Wednesday is the day for NFL teams to put the franchise tag on a player. So in Washington, the focus is on quarterback Kirk Cousins. And what happens in Washington with Cousins also may impact the future of the San Francisco 49ers.
If Washington allows Cousins to walk, the franchise will lose a very effective quarterback and receive nothing in return. In 2016, Cousins threw for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 97.2. Cousins is young, has a strong arm and is growing each season. Over the past two years, his record as a starter is 17-14-1.
Washington faced the same situation a year ago, and put the franchise tag on him, paying him $19.9 million for one season. Retaining him again with the tag will cost Washington about $25 million for 2017, and reports from inside the team’s front office indicate Washington may not be willing to spend that much.
But Washington also could sign Cousins and then trade him for draft picks. That’s where the 49ers come in. The Niners need a quarterback and former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan – now San Francisco’s head coach – has a good relationship with Cousins.
John Keim of ESPN.com reports Cousins has told Washington he will only accept a trade to the 49ers. That deal would give the Niners the passer they need to run Shanahan’s new offense, but it would come at a price, perhaps as much as $53 million, guaranteed, for the first two years of a long-term deal, according to Mike Florio of NBC’s Pro Football Talk. That is the deal Cousins reportedly has been seeking to stay in Washington.
“It’s unknown whether he’d give the 49ers a new-hometown discount in order to facilitate a trade,” wrote Florio. “If Cousins won’t take less, would the 49ers plunk down that much, plus send one or more draft picks to Washington to get a quarterback who will be able to run the Shanahan offense? It’s an issue that will be resolved, if anywhere, this week in Indidanapolis as all teams gather there for the Scouting Combine.”
Keim believes there’s a chance for Washington to pull off a Cousins deal with the 49ers.
“(Washington’s) problem is that there’s only one team Cousins will sign with right now, according to one source: San Francisco,” he wrote. “So Washington doesn’t have much bargaining power with other teams. This isn’t just about Cousins maximizing his financial value; it’s about putting himself in the best position. Reuniting with a coach (Kyle Shanahan) who loves you in an offense you love? That’s a win-win for Cousins.”
There are too many variables to make the Cousins-to-49ers deal a sure thing. But if the 49ers can add him – without paying too high a price – Shanahan will have the quarterback he needs for 2017.