The deadline to sign Kirk Cousins is like the ticking clock in a cheesy television thriller. Before the cut to commercial, the heroes have just 10 seconds to cut the wire and diffuse the warhead. Then, after a word from the sponsors, there are suddenly 30 seconds left.
The Redskins have until July 15 to sign Cousins. Otherwise, he will play out the 2017 season under the franchise tag for the second consecutive year. Most franchises would be working around the clock to avoid both absorbing a $24 million salary-cap hit and sending more mixed messages to the starting quarterback they keep inexplicably friend-zoning. But the Redskins are too busy rearranging the chairs in their front office.
According to multiple insider reports, the two sides might agree to a deal in the next month, or they might not. If not, the team could just slap Cousins with the franchise tag for a third consecutive year in 2018, then continue negotiations next offseason.
No biggie, right? Except that tagging a player for three consecutive years is unprecedented, and doing so would cost the team almost $35 million. The franchise tag is designed to be too expensive to keep reusing as a glorified layaway plan.
Adam Schefter's column last week painted a rosy picture of the Cousins talks, using words like "encouraging," "improved" and "positive outlook" in the first two paragraphs, even though Schefter acknowledged at the start that all of the optimism may not result in a long-term deal.
It then points out that Cousins' agent and Washington brass have met twice in the last two months, the team is totally OK with tying a $35 million anchor to its 2018 salary cap, and that owner Daniel Snyder is now personally involved in the negotiations.
That's right, folks: Snyder is on the case, and that's supposed to be a good thing.
The recent history of the Redskins can be summarized as "Daniel Snyder likes a player more than his football people do, and hilarity ensues." From the Albert Haynesworth drama through the end of the Joe Gibbs era and into the Donovan McNabb morality play, Snyder's intervention has resulted in organizational friction, roster confusion and gobs of wasted money. Heck, Cousins is here in the first place because Snyder and the Shanahan family turned Robert Griffin III's career into Shakespeare in the Park.
If a meddlesome owner's involvement and a "maybe next year" timeline counts as "encouraging" news on the Cousins front, what would "discouraging" news look like? Oh, right: McNabb, Griffin, etc.
Snyder is reportedly assuring Cousins that the team truly appreciates him and wants to get a long-term deal done. His team's pay-as-you-go policy and foot-dragging negotiations suggest otherwise. Someone in Ashburn, Virginia, is skeptical about Cousins' long-range value as a franchise quarterback. Whoever that is may think he is keeping the team's long-term options open when in reality he's painting the organization into a corner.
Indecision has made Cousins the expensive commitment the team appears to be trying to avoid. Back-to-back franchise tags will have cost the team nearly $44 million in guaranteed money over the last two years if a deal is not done by the deadline. That figure balloons to nearly $80 million if the Redskins are serious about recycling the salary cap for a third year.
The Redskins are likely to end up paying more guaranteed money for Cousins than they would have paid if they signed him to a long-term deal last year. They just aren't getting any of the benefits of a massive deal: short-term cap relief to help build a contender, insurance if Cousins actually does what the team hopes he does (if he leads the team to a Super Bowl without a long-term deal, his next contract will rewrite economics textbooks) and so on.
Meanwhile, the team has not bothered to draft or develop a Plan B, unless you believe Nate Sudfeld is secretly the next Tom Brady. The team that doesn't want to commit has inadvertently committed with both feet.
So the Redskins are the dude-bro who keeps putting off the wedding, Cousins is Pam from the early seasons of The Office, and Snyder is the dopey dad who blunders into his son's relationship by saying things like "you know he really loves you." Kyle Shanahan is Jim Halpert. These tales never end well for the indecisive suitor.
You may be wondering where the Redskins general manager is during all of this. He's nonexistent! The Redskins proudly announced Tuesday they were replacing Scot McCloughan, fired amid a noxious cloud of innuendo between the combine and the draft, with nobody.
Team president and former general manager Bruce Allen is now team president and de facto general manager. Doug Williams was promoted to vice president of player personnel, but Williams was not offered the general manager title and did not seek it, probably realizing after McCloughan's dismissal what happens to those who fly too close to the Snyder-Allen power structure. Chief contract negotiator Eric Schaffer also earned a titular promotion to vice president of football operations.
When asked who had final say in personnel matters Tuesday, Williams said that such power is "overrated." That's front-office lingo for not me, that's for darn sure. Allen said he "sure hopes" the team signs Cousins. Schaffer assured that "we only want him to be here."
If everyone (including Snyder) is on board, a new contract should be a slam dunk. The same could have been said last year. Not everyone is as on board as they sound. That's how all Redskins sagas begin.
Cousins sounded like he knew the drill Wednesday when asked how Schaffer's promotion might impact contract negotiations. "These are all good promotions," he said. "Those are smart hires ... But make no mistake, there are titles ahead of him. Those people make decisions too."
Butter usually doesn't melt in Cousins' mouth, so hearing even the tinge of frustration in his voice was noteworthy. Cousins, who has his first child on the way, admitted to feeling a little burnt out in the offseason and that his contract was a part of that. He said his agent shoulders much of the burden.
"Things he's told me I haven't always liked to hear," Cousins said. "They haven't always been easy to act on. But he's always been right."
Cousins' remarks don't sound all that encouraging weeks before a deadline that his employer has already blown through once.
Perhaps the Redskins are waiting for Derek Carr to set the market with his new contract, just as they may have been waiting for Andrew Luck to set the market last year. At this rate, they could wait for Dak Prescott to set the market in three years, except the team is already straining the limits of franchise-tagging, and waiting only favors Cousins because quarterback contracts never get cheaper.
The only way Cousins' asking price dips below "highest paid quarterback on the planet" after a third tagging is if he suffers a catastrophic injury or an unprecedented decline. By procrastinating, the Redskins are just betting against themselves.
The Cousins contract situation is this offseason's designated contract drama. Every year, a quarterback's contract negotiations get thorny and drag into the summer, giving us something to talk and write about when news is slow in the early summer. Russell Wilson provided the 2015 drama. Andrew Luck kept us entertained last summer. Cousins was renewed for a rare second season.
These dramas have a predictable rhythm to them: vague, soothing statements from team execs and agents; simmering tension beneath the surface; provocative insider scuttlebutt; a little Fourth of July fanfic from desperate columnists. (Let's say the Redskins tag Cousins for a third straight year but the 49ers offer all of their draft picks until 2020 for him in a trade. What would that mean for Jimmy Garoppolo?)
Then, finally, mid-July consummation, beaucoup bucks for the quarterback and plenty of "Is he worth the money?" debate until training camp starts.
Is Cousins worth the money? The answer doesn't lie in statistical analysis or film breakdowns of his strengths and weaknesses. Quarterbacks who can throw for over 4,000 yards per year, stay healthy, lead the locker room, represent the organization and reach the playoffs are in finite supply. The going rate for them is about $20 million per year and rising. All general managers realize this and set their budgets accordingly.
The Redskins don't have a general manager. They do have a reputation for turning everything into a soap opera, and right now their quarterback sounds a little frustrated and their front office a little confused.
Maybe they will stick the landing on this offseason finale and sign Cousins to a happily-ever-after contract before July 15. If they try to sustain the suspense until season three, the whole situation is going to blow up in their face.