WASHINGTON (AP) — In a move that seemed the most likely at this point in the odd dance between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins, the team placed the exclusive franchise tag on the starting quarterback on Tuesday.
The Redskins announced the news one day before the deadline for assigning tags to players.
Nearly a half-hour before the club itself sent out a news release about the move, Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney tweeted about it, and Cousins wrote on the social media site: “Tag! I’m it!”
Coming off a pair of statistically impressive seasons, and a nearly $20 million salary under the franchise tag last season, Cousins is now in line for a one-year salary of about $24 million.
He also could wind up agreeing to a long-term contract with the Redskins sometime before July 15 — or they also could decide to trade him, perhaps to a QB-starved team such as the San Francisco 49ers, whose new head coach is former Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
By using the exclusive tag, the Redskins prevent Cousins from signing an offer sheet with another team. A year ago, they put a non-exclusive tag on him, and he immediately signed it.
From the time he came into the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2012 — the same year Washington took Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection — Cousins and the Redskins have had an up-and-down relationship.
At first, he was a backup behind Griffin, only getting a chance to play when the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year would get injured. Eventually, Cousins got a chance to be the full-fledged starter in place of Griffin two years ago under coach Jay Gruden.
Still, even after his breakthrough 2015 season, including an NFC East title, Cousins was unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal with Washington.
If the Redskins end up paying Cousins the roughly $24 million under the tag next season, that would mean allocating nearly 15 percent of the expected $167 million salary cap. The team needs major upgrades on the defensive side of the ball and could end up losing top wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency.
Last season, Cousins broke his own franchise record for passing yards, nearly eclipsing 5,000, and set another team mark with more than 400 completions, throwing for 25 TDs and 12 interceptions with a completion percentage of 67. The Redskins lost four of their last six games — including 19-10 at home against the division rival New York Giants in the regular-season finale, a defeat sealed by his late interception — to end up 8-7-1 and miss the playoffs.
After that game, asked what he expected to happen in the offseason, Cousins shrugged his shoulders and answered: “It’s really not my decision to make. The ball was in the court of the team last year and they chose to tag me. And the same is true this year.”
In 46 regular-season NFL games, including 41 starts, Cousins has thrown for 12,113 yards, 72 touchdowns and 42 picks.
After the season-ending loss to the Giants, Gruden was asked about Cousins.
“I think he belongs in the NFL as a starting quarterback, that’s for sure,” Gruden said, “and hopefully it’s here.”
Notes: The Redskins tendered offers to a pair of offensive linemen who are exclusive rights free agents, Ty Nsekhe and Vinston Painter.