Maybe Bruce Allen and the team's reorganized front office spend long evenings around a fireplace, discussing the philosophy of quarterback economics over brandy and cigars. I say, Douglas old bean, Allen tells Doug Williams, adjusting his ascot and swirling his snifter, this Cousins fellow is far too bourgeois to be compensated like the quarterback aristocracy. Don't you agree?
Maybe they are still hung up on the rise and fall of Robert Griffin, like characters in a Russian novel lamenting a son who was shipped off to the gulags. Or perhaps deposed general manager Scot McCloughan left Da Vinci Code clues about how to proceed, and now Allen and Williams must frantically translate Cousins' ideal signing bonus from the backward French script on a Renaissance statue.
Allen's eleventh-hour statement on the Cousins contract shed little light on the team's thought process. He stated Monday afternoon that the Redskins offered $53 million guaranteed to Cousins but received no response from the quarterback's agent, adding that "Kirk has made it clear that he prefers to play on a year-to-year basis."
The statement was purposeless posturing and well-poisoning, even if parts of it were true. Allen has steered his team into an expensive no-win situation; trolling his own quarterback one week before the start of camp is a funny way to try to make things better.
Whether either side prefers it or not, Cousins will play for the $24 million tender this year. After the season, the team will either attempt to reach a long-term deal with him for a third consecutive offseason, spend a shocking $34 million to slap the tag on him for a third (and final) year or let him leap into the 49ers' waiting arms as a free agent and start completely over at quarterback.
How we got here is well documented and no longer relevant. What's important is what happens next. Here are all the possible scenarios, from the unlikely fantasies to the much more probable harsh realities.
The Redskins win the Super Bowl this year. Huzzah! All of the Cousins indecision and front office skullduggery in Washington pays off somehow! Then everyone sits down after the parade and figures out what to do next.
If he leads the Redskins to the Super Bowl, Cousins gains enough leverage to flip a tractor-trailer with his pinkie. Take Joe Flacco's relationship to the Ravens after the 2012 Super Bowl and multiply it by three years of baggage, then add the 49ers as a wealthy, eager suitor in the wings: That's what Cousins' bargaining power will be after a Super Bowl win.
Tagging Cousins after a Super Bowl would be too much of an embarrassment for anyone to swallow. If he were to hold out after delivering a championship, fans would hold candlelight vigils to support him. The Redskins' only choice would be a historic contract, the kind they could have avoided by signing Cousins any time in the last two years.
Vegas lists the Skins as a 50-1 shot to win the Super Bowl, according to OddsShark, so this is an extremely unlikely scenario. It's also the only one that works out well for the team.
Cousins and the Redskins tank. Imagine Allen stoking the fire, freshening Williams' brandy and congratulating himself for the shrewd financial maneuvering that resulted in doling out nearly $44 million guaranteed over two years and having nothing to show for it. Tut-tut, I daresay we dodged a bullet with that Cousins fellow. Pray tell, what shall we do now?
The whole point of stringing Cousins along has been to financially insulate the team against Cousins reverting to the turnover-prone journeyman form of his early career. (At least, that appears to be the point; it's hard to tell.) There is no way the Redskins could justify tagging Cousins at $34 million after a bad season, and any offer they make would be a worthless lowball. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan will assure John Lynch he can "fix" Cousins, and usual suspects like the Browns and Jets will line up for a possible bargain.
If Cousins validates the team's apparent distrust of him, the Redskins get a bad season and the start of a rebuilding era in exchange for a clean cap ledger. Cousins procrastination has set the team up very nicely for very comfortable failure.
At least a complete collapse by Cousins and the Redskins is almost as unlikely as a Super Bowl win. Cousins is too steady, and his supporting cast is too good. That leads us to the most likely outcome for 2017.
Cousins and the Redskins remain Cousins and the Redskins. If the Redskins apply the franchise tag again to Cousins after another typical Cousins year—4,000 or so yards, nine or 10 wins, a playoff loss—they will enter a funhouse mirror universe in which they spend a total of nearly $80 million over three years to save themselves from getting locked into an overpriced long-term commitment to a non-superstar quarterback. The irony alone could cause team employees to shake their heads in despair.
Forking over $34 million to Cousins for 2018 would hamstring the Redskins from a cap standpoint, making it hard for the team to improve the rest of the roster and move out of its wild card-level rut. Long-term contract negotiations, on the other hand, will start at $34 million guaranteed for 2018 before a dime of new money is added. Cousins isn't going to take a pay cut to stay in Washington, after all. The Redskins will begin any 2018 negotiations in competition with their own franchise tag.
There is no way out of this predicament that doesn't require paying Cousins a small fortune, finding a new quarterback, tying the team's own internal quarterback logic in knots or some combination of all three. Starting over in 2018 makes more sense than just about anything else, but the team has left itself with nothing but dubious alternatives.
• Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld. Remember 2011, when Mike Shanahan declared Rex Grossman and John Beck his quarterbacks based on the sole qualification that neither of them were Donovan McNabb? There's precedent for the Redskins to defiantly self-sabotage themselves for a year at quarterback just so the organization's bigwigs can prove a point.
Maybe Sudfeld is secretly Tom Brady and McCoy is secretly...I dunno...Billy Kilmer or somebody. But positive reviews of McCoy and Sudfeld out of Washington headquarters coincided a little too neatly with downturns in the Cousins talks over the last two years. McCoy/Sudfeld optimism sounds like more Redskins parlor wisdom. Douglas, my good man, I contend that we can transform that Sudfeld guttersnipe into a worthy gentleman every bit the equal of this presumptuous Cousins!
• Rookie quarterback to be determined. The Redskins passed on several mid-round developmental heirs apparent in this draft class while simultaneously twiddling their thumbs about Cousins. So instead of pointing to C.J. Beathard or Davis Webb as a viable quarterback of the future, the team will likely be forced to dip into the 2018 draft for a quarterback, whether Cousins moves on or gets tagged again.
The Redskins must fail extra spectacularly to tunnel below the Jets and other bottom feeders if they hope to select a Sam Darnold-level prospect, unless they execute an RG3-like trade and start the vicious cycle over again. Barring either scenario, the team would possess a middle-of-the-round draft pick, forcing it to settle for a middle-of-the-road prospect. You know: a rookie with the upside of Kirk Cousins.
• Free agent quarterback to be determined. Jettisoning the homegrown Cousins for a veteran like Sam Bradford would be the most depressingly Redskins-like thing the Redskins have done in a long time.
• Colin Kaepernick. Just thinking about this scenario will melt your brain like a marshmallow dropped onto a hibachi. Please do not do so when driving.
None of these alternatives is very appealing. It's inexcusable that the franchise put itself in this position so soon after Cousins took it to the playoffs, McCloughan came aboard to manage the roster and the whole organization finally appeared to figure out how to stop playing in-house politics and start playing football. Now the Redskins are in Super Bowl-or-bust mode behind a quarterback they obviously do not think can win them a Super Bowl, all the while publicly sparring with him over money. It's absolute foolishness.
This is what it looks like when a team sails past the point of no return in quarterback negotiations. There is no immediate danger, because the Redskins and Cousins will be pretty good this year and everyone will be well paid. Allen and the team brass can philosophize about the wisdom of spending premium money on a B-plus quarterback to their hearts' content. But the floor beneath their reshuffled deck chairs is about to tilt, because the Redskins just crashed themselves into an iceberg.