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Bruce Allen: Washington willing to tag Kirk Cousins a third time

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The game of chicken in Washington rolls along.

Washington and quarterback Kirk Cousins have until July 15 to work out any sort of contract extension under the rules of his franchise tag. Once July 15 passes, Cousins cannot sign an extension until the 2018 league begins next March. Cousins could hit unrestricted free agency at that point, but Washington has made it clear they will consider all their options when it comes to retaining him.

Washington tagged Cousins this offseason for a second straight year, and barring an extension will pay him $24 million. This is already an unprecedented move, as teams generally don’t use the franchise tag two straight years, especially on a quarterback. A third straight franchise tag would cost the team $34 million in a fully guaranteed salary. On Monday, Washington team president Bruce Allen was asked if a third straight franchise tag would be an option in 2018.

"Yes," he said. "In the collective bargaining agreement, we really have one year and an option that we can do at the end of next season if we don’t get a contract."

Next offseason, Washington could use the exclusive tag, the non-exclusive tag, or the transition tag. The two franchise tags cost the same, while the transition tag would “only” cost the team $28 million. The downside to the transition tag is it would allow Cousins to shop his services elsewhere, and if he signed an offer sheet, Washington could either match or let him walk with no compensation. Under the non-exclusive franchise tag, they would get two first round picks as compensation.

According to Over The Cap, Washington is scheduled to have $54 million in cap space next offseason. If they franchised Cousins again, the $34 million tender would apply fully to that cap space. They have the space, and restructured deals would offer plenty more space, but that’s a huge amount of space devoted to one player. OTC projects a $178 million cap in 2018. A $34 million price tag on Cousins would mean Washington is devoting 19 percent of their cap to one player. They have the space right now, but it does not provide them anywhere close to an optimal cap situation.

I really don’t know how this game of chicken will play out. Neither side seems prepared to move much closer at this point in extension talks. Barring anything drastic changing, it will make next offseason a fascinating watch. We know Kyle Shanahan likes Kirk Cousins. If Cousins is available on the transition tag, I would expect the 49ers to make a strong push on a sizable contract. I would not be surprised if Cousins became the highest paid player in NFL history, regardless of where he lands. It’s not a matter of being the best quarterback in the NFL, but rather, hitting free agency at the ideal time.