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Two GMs think huge roster bonus would be the key on Kirk Cousins transition tag

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The 49ers have the cap space to put the squeeze on Washington.

Washington and quarterback Kirk Cousins have until Monday to negotiate a contract extension, after which they have to wait until the end of the season. NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport is hearing that barring anything unforeseen, Cousins will play this season on the franchise tag.

If he does play out the year on the tag, the question becomes what the next step will be in the Cousins contract process. The possible results next offseason include the following:

  • Contract extension with Washington
  • Washington franchises him a third straight year, he signs the tender, gets $34 million fully guaranteed
  • Washington franchises him a third straight year, and they trade him - it would be an exclusive tag, so he could not otherwise negotiate with other teams
  • Washington uses the transition tag - Cousins can then sign an offer sheet elsewhere and if Washington doesn’t match, they get no compensation
  • Washington does nothing and he becomes an unrestricted free agent

The transition tag seems unlikely given the lack of compensation in return, but they might feel stuck with it if they aren’t prepared to pay Cousins $34 million fully guaranteed. If that happens, teams will try and get creative to craft a deal Washington can’t or won’t match. Jason Cole heard from a pair of GMs on how that might happen:

The San Francisco 49ers have a ton of cap room right now and next year, but is it enough compared to Washington to do this? As things currently stand, the 49ers have approximately $62 million in 2017 cap space and $43 million in 2018 cap space, according to Jason Hurley. That $62 million number will change when they cut down to the 53-man roster. Additionally, they could sign players to extensions, and as injuries happen and they have to sign replacements, the number will change. But for simplicity’s sake right now, if the 49ers roll over the entirety of their $62 million, they would have $105 million in cap space.

Washington currently has $6.4 million in 2017 cap space and $54.6 million in 2018 cap space, according to Over The Cap. That adds up to $61 million in 2018 cap space if they roll over the entirety of the $6.4 million.

The big question with any contract for Cousins is how much fully guaranteed money he gets. NFL contracts are inflated by non-guaranteed money, and rolling guarantees, so all that matters is how much the player is guaranteed to get regardless of how long he plays. Given the timing of a potential extension, Cousins could be in line for over $50 million in fully guaranteed money.

On the off chance Washington uses the transition tag, could we see the 49ers use a roster bonus to cover the entirety of the fully guaranteed money? A $60 million signing bonus would prorate over the life of the contract, so it would not be an immediate $60 million hit. But a $60 million roster bonus would all hit the team’s 2017 cap. Washington has time to make some space, but would they be willing to take that chance? If the 49ers used that kind of huge roster bonus, they would still have $45 million in cap space to spend on additional needs without adding in any potential roster cuts.

For those wondering, this is not the kind of poison pill that is no longer allowed. In 2006, Seattle Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson was given the franchise tag. He signed a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet with Minnesota that included a provision requiring his entire salary become fully guaranteed if he was not the highest-paid lineman on the team. Seattle had recently given Walter Jones a deal bigger than the offer sheet Hutchinson signed with Minnesota. If Seattle had matched, they would have had to guarantee the entire $49 million.

The current CBA includes wording that any offer sheet cannot include, “a principal term that would create rights or obligations for the Old Club that differ in any way ... from the rights or obligations that such Principal Term would create the Club extending the Offer Sheet.” In the case of a huge roster bonus, it would be the same obligation for both teams.

I highly doubt we see Washington use the transition tag. But if they did use it, if the 49ers wanted Kirk Cousins badly enough, they have ways to keep Washington from matching a deal.