Cousins' agent, Mike McCartney, confirmed his client accepted the franchise tender on Wednesday. On Thursday, Cousins posted a photo of himself signing the tender:
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported general manager Scot McCloughan informed Cousins the team planned to franchise-tag him after negotiations between the two parties broke down.
NFL Network's Albert Breer reported the Redskins have offered Cousins deals that top $16 million per year; however, Cousins' camp would like to see that closer to $20 million.
Opting for the nonexclusive tag will almost certainly ensure Cousins remains with the team, but it's not a foregone conclusion. USA Today's Nate Davis explained the nonexclusive tag allows the player to negotiate with other teams. Should Cousins sign with somebody else, that team would owe Washington two first-round draft picks.
However, Breer noted Wednesday that Cousins plans to sign the tender and report in April.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and Denver Broncos were among the teams waiting to see how the Redskins handled Cousins' contract situation before proceeding.
While the move means the Redskins won't be tied down to Cousins for the long term, they're potentially paying him a king's ransom for 2016, per ESPN.com's Field Yates:
If Kirk Cousins plays on the franchise tag this season, he’ll have the highest base salary for any QB in the NFL in 2016: $19.953M.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 1, 2016
Washington will hope Cousins is the franchise QB the team has lacked since the days of Mark Rypien. It looked as though Robert Griffin III would assume that role, but between his injuries and Cousins' improvement, that is no longer the case.
Speaking after Washington's NFC Wild Card Round exit, Cousins gave every indication he wanted to stay in the nation's capital, per CBS Sports' Will Brinson:
I feel good about where this organization is headed and the nucleus of guys that we have. It's year-to-year, so we will see where we are at going into next year. ... I think I want to be where I am wanted. You want to be with people who believe in you and we are going to find out, because we haven't discussed it yet, how much I am wanted and where that'll go. But I'm sure you know it's a business and the team is going to operate with that mindset and this is my first time going through that process in the NFL. It's new to me, I don't know a whole lot about it, so we'll see how it goes.
At the Senior Bowl in January, McCloughan admitted the franchise tag was "an option" but added a long-term deal was the ultimate goal, per Andrew Walker of the team's official website.
"I want him to be part of the Redskins," McCloughan said. "You'd rather get a long-term deal done, but we have a lot of options we're dealing with right now, and that's one of them."
Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported Feb. 18 negotiations on a multiyear extension weren't going well between Cousins and Washington:
Adam Klug of The Doug Gottlieb Show knew one way or the other Cousins was bound to see a massive increase on his $660,000 base salary in 2015:
Kirk Cousins this offseason: pic.twitter.com/VMWUgWSLNu— Adam Klug (@Adam_Klug) December 20, 2015
As if any more evidence was necessary, this all but signals the end of Griffin in the nation's capital. The former Heisman Trophy winner is due $16.2 million in 2016 after the team exercised his option in April, and there's little chance Washington will pay him that much to be Cousins' backup for a second consecutive season.
Rapoport noted the financial ramifications of releasing Griffin and re-signing Cousins:
#Redskins had RGIII allocated for $16.1M on his fifth-year option that'll go away when he's released. Kirk Cousins' $20M goes in its place.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2016
The Redskins are hitching their wagons to Cousins, and given his play in 2015, he deserves at least another year to lead the team's offense.
Cousins performed well above expectations in 2015, throwing for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His 69.8 percent completion rate was also the highest in the NFL.
Still, questions remain as to whether he can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio (47-30) is average, and he benefited to a certain extent from Washington's soft 2015 schedule. Not only did the Redskins play in one of the weakest divisions in the league, but they also faced off with every team from the NFC South, which lacked much quality beyond the Carolina Panthers.
Win-loss records aren't a great standard by which to hold players. At the same time, this stat from Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson sums up the skepticism around Cousins:
#Redskins Kirk Cousins could get a new deal averaging $17-$19 mil a yr. But in 26 starts, he hasn't beaten a team w/ a winning record. Zero.— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) January 11, 2016
At times, Cousins is discussed as a young quarterback despite the fact he'll turn 28 in August. That makes him older than Griffin and Blaine Gabbert and the same age as Matthew Stafford, who aren't often characterized as "young quarterbacks" deserving of more time to develop under center.
Some of Cousins' supporters will point to Aaron Rodgers as an example of a quarterback who blossomed somewhat late into his NFL career. However, Rodgers was already a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion by his age-28 season (2011).
Cousins earned a massive pay increase in 2016, but it's tough to determine how much he is worth. The Baltimore Ravens paid Joe Flacco at the peak of his value—six years, $120.6 million—and they've suffered the consequences for it ever since.
In that respect, NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal believes using the franchise tag on Cousins might be the best move for Washington:
Cousins won't like it but the franchise tag seems perfect for Redskins. Make him do it again before long-term $$— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) March 1, 2016
If Cousins regresses next year, the Redskins are only overpaying for him for one season, after which they could re-sign him to more reasonable terms or let him walk completely.
Should he continue to improve in 2016, Washington will have a much easier time throwing a massive extension offer his way a year from now.