth consecutive year the cap has risen at least $10 million. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Nick Wass/AP photo

Here’s the primary issue with coverage of the never-ending contract saga between the Washington Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins: All the blame lands with the franchise. Talk about your easy mark. Should we reach Monday’s deadline without a long-term deal, meaning Cousins plays on the franchise tag for a second consecutive year, the pitchforks are coming out.

Going whack-a-mole on the Redskins lets folks ignore a different angle: Does Cousins actually want to stay with the Redskins?

Anybody who has paid attention to the fumbles and gaffes emanating from Ashburn, Va., in this calendar year, let alone the past two decades, won’t think twice about a columnist, radio host or Twitter egg taking a 2-by-4 to the organization. Washington probably deserves it just for Jim Zorn and charging $50 for parking alone.

But negotiations only work if both sides are open for compromise. The discussion for over a year essentially centers on the Redskins not coming anywhere near the middle despite numerous comments from the head coach and team president about wanting the quarterback around for the long haul. Just words used to form sentences without any true heft? Perhaps, though Jay Gruden isn’t that good of an actor.

Now go try finding quotes where Cousins says he truly wants to stay.

“He said it once, I think,” a colleague remarked when asked if he could recall any such statement from the dozens of press conferences, radio interviews or articles.

“I definitely want to play here, but it’s football,” is something free-agent-to-be Pierre Garcon said after Washington’s regular-season finale.

“I would love to stay here as a Redskin, but at the end of the day I have to do what’s best for my family,” defensive lineman Chris Baker said as the season concluded in January.

Things don’t always work out. Both Garcon and Baker signed elsewhere. The Redskins weren’t terribly aggressive in those negotiations. The Garcon and Baker camps might have had some inkling how things would go, but the players still said the right things. At some basic level, that’s what free agents do.

Teams don’t slap franchise tags on the same player repeatedly. Weird or not, the Redskins have shown they want Cousins around.

The same week as those Garcon and Baker comments, Cousins did his weekly paid radio interview for 106.7 The Fan. He was asked about staying in D.C.:

“Well you know, I need to let some time pass right now and get some objectivity and have a chance to think things through,” Cousins said. “I’ve been so focused in the season, just trying to get ready for the next opponent, the next opponent and do all I can to get ready that I don’t know if my head’s clear right now.”

Time passed. Two months later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter asked Cousins, “Do you see yourself in Washington long-term?

Armed with the skills of a veteran politician, Cousins responded, “Ya know, I see myself keeping an open mind.”

This week at his football camp in his native Michigan, he told a local TV reporter asking about the contract talks, “I never want to play football thinking about money. I think that you get in trouble doing that.” He told another Michigan outlet, “I hired my agent to do his job.”

Cousins didn’t tell those reporters he wanted to stay with the Redskins. Smart negotiating tactics, probably, but guess what? That might be the truth.

In 2012 the Redskins drafted Cousins into a situation where fellow rookie Robert Griffin III was the chosen one.

In 2015, the Redskins held a QB competition without telling anyone, then awkwardly gave Cousins the job shortly before the season. Then Cousins rewrote the franchise record book and led the Redskins to the playoffs. Then came the first franchise tag because the organization needed to see more before signing off on a long-term deal.

In 2017, Cousins is on the verge of becoming the first QB in NFL history to play on the tag in back-to-back years.

If he reaches free agency in 2018, Cousins might play in San Francisco under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan – or at least with a team that didn’t initially tell him to sit in the corner.

Cousins has the right to have some anger, but that doesn’t mean anyone should turn him into a martyr by suggesting he’s holding strong in negotiations as a way to boost the pay of all quarterbacks. Whatever the exact truth, there’s certainly risk involved.

“Few players are willing to take the risk Cousins has absorbed,” Andrew Beaton wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Franchise tags are lucrative, but only one year long. That is daunting in a sport where the pervasive threat of injury can torpedo a player’s value on any given snap.”

Beaton makes a strong point, which raises the question: Why take the risk? Is Cousins taking the risk for the NFLPA? Is he sincere that money isn’t the driving force? Perhaps yes for both. Folks are willing to accept these narratives. There is another angle worth considering, one that can be resolved with a simple yes or no question: Do you want to sign a long-term deal with the Washington Redskins?


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  1. eBizGuru

    Jul 16, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Dear writer seeking to put something to ink:

    All that needs to happen to prove or disprove your hypotheses is for the “braintrust” to make a serious offer and see if he signs. If so, he wanted to stay. If not, he didn’t.

    Uniil then – quit blowing conjecture up our collective skirts and shit the hell up.

  2. Melvin

    Jul 15, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Finally an objective piece on this situation. That’s all I’ve been asking for. Thank you!

  3. magila

    Jul 15, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I think a better question would be “Why would anyone want to sign a long term contract with the Redskins?” Snyder treats everyone involved with the Team from his players to his staff to the fans like dogshit, then expects everyone to pay up for his next new jet or stadium or whatever he wants.

  4. Matt Phillips

    Jul 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    A long-term deal will get done because it benefits both parties. The owners legacy would take such a severe hit it’s unlikely that they would ever overcome that debacle of not signing Kirk cousins to a long-term deal. Kirk also has many reasons to sign an LTD.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Jul 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      When fans think about owners with a legacy they think of George Halas, Al Davis or maybe Robert Kraft. I don’t think Daniel Snyder is even a blip on their radar screen.

  5. Bob

    Jul 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    The Cousins contracts situation is pretty unique, thus it makes no sense to view it in one dimension.
    Cousins clearly feels underappreciated – picked only as an RG III backup plan. RG III hung out with the owner and bought a Bentley convertible, while Cousins got in his old conversion van and drove home to eat a TV dinner.
    The Redskins then made an insulting low-ball offer last year knowing that the franchise tag was their hole card, forgetting how that would be seen in the Cousins camp.
    And to top it off Daniel Snyder probably sees Cousins as a painful reminder of the costly and chaotic mess that was the Shanahan era, as Cousins was a Shanahan choice. To be forced to offer Cousins a top tier contract now must make Snyder grind his teeth right down to the gums.

    • Melvin

      Jul 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      My question would be… What had Kirk proven prior to that 2015 season? Mgmt was somewhat justified in wanting to see more at that point.

      • John

        Jul 16, 2017 at 7:10 am

        How many big contracts get signed before players have ever played one down in the NFL? Sign them on potential is a saying I hear often. There were chances to sign Kirk before you reached this point. Redskin’s suffer from indecision which is no decision at all. Danny jumps to shinny objects just like sending Johnson who won a SB for Jeff George. George could really spin the ball and nothing else.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Jul 16, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        True enough but that was two years ago. The Redskins didn’t want to get burned like the Bears did when they offered Cutler a long term deal but you can only hedge your bets for so long. Eventually you have to decide that “this is our guy” or find someone else if your going to progress towards a championship.

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