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Should Redskins Protect Themselves With a Tag?

February 21, 2018
Most pundits and fans would agree that the Redskins should not put a franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, which they are allowed to do as of Tuesday.

I have said the same and anybody that has the same opinion, obviously is using a good level of common sense, which is more than can be said for Bruce Allen and the Redskins, in many cases. 

However, could a case be made for why the Redskins SHOULD put the franchise or transition tag on Cousins, where it is somewhat realistic and makes some sense?

Yes and no. Here’s the only scenario that I can see. And it is still an enormous risk. 

If the Redskins put either tag on Cousins and specifically the franchise tag at $34 million, they must make that decision by March 6. By doing so, it would protect them from a disastrous scenario which is unlikely but could play out. What’s that scenario?

The new league year and free agency does not begin until 4 PM on March 14. The trade with Kansas City and the reported extension with Alex Smith can also not be made official until that time. What happens if somebody (Kansas City, Smith or Washington) gets cold feet and changes their mind?

Before you scoff, and it’s obviously not the same situation, but remember what just happened between Josh McDaniels, the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.

Could the Redskins try to protect themselves at all costs while also trying to screw with Mike McCartney, Priority Sports and Kirk Cousins?

You’re probably saying “C’mon, this would never happen” and I think you should remember anything can happen until something is official.

The plus side to this scenario for the Redskins is that they don’t have to be under the league’s salary cap until the new league year begins. Once they have assurances from both the Chiefs and Smith near the opening of the league year, they could lift or rescind the tag designation and allow Cousins to walk free with no harm to their cap.

Essentially – you could view it as an insurance policy.

That’s if Cousins doesn’t sign the franchise tender, locking in at least a one-year rate of more than $34 million. If Cousins did show up at Redskins Park to do that, Washington would have to rescind the offer before disaster strikes.

The more realistic down side is that a grievance with the NFLPA against the Redskins would almost immediately be filed by Cousins’ camp. As they should.

Via Mike Florio of "Article 4, Section 8, subsection (b)"  of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) says this: “A club extending a required tender must, for so long as that tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the tender at the tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” 

The above clause, which I verified in the current CBA (Page 12, Section 8 "Good Faith Negotiations", would totally put the obligation at the feet of the Redskins to have a good faith intention to employ Kirk Cousins in 2018.  

However, a deeper dive reveals this, once again in Section 8, paragraph (A) under "Good Faith Negotiation," just above the clause cited. This clause reads "In addition to complying with specific provisions in this Agreement, any Club, any player, and any player agent or contract advisor engaged in negotiations for a Player Contract ( including any Club extending, and any player receiving, a Required Tender) is under an obligation to negotiate in good faith

I am not a lawyer. I am not an arbitrator. However, the Redskins could possibly point to the fact that Cousins and McCartney did not engage in any good faith negotiations in 2017, after they made their last offer in early May. Therefore, the player and agent (which the clause cites) and not just the team, were "under an obligation to negotiate in good faith" but never did, in the form of a counter to the Redskins multi-year contract offer.

The CBA does not specifically mandate (in this clause) that a player or team must engage in multi-year contract negotiations, so theoretically that's where the "spirit of the rule" argument could come into play.  As far as I can tell, Cousins was not under any obligation to negotiate a long-term deal via counter-offer. 

Cousins admitted to Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The FAN on July 17th of last year that he and his agent decided that the franchise tag structure "just made it simpler for us to not counter offer and just to allow those tags to frame the entire process," per a transcription by Dan Steinberg and Scott Allen of the Washington Post. 

The Post also noted that Cousins told Grant & Danny that Cousins also mentioned "he said that up to a week ago he was still praying “over whether we should send an offer,” and that during a  weekend visit from Bruce Allen to Michigan, Cousins was given the opportunity “to fully communicate where we’re coming from and why it’s in our best interest to allow more time to pass before making that longer-term decision.”

Could this be the golden ticket that the Redskins are hanging onto as a means of a defense, if and when Cousins and his side file a grievance?  It's quite possible. I'm not sure if it would hold up, because that was last year and no grievance was filed. This year, the Redskins have no obvious intention to employ in good faith and it would certainly seem that neither Cousins or McCartney want that, which means both sides have no intention and essentially wash each other out. 

For those that say a grievance has no merit or that Cousins’ situation is the same as Matt Cassel’s was in 2009 – you are not thinking enough. Cassel was thrilled to get the franchise tag, his first. He knew this was his way to a starting job and an absurd amount of money. If it was his third restriction, the situation may have been a lot different.

For those that argue the Carolina Panthers had no intent to do a long-term deal with Josh Norman before they rescinded the franchise tag, allowing Norman to sign a whopping contract with the Redskins – I would say this – you’re not factoring in that negotiations for a deal took place before and after that designation by Carolina on a deal with Norman. It’s not the same.

The new argument will be against the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell, once they put a second franchise tag down on the running back, as is expected. The difference is the sides have a fundamental disagreement on cost and structure, not on desire.

The Washington Redskins don’t want Cousins back, because they feel Smith is better and cheaper. They traded for his replacement. It’s their right and that’s the decision they made. They should of course move on and pray that nothing bad happens before now and March 14. 

They made the choice to trade more assets and not negotiate this year or wait around. That’s their choice and to restrict Cousins for any period into the league’s new year would be a terrible business practice. It would also open the Redskins up for potentially losing cap space or possibly a draft pick at some point in the future, if Bruce and the boys are determined to be guilty as charged through the legal process.

Yet they could still be extremely stubborn, petty and vindictive while risking a messy conclusion.

They know that a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 is not fully guaranteed but likely. They also know that Cousins and his agent would almost never sign a deal with an acquiring team via trade.

In essence – they have very little if any wiggle room to make a deal because they can’t trade his pre free-agency negotiating rights (like the NHL system allows) and because they know Cousins and McCartney won’t help them, which they should not.

If the Redskins and specifically Bruce Allen had not burned every bridge known to mankind over the last couple of seasons when it came to the lines of communication and trust, perhaps something could have been worked out so that the Redskins received something guaranteed.

That’s why Kirk Cousins did not negotiate last year. That’s why Kirk Cousins wanted out. That’s why Cousins would not take a team friendly deal. Allen tried to sucker Cousins, created a tremendous amount of animosity and the only chance the Redskins had of a deal with Cousins was if Allen was not a factor.

If the Redskins try to get cute, tag Cousins and keep the tag on him into the free agency period,  they would also have to carry that cap figure into the league’s new year and combined with Smith’s reported cap figure, have around $51 million tied up in quarterbacks under the 2018 salary cap. Yeah….

They only have a reported $48 million in cap space before Smith’s reported 2018 cap figure is accounted for. That would mean that Washington would have to release or re-structure at least one player, if not more, before teams have to be under the cap.

The bottom-line is this: It only makes sense to use the franchise tag under the scenario above, which protects the Redskins in case the Smith deal falls apart. That’s it. 

This is the only scenario that I can see that makes any sense at all and even if a grievance would be filed, I presume that it would be dismissed if Washington releases Cousins from that tender at the beginning of free agency.

That’s the only way both sides walk away with a W to some degree.

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN