ESPN’s Schefter: Washington considers tagging QB Kirk Cousins

Feb 4, 2018, 9:50 AM

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL foot...

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

When the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, teams like the Arizona Cardinals had to shift their plans for acquiring a starting quarterback.

Immediately, that move made it clear that Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins became the main target, as Smith — now off the trading block — was acquired to replace him in Washington. And it seemed the only avenue toward that goal was signing the free agent Cousins to, likely, the most pricey NFL contract dolled out.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Sunday that acquiring Cousins’ services might be more complicated than that.

Schefter’s sources said Washington is considering franchise-tagging Cousins, thus attempting to receive compensation for losing a starting-caliber quarterback.

Franchise-tagging him would force Cousins away from picking his new team in unrestricted free agency.

Instead, it would make interested teams offer trades for Cousins that, Schefter imagines, involves draft picks.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not give Cousins a sense that the team would use its franchise tag on him when the two spoke last week, but others connected to the team insist that Washington is considering it. They believe it is nothing more than a business decision, a way for the team to try to get back at least the third-round pick it is trading to Kansas City for Smith.

Of course, Cousins will still have some degree of leverage if the team keeps him from becoming a free agent.

He could threaten teams interested in trading for him by saying he would not sign a long-term deal there. More importantly, Cousins could effectively hold out by not signing the franchise tag, which would keep $34.5 million of cap space occupied, harming the Redskins’ free agency flexibility.

Washington could pull the franchise tag to free that space, but it would lose a 2019 compensatory draft selection it gains should it allow Cousins to leave as a free agent.

Those concerns could scare Washington away from franchise-tagging Cousins.

From Arizona’s perspective, committing long-term money would be the No. 1 hindrance toward acquiring Cousins in either situation.

The Cardinals and first-year head coach Steve Wilks will be tasked with restocking their quarterback cupboard entirely this offseason after starter Carson Palmer retired. Backups Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley are all unrestricted free agents.

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