The Kirk Cousins watch here at Niners Nation has a long way to go. The Washington quarterback has until July 17 to negotiate a contract extension before having to play the season on the franchise tag. If a deal does not get done, the two sides cannot work out an extension until after the 2017 season. At that point, an extension, a franchise tag, transition tag, or unrestricted free agency are the four options on the table.
Derek Carr’s recent contract extension has opened the door for quite a few quality quarterbacks to cash in over the next year. Carr received $40 million fully guaranteed, and his average per year is $25 million. Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees all could technically hit the open market next season. Cousins might have the best chance, but either way, they’ll all be hitting big on the open market.
The APY is not a great marker for NFL contracts, because contracts are not fully guaranteed, and they get renegotiated over and over again. However, it is intriguing to see how the APY and guaranteed money will pan out for a lot of these big names.
On Monday, ESPN’s Dan Graziano took a look at how things could shake out for the market. He sees Brees and Stafford likely returning to the Saints and Lions, respectively, albeit potentially topping Carr’s $25 million APY. For Cousins, he suggests a deal of over $30 million per year is a good bet.
The team's designated franchise player for the second year in a row, Cousins is fully guaranteed a $23,943,600 salary for this season and nothing thereafter. If Washington doesn't sign Cousins to a long-term deal before July 17, franchise-tag rules say it cannot negotiate one with him until after the end of its 2017 season. Which means, if they don't get an extension done in the next three weeks, Cousins could become an unrestricted free agent in March. It would cost Washington nearly $35 million to franchise Cousins again in 2018, and $28.8 million to use the transition tag on him. Cousins' 2017 guarantee means he would need much more than Carr to sign by the July 17 deadline, and so far the team has been unwilling to offer him the kind of deal that would entice him away from the promises of unrestricted free agency with multiple teams bidding next spring. The bet here is that he hits the market and gets more than $30 million a year on his new deal, setting a new benchmark for quarterback salaries.
Contract value does factor in the quality of a player, but it is more significantly impacted by the timing. Cousins is due just under $24 million this year, while Stafford is due $16.5 million. Stafford would be due approximately $26.4 million on the franchise tag next year and $31 million the year after that. It’s kind of ridiculous, but Cousins has the edge in leverage as he enters his second season on the franchise tag.
The real question will be guaranteed money, and how it is sorted out now vs. later on the deal. Cousins will get a huge signing bonus, along with full guarantees on the first couple years of his deal. If he gets the kind of record-breaking fully guaranteed money I think he could get if he hits the open market, it will be interesting to see how a negotiator will get creative with the deal. The 49ers mix in option bonuses fairly regularly, so we could see that. We might see a regular roster bonus guaranteed down the way.
At the same time, the 49ers have a ton of cap space, so front-loading the deal would not really be a problem. And if Washington uses the transition tag on Cousins, it gets really interesting. They would not get draft pick compensation if he leaves, but they would get the right of first refusal on any contract offer. Washington and the 49ers will both have a lot of cap space in 2018, so front-loading a deal wouldn’t necessarily make it hard to get a deal done. But if Washington is not prepared to go all in on Cousins next year, the 49ers might just be able to put a big offer on the table and end any chance of Cousins not signing. This, of course, all depends on Cousins actually becoming either an unrestricted free agent, or available via the transition tag.