ASHBURN, Va. — The obvious landing spot for Kirk Cousins, if he hits free agency, just went away. That doesn’t necessarily increase the quarterback’s odds of signing a long-term deal with the Washington Redskins. In fact, it might open up the market for Cousins — if, of course, he’s not tagged again.
The San Francisco 49ers exited the potential Cousins sweepstakes by trading for New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Monday night. That ends their quest for a long-term answer and the possibility of a reunion between Cousins and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Cousins’ offensive coordinator during the quarterback’s first two years in the NFL.
For the 49ers, the move made sense: They acquire a cheaper quarterback in exchange for draft picks. Garoppolo is a young, skilled passer, and this allows San Francisco to retain gobs of cap space and pursue other free agents. The Niners don’t have to pay a quarterback $25 million per year — yet.
Also, and this is key, there was a fear in San Francisco that the Redskins would tag Cousins again — and therefore either keep him from the 49ers or make a trade with another team. The Redskins would not be inclined to help Shanahan and certainly would not want to trade with his team, knowing it could eventually make them look bad.
The way it could help Washington: Cousins loses a chance to reunite with someone he knew and respected. So if he left Washington, he would be going to a coach with whom he likely lacks a relationship. He’s a creature of routine, so he could opt to stick for that reason, knowing exactly what he has had with the Redskins.
But what does this mean for Cousins? A few things:
It’s hard to see how this changes anything for the Redskins. As of now, they’d likely need to use the franchise tag a third offseason to keep Cousins around. It’s not necessarily one issue over the other that is the reason, but, more so, a host of them — from the original 2015 offer of approximately $12 million to the statement after the deadline passed in July. The Redskins needed to go stronger in the beginning; they started to recover in the spring, only to go in reverse with the statement. Those things don’t get erased because Garoppolo is with San Francisco. Still, there could be a ways to go in this drama because of the tag. That certainly would be an expensive way to buy time to keep him around.
It’s a quarterback-driven league, and whether you think Cousins is the 12th-best QB in the NFL or the 15th best, he’s considered a good player. Look around the NFL; it’s hard to find players who are good at that position. The team Cousins plays for right now has had a difficult time finding one for about 25 years. Coincidentally, the Redskins have won the NFC East only three times since 1992. Therefore, there will be interest outside of San Francisco.
Among the teams that might need a new quarterback: Arizona, the New York Jets, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, maybe Minnesota or even Pittsburgh, if Ben Roethlisberger retires. As one source close to the situation said, the trade could actually prompt other teams to get involved with Cousins, knowing that now his future is wide open and it’s not a done deal that he’ll end up with the 49ers. Not all of those teams would represent a good option. Cousins — or any other quarterback who is 29 years old — wants to go somewhere he can win. He should still have his choice. There will be other quarterbacks available, and there also is the draft, which is not looking as great as it was, say, a few months ago.
If you’re going to sign somewhere long term, you would want to have faith in the organization to build a winner. That will be true for Cousins, whether his next stop is with the Cardinals, Jets or Redskins. (Yes, he must prove he can take them somewhere too.) If he feels one team has underrated him for a while, how much would that play into his confidence that the team can find enough talent? Cousins’ side told the Redskins it needed more time to gauge the situation last offseason for a reason. (The Redskins had told him the previous offseason they needed to see more. This one is a two-way street.)
Cousins’ two preferred landing spots if he left are now gone. The Los Angeles Rams have continued to look good with second-year quarterback Jared Goff. The Rams, more than the 49ers, would have been a primary destination had they needed a quarterback. Not only is former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay now the head coach of the Rams, but Cousins’ first quarterbacks coach, Matt LaFleur, is their offensive coordinator. Now the 49ers are off the table too.
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