The Monday deadline has passed, meaning long-term contract talks between Kirk Cousins and Washington are now off until season’s end. The quarterback is set to play this year out on the franchise tag and become an unrestricted free agent yet again in 2018.
Now it’s not often a team captain that is among the best in the NFL in multiple passing categories hits the open market, but here we are.
Of course, the only reason we bring this up is because it immediately impacts the 49ers, who have been reportedly lurking in the background.
They need a quarterback. They have a new head coach in Kyle Shanahan who wants to settle the position. And there’s a pre-existing relationship between the 49ers HC and Cousins, as the two worked together from 2012-13, which included four starts for the quarterback. Now, serendipitously, all Shanahan may have to do is wait a year and send an Uber Black to SFO to pick up his former project.
It’s that close to happening—the two are within arm’s reach at this point.
But to get a real idea of where all three parties go from here, as well address a couple of hypotheticals within each situation, we brought in CBS Sports analyst and former agent Joel Corry. He was gracious enough to provide fresh expertise on the matter and how it impacts the 49ers, and he even offered a few projections.
What is the most likely course of action for Washington in 2018 and why: the franchise tag ($34.4M), the transition tag ($28.7M), or allowing Kirk Cousins to walk?
The most likely scenario to me is Kirk Cousins becoming an unrestricted free agent after the season. Although Washington president Bruce Allen has said a 3rd franchise tag is a possibility, it's impractical because of the exorbitant cost. The transition tag is more plausible than the franchise tag but it has limited value.
Structurally, what does this reported unmatchable offer sheet to counter Washington’s transition tag look like?
Poison pills aren't allowed anymore thanks to shenanigans between the Vikings and Seahawks with Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson offer sheets years ago. However, there are still ways to create offer sheets that are difficult to match. One way would be a fully guaranteed contract.
Another idea is using an extreme amount of salary cap room in 2018. This can be accomplished with a huge roster bonus. It can also be done with an NFL record signing bonus where Cousins has the right to void the contract after the 1st year and can't be given a franchise or transition designation. The entire signing bonus would count on the salary cap in 2018 because Cousins solely controls voiding. The 49ers used a similar concept with Patrick Willis in a 2011 renegotiation to eat up a bunch of cap room in 2012 and eliminate bonus proration from his 2013 through 2016 contract years. Willis didn't exercise his right to void.
Given this recent development, and everything we know about the moving parts here, how likely is a reunion between Cousins and Kyle Shanahan in 2018?
I will be surprised if Cousins isn't the 49ers starting quarterback in 2018. If he has another good year, there could be competition from several teams provided he is an unrestricted free agent. A division rival could be the biggest threat. Expect Sean McVay to push for the Rams to make a run at Cousins if Jared Goff doesn't show significant progress at quarterback this season.
What are the implications on the 49ers cap if they make Cousins the NFL’s highest-paid player? More specifically, would the team be able to make a second lucrative offer to a potential building block on offense, namely a receiver like Sammy Watkins or tackle like Nate Solder, if available?
The 49ers could have the most cap space in the NFL next March with over $100 million at their disposal. That's plenty of cap room to go on a major spending spree during free agency. Paraag Marathe and Brian Hampton are extremely adept in managing the salary cap.
Media courtesy CBS Sports Joel Corry is former sports agent, and analyst for Football Post & CBS Sports