“Tag! I’m it!,” Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins tweeted Tuesday afternoon, confirming what had become inevitable in recent weeks: He was getting the franchise tag for the second consecutive year.
Cousins, 28, received the “exclusive” version of the tag, meaning he is prohibited from negotiating with other teams as he could with the non-exclusive franchise tag. The Redskins, however, still can a) negotiate a long-term deal between now and July 15 with Cousins, who set a franchise record last year with 4,917 passing yards, and b) discuss a trade with another team.
That’s where the 49ers come in. ESPN reported this week that the only other team with which Cousins would sign a long-term deal is San Francisco. How likely is it that Cousins will be a 49er in 2017?
Here’s why it makes sense ... and why it doesn’t.
A trade happens because: The 49ers badly need a quarterback and Washington stands a good chance of losing Cousins anyway next year. The franchise tag will fetch him nearly $24 million this year, and that figure will balloon to approximately $35 million if the Redskins apply for another tag next year. No one feels the Redskins would entertain that possibility.
Cousins makes sense in San Francisco because new coach Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator in Washington in 2012-13 and reportedly was a key proponent of drafting Cousins in the fourth round in 2012. This year’s draft is believed to be weak in starting quarterbacks, at least those who could be effective immediately, and the 49ers might have no quarterbacks on the roster later this week if Colin Kaepernick becomes a free agent.
If the Redskins thought they could trigger a trade with the 49ers, Washington likely would allow Cousins to negotiate a long-term deal with San Francisco. The 49ers have the second-most salary cap space of any team and would gain even more if Kaepernick were released or his deal was reworked.
A trade won’t happen because: The 49ers would hesitate to give away top draft picks and make Cousins perhaps the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback. Once he signs his deal, he’s guaranteed almost $24 million this season, and negotiations would begin there.
Washington has been uneasy about giving Cousins, who never has won a playoff game, a hefty contract. The 49ers might have the same concerns.
The draft-pick compensation might be an even bigger roadblock. Why would the 49ers, a two-win team last season with numerous holes, surrender anything significant if they think there’s a good chance Cousins will become a free agent next year? The Redskins, meanwhile, would take a huge public relations hit if they dealt Cousins for anything less than a first-round pick.
In the end, Washington could allow Cousins to become a free agent next year and let the market determine his worth.