WASHINGTON — Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins are headed for a divorce.
Trust me. I’ve been around divorce most of my life so I know the signs: An arrangement born of necessity, not choice. One side still not over their ex and wondering aloud if it’s even worth staying together, while the other side is starting to realize they deserve better. Both sides publicly saying whatever they have to in order to keep their friends and/or children on their side.
I’ve been both the kid and the parent in a divorce, so the news that both the Redskins and Cousins are just fine with allowing Captain Kirk to go where no NFL quarterback has gone before — playing consecutive seasons under the franchise tag — looks familiar. It very closely resembles the sleeping-in-separate-beds phase that inevitably prefaces a separation.
Cousins has one helluva case in the (divorce) court of public opinion. Over the last two seasons as the starting QB, he’s shown durability (starting all 32 regular season games), relative consistency (completing 68 percent of his passes for 9,083 yards, 54 TDs and just 23 INTs), and has led a team with no defense and no run game to its first back-to-back winning records in two decades. He’s the Redskins’ most valuable player and I’m not sure there’s a close second.
Despite that and Cousins’ affordable asking price (reportedly $44 million in guarantees with an annual average of $19 million per season would have had this deal done last year, and $58 million in guarantees reportedly would have brought him back to the table this year), the Redskins continue to kick the proverbial can down the road for what will become three years, displaying general disinterest in making a long-term commitment to their best QB in a generation.
And don’t let Bruce Allen’s unprecedented charade in front of the media on Monday fool you — I’ve never seen a team flat out tell you their offer publicly. And it’s actually pretty insulting considering it’s an obvious attempt to turn fans against Cousins.
That move is exactly why the Redskins come off as the dysfunctional partner in this relationship: Step One of any divorce is to avoid publicly talking trash about the other party or trying to turn the kids against them. Allen’s actions on Monday only confirm the notion that the Redskins are the unfit parent with the long, sordid history of bad relationships that has no idea how to handle a good one when it finally falls in their lap.
The Redskins haven’t given Cousins any real incentive to go to mediation, either. The organization seems indifferent to staying in the relationship and Kirk’s “one that got away” (former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan) is in San Francisco just waiting to reunite with Cousins. (And if that doesn’t work out, Cousins has a solid rebound with Sean McVay in Los Angeles.) Furthermore, Allen’s continued insistence on calling him “Kurt” should be enough to make Cousins “Kirk out” (see what I did there?) on him a la Katherine Jackson.
So, if you’re Kirk Cousins, why wouldn’t you go all Juanita Jordan on Dan Snyder by pocketing his $44 million between the two franchise tags and then hitting the open market to take your heart to San Francisco?
The Redskins are going to pay for this divorce in more ways than one. If they franchise Cousins a third time (which is highly unlikely), it’ll cost them over $34 million next season. If they transition tag him instead (which makes more sense, but is still equally stupid), that means a $28 million salary for 2018 but an opening for other teams to negotiate with Cousins.
And negotiate they will. Cousins is a productive passer in his prime (he’ll turn 29 next month) and has demonstrated all the intangibles you look for in a starting QB. Cousins has no reason whatsoever to settle for anything less than $72 million in guarantees — the approximate cost of the Redskins renting his services — on a long-term deal, decidedly more than last year’s reported asking price.
Beyond that, the Redskins have no truly desirable Plan B option. Colt McCoy is a solid backup, but his injury history and lack of arm strength make him a “meh” starter at best, and third-stringer Nate Sudfeld is a 2017 sixth-round pick whose next NFL snap will be his first. Barring a costly trade up to the top of 2018 NFL Draft (you know, the method by which the Redskins ended up with the ex they’re not over yet in Robert Griffin III), the ‘Skins won’t be in position to select one of the top QB prospects.
This makes it mystifying that after years of having to overlook major flaws in their QB, the Redskins are now inexplicably nitpicking reasons why this competent partner can’t be “the one.” Cousins hasn’t been perfect, but he’s done almost everything the ‘Skins have asked of him and more. They refuse to show him the love. So, like many divorces, they’ll show him a lot of money before he goes away for good.
The Redskins organization’s flawed line of thinking has not only turned the 2017 season into the Kirk Cousins Farewell Tour, but it leaves their fans with one final course of action: Bracing for an emotionally devastating split.