It’s the Two Minute Warning in the Cousins Negotiations

By Steve Thomas

This week, the long, strange saga of the courtship between the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins enters the stage that will ultimately prove to be most critical to their relationship.  In football terms, we’ve reached the two minute warning, the game is tied, and the Redskins have the ball.   Can they drive it in for the touchdown and the win?  What do we even call a win in this circumstance?  Allow me to give you my thoughts.

I’m not going to drone on and on here about what a contract between the Redskins and Cousins could look like, principally because I’ve already done that (read it here:  I stand by that proposed contract and still think that that contract could get a long term deal done.  I realize, because we hear from you practically every day, that some of you out there are of the opinion that Kirk isn’t worth those numbers, for a variety of reasons, but I’m here to tell you that, in my educated opinion, the market has dictated that his value is in that range whether you like it or not.  It’s just a fact of NFL life.  Is it fair in some sort of big picture, moral, ethical sense?  Maybe not, but it’s just the truth.  What I really wanted to do here is to give everyone a piece of advice: do not pay attention to the noise that’s going to be floating around this week. Much of what you’ll hear in the next 7 days is going to be speculation or intentional leaks intended to influence the other side.  As I’ve been saying on The Hog Sty for what seems like forever at this point – certainly a few months now – major business deals tend to get done, if they’re going to happen, at the last minute.  There’s nothing like a real, no kidding deadline to spurn parties who have been involved in a contentious, difficult negotiation and who’ve sworn that they’ll never settle to start compromising.  I’ve seen countless business negotiations close and disputes settle at seemingly the last possible moment merely because the involved parties realized that the alternative, while distasteful, was worse than the compromise.  Neither the Redskins nor the Cousins team have really been incentivized to get serious in these negotiations until now.

You see, if the Redskins don’t get a deal done this year and end up placing either the exclusive franchise tag ($34M) or the transition tag (over $28M) on Kirk for the 2018 offseason, the starting point for more long term contract talks becomes so expensive that completing such a deal would become a severe detriment to the Redskins’ salary cap.  Therefore, for the good of long-term roster planning, this year is the year: it needs to get done now.  Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen, and Eric Schaffer all know this, as does Kirk and his agent.  The Redskins, in particular, are aware of the need to sign a quarterback at a level that will allow players like Brandon Scherff, Spencer Long, Terrelle Pryor (hopefully), and others to remain with the team for the foreseeable future.  This whole winning / fourth Super Bowl ring thing requires a team of good players, not just one expensive quarterback and 52 other inexpensive scrubs – just ask the Baltimore Ravens.  This can be accomplished if Cousins is signed now.

We’ve been hearing in the local and national media practically the entire offseason that Kirk does not want to be here and is aching to jump into the waiting arms of Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco as soon as possible.  I strongly suspect that this is merely a negotiating tactic, word passed by Kirk’s agent or persons close to Kirk with the express intent of making the Redskins front office nervous and more willing to offer a bigger contract.  The truth of the matter is that no one outside of Kirk’s circle of confidants knows what’s really in his head.

Let me ask you this: do you really think that Kirk Cousins wants to leave Washington so badly that he’s willing to turn down a contract worth $130 million with almost $60 million guaranteed at signing?  Money that, if presented by the Redskins this week, is earned immediately with merely the stroke of the pen, without waiting a year, risking injury in 16 more games?  We’re not talking about chump change – that’s an amount of money for him that sets his family up with wealth and prosperity for generations to come.  Even if Kirk holds some sort of bitterness towards the Redskins, a gigantic pile of Benjamins sitting on a conference table in front of him will very likely do wonders for his state of mind.

Remember, Jay Gruden is the man who really made Kirk Cousins into the football player he is today.  Jay has been Kirk’s most vocal advocate – he’s the guy who put his coaching career on the line to bench Robert Griffin and start Kirk in training camp prior to the 2016 season.  Kirk knows how important that move was to his career, and he also knows that Jay faced an almost certain firing if Kirk hadn’t performed up to at least an acceptable level.  Kirk may very well hold Kyle Shanahan in high regard, but I don’t believe that Kirk really and truly wants to abandon Jay Gruden given everything that has gone on between them.  It seems more likely that the Cousins camp is merely using the threat of San Francisco as leverage against the Redskins rather than it truly being the place he has his heart set on, money be damned.

Of course, my optimism depends on the Redskins front office acting rationally in the next 7 days.  If they don’t end up making Cousins a legitimate, market value offer, then there won’t be a long term deal this year.  Dan Snyder has faults, for sure, but his history going all the way back to his days before he owned the team suggests that he’s an outstanding business closer.  How many times over the past 20 years have we heard about Mr. Snyder wining and dining a player or coach to get a deal done in rapid fashion?  This is what Dan Snyder does, and he understands what’s at stake.  He’s been chasing glory with the Redskins for a long time now, and he’s smart and experienced enough to know that (1) the Redskins desperately need stability at the quarterback position, and (2) the fans will most likely revolt – and by “revolt”, I don’t mean figuratively or on social media; I’m talking about a literal revolt at the gate of Redskins Park – if this contract doesn’t get done.  There very well may be quite a bit of stubbornness in the front office about this situation and trepidation about Kirk’s long term potential, but I have faith that Dan Snyder knows that he needs to get it done, and done now.  The Redskins giving the impression through the media that they are really not that concerned and might not cave in on this deal is probably part of the team’s own negotiating tactics.  This is big money, and both sides are playing hardball.  Kirk Cousins and his agent aren’t the only ones who can use the media to their advantage.

To summarize, don’t believe the hype that this contract is impossible and Kirk is just waiting to book a one-way ticket to greener pastures in San Francisco.  Try to ignore what you will read in the media this week about the state of mind of both sides.  Both parties have incentive to get this done, on or before the July 17 deadline.  Yes, it’s possible, even likely, that Kirk has some heartburn about the way the Redskins front office has deal with him, but a Fort Knox-sized pile of gold within reach does wonders for a person’s psyche.  Maybe I’m wrong, and if I am, you’ll hear my say it on The Hog Sty, but  I strongly believe that Redskins will make a legitimate market value deal this week, and the deal will get done.

Have faith people.  The two minute warning just ended and the Redskins front office is driving for the winning score.