Projecting Kirk Cousins with the Redskins

Every year we all think we can predict what’s going to happen to our favorite NFL team, our division rivals, and the teams led by our favorite players that aren’t on our local team; and every year we end up looking back on the season wondering how whatever happened, happened. The Redskins are probably the best example of this as we all had the Cowboys, Eagles or Giants winning the NFC East, while the Redskins seemed to be the ones with the biggest drama as RG3 was benched before the season for the unproven Kirk Cousins.


A major reason for the Redskins surprising us was Kirk Cousins. What most of us didn’t see heading into the season was that Cousins was a good candidate for Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense, and that Gruden had done a phenomenal job helping mold Andy Dalton into the player he is today through his time as Cincinnati’s OC from 2011 to 2013. Once Cincy established their franchise quarterback in an offense that suited him, they’ve spent the time since building a team around him with weapons through the draft. AJ Green was their first round pick in the 2011 draft in which they took Dalton. In 2012, they drafted Mohamed Sanu in the third round, a nice secondary receiver. In 2013, they drafted their big-time, stud tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round, then Giovani Bernard in the second, adding Jeremy Hill in the second round of the next year’s draft. The AJ McCarron pick in the fifth round of 2014 will prove to be extremely valuable, especially considering the lesson every team learned about the importance of back-up QBs this season. The last big offensive skill player drafted was Tyler Kroft in the third round of 2015, a guy with similar measurables to Eifert. Kroft gives them two big targets at tight end and a fill in for if/when Eifert has to miss time.

Along the way, the Bengals drafted their 2015 starting offensive linemen: tackle Andre Smith back in the first round of 2009, guard Clint Boling in the fourth round of 2011, guard Kevin Zeitler in the late first round of 2012, and center Russell Bodine in the fourth round of 2014. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, PFF’s fourth rated tackle in 2015, was the Bengals second round pick back in 2006 and he’s the anchor of their 2015 playoff team. I love the way they’ve grown their line through consistently good drafting. They’ve even drafted before they had to with their 2015 first and second round picks in big athletic tackles like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.

So Jay Gruden had been a part of an organization that gave him a bit of a blue print on how to build what he envisions for the Redskins and Kirk Cousins gives him the centerpiece to build this around. Now that Cousins is up for a new contract, it’s up to Gruden, general manager Scot McCloughan and the other Redskin decision makers to find a contract where Cousins feels like he’s being paid enough and the Redskins have the salary cap room to continue building a team that can compete for division championships every year in their quest for a Super Bowl.

Part of what kick-started the Patriots’ dynasty and Seahawks’ mini- dynasty was their ability to identify a mid- to late-round quarterback prospect who fit their offense and placed them into a situation where they had a solid team around them. That leads to the concept that a team should find quarterback who fits their system rather than being on the look-out for the next can’t miss QB prospect. Only one organization has been lucky enough for their two worst seasons to come at the time that Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were in the draft, so waiting for the next can’t miss QB isn’t a reliable strategy.

Aaron Rodgers was drafted with the 24th pick, so his rookie contract was five-years, $7.7 million with $5.4 million in guarantees, with the potential to pay him as much as $24.5 million if incentives and escalators were met. So his contract allowed the Packers to have him back-up Brett Favre and learn the position. Once he became the Packers starter in 2008, they had a 6-10 season and then came the 10-6,11-5 or better string of years. Similarly, the Brock Osweiler pick for the Broncos seems to be a great match and he’s had four years under Peyton Manning, which must have been an incredible learning experience that will serve him well once he takes over the job.

Cousins had the ability to ease into his professional career, learning along the way and playing in limited action without the pressure of needing to perform immediately or live up to an expectation. Once Jay Gruden replaced Mike Shanahan before the 2014 season it made Cousins the right candidate for the new coach’s offense. This season, once he got the reigns and had the full support of the staff, he proved to be the player that Gruden seemed to think he would become all along.

Something that grabbed my attention when looking at Gruden’s Cincinnati offenses was that he created playoff teams out of a formula that included a young Andy Dalton and he pulled 1000-yard rushing seasons out of Cedric Benson and Benjarvus Green-Ellis. It was in 2013 where the offense made a bit of a jump with their passing yardage total jumping about 500 yards for the season and into the league’s Top 10. It was the addition of Gio Bernard giving them 695 rushing yards at 4.1 yards per carry and 514 receiving yards at 9.2 per catch. His catch rate of 78.9% was a real boon to the offense as well as his yards per plays, meaning targets plus rushing attempts, equaled 5.0 yards per play in 241 plays– a terrific rate to help move the chains. In 2014, he slipped a bit to 4.53 per play and then he bounced back in 2015 with his best season yet at 5.46 per targeted play. The difference between 2013 and 2015 was that he had just seven less total yards last season with 1202 yards, but on 21 less plays.

And, so, a similar strategy was struck in Washington. In 2015, they drafted Matt Jones, let the older Roy Helu go– who only had 115 total yards this season in Oakland– and let Chris Thompson take over Helu’s role. In 2014, Helu had 477 receiving yards on 42 catches, but on only 47 targets– an 89.4% catch rate. That 11.4 yards per catch, plus 5.4 yards per carry on 216 rush yards, gave him a 7.96 yards per play. With Jones, they have their Jeremy Hill-type lead back, they’d likely let Alfred Morris go unless they can agree to a low-cost two or three-year deal, and they’ll likely resign Chris Thompson as their Gio Bernard- type back.

As I’ve written so many times, I think the way the Bengals have constructed their backfield is a terrific model. The Broncos and Chiefs have stacked their backfields as well. The Chiefs had very low-cost backs in Spencer Ware, who was a sixth round pick of the Seahawks, and Charcandrick West, who was an undrafted free agent. These two were talented enough to help the Chiefs go on an 11 game winning streak after Charles’ injury. Similarly, Thompson was a fifth round pick for Washington in 2013 out of Florida State, where he showed great potential in a crowded backfield there. He was actually fourth on the team in rushing attempts behind Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and EJ Manuel with only 91, but he rushed for 7.5 yards per carry to his 687 rushing yards and led their backs with 21 catches for 248 yards (11.8 ypc).

With Thompson, the Redskins had a third back behind Morris and Jones who gave them 456 total yards on just 83 targeted plays for a 5.49 per play average, which can give them Bernard’s production on a likely low-cost, two to three year deal with the team. In my opinion, the Redskins should try to keep Thompson with a two-year deal worth $2 million per year—similar to Helu’s contract with Oakland–as it should be enough to entice him to sign. He is a player who can play until he’s about 31-32 because of his skill set. In the Redskins’ Wild Card loss to Green Bay, Thompson had one carry for 15 yards and caught 8-of-8 targets for 89 yards; as their offense is designed, they need this kind of back. The Redskins run the West Coast offense, while the Patriots run the Erhardt-Perkins; but the principle remains the same, you need chain movers, redzone targets and deep threats to build an offense that accomplishes the objective: SCORE.

Veteran receiver Pierre Garcon had 72 catches on 111 targets for 777 yards in 2015, which was 10.8 yards per catch and 7.0 yards per target (ypt) as the team’s second leading receiver behind tight end Jordan Reed. The tight end was another reliable chain mover with 952 yards on 87 catches for a 10.9 ypc average. He caught 76.3% of his 114 targets for a terrific 8.4 yards ypt.

Jamison Crowder gave them another chain mover with 604 yards on 59 catches (10.2 ypc) and a catch rate of 75.6% on his 78 targets to give him a 7.74 ypt. Ryan Grant was sixth on the team with 268 yards on 23 catches (11.7 ypc) and 48 targets to give him a 47.9% catch rate and a 5.58 ypt. I’m sure they hope that catch rate and yards per target will increase if they let Garcon go in 2016 or 2017 and Grant has to take on some of that role.

Last season, Garcon cost the Redskins 6.78% of the cap and his $10.2 million cap hit will consume 6.62% of the cap in 2016. His dead money charge in 2016 is $2.2 million, only 1.43% of the cap, but I think they’ll keep him as Cousins’ first year of his deal will allow them to have a low QB cost, allowing them to afford the current 17.80% of the cap consumed by their receivers. They’re likely hoping to re-sign Thompson for a low-cost, and hope that Crowder and Grant grow into Garcon’s role in 2017.

DeSean Jackson is clearly a huge key to this offense moving as Cousins went on his run of 24 TDs and 3 INTs right around the time Jackson came back into the fold. Now the question is, why is that? And I think it’s a lesson we learned from the Redskins, the Eagles, and Packers this season. That is, every offense needs a reliable deep threat–a field stretcher who causes the defense to have to respect the deep stuff, stretching them thin. Then the offense can take advantage of the short to intermediate routes as well open up the running lanes.
Many are listing WR as one of the Redskins biggest needs in the upcoming draft. Garcon’s contract is coming up and Jackson will be a free agent after 2017, but his $1.25 million cap hit in 2017, which was strictly a “dummy year” in place to reduce the salary cap charges in the contract, means that he’ll need to either sign an extension prior to that season or likely be released. He will be 31-years old at the end of 2017, which isn’t old for a receiver, so he will get a few more years, but with Cousins’ cap number going up by then, there may be a cheaper solution.

While the Patriots run an Erhardt-Perkins offense, which is different from Jay Gruden’s West Coast, still has the same main principles of the offense with the shorter passing game as a huge part of the way they move the chains and control the ball. Outside of the Randy Moss years, the Patriots have never relied on a prototypical number one receiver type and even when they got Moss, he was at a discount due to his struggles in Oakland. Their signing of Brandon Lafell to a three-year deal worth $9 million prior to 2014, after Emmanuel Sanders exceeded their price range, is one of my favorite recent examples of a team finding a low-cost, high-value asset as he has flourished in New England. In 2015, Lafell cost a reasonable 2.44% of the cap for a veteran who provided 953 yards at 8.01 ypt like he did in a 16-game 2014 season.

The Redskins could go get that prototypical #1 receiver type to give them a bigger Jordy Nelson-type deep threat for the future, and someone like Josh Doctson could be the perfect candidate if he drops to the 21st pick of the first round. If they want a replacement for Pierre Garcon, then DJ Foster or Sterling Shepard would be a nice player for them. Leonte Carroo could be a serious option for them if he’s available in the second round as the 6’1”, 205-pound receiver from Rutgers averaged 19.5 yards per catch on 122 receptions over the course of his three year playing career. His 29 touchdowns show a nose for the endzone as well. They could always just extend Jackson or Garcon at more reasonable numbers and then address receiver with a later draft pick. Either option could make sense as Cousins could use a prototypical #1 as he enters the prime of his career and will be relied upon to produce at a higher level, but on the other hand they already have a solid receiving group and could use help elsewhere to make a serious Super Bowl run in 2016. I’m more prone to think the latter as wide receiver talent can be found for cheaper elsewhere.

Lance Zierlein from NFL.com says that Center is the Redskins biggest need, and I would agree with that as Josh LeRibeus and Kory Lichtensteiger were their two starters there this season and were the 30th and 36th ranked centers by Pro Football Focus this season. There seem to be a ton of later round centers who are having success in the NFL, but I’m almost always a fan of drafting offensive linemen in the first round, so if the Redskins decide on Ryan Kelly from Alabama, Nick Martin from Notre Dame, or Jack Allen from Michigan State in the first round, then I would understand it. Considering that Morris and Jones averaged 3.7 and 3.4 yards per carry respectively, the offensive line needs to get better in the running game. Zierlein’s assments is that center could be addressed in the first four rounds and it’s a position where value can be found in those middle rounds, so that might be the better option for Washington as they could find a bigger impact player in the first round, then get solid value later.

The Redskins probably had the worst defense to make the playoffs ranking 17th in points per game at 23.7, 28th in yards allowed at 380.6, 25th in pass defense at 258, and 26th in rush defense at 122.6. Their 3-4 defensive ends and outside linebackers were actually pretty solid this year and Preston Smith gives them a player for the future at OLB, but they could certainly use a big-time player to put pressure on the quarterback and to fortify a defensive line that was Football Outsiders’ 25th ranked DL in adjusted line yards at 4.01.

I won’t give an real final opinion on what the Redskins should do in the draft yet as we don’t know what they’ll do in free agency, but all of those positions seem to be needs. Their highest cap hit for 2016 is currently RG3’s $16,115,000, or 11.25% of the cap. We know he’s going to be released, so taking him off the books, that means that their 2016 cap costs are currently at 87.77% of my cap projection of $154 million. A small percentage of that will go towards the seven draft picks they currently have plus their undrafted free agents. With the 21st pick in the first round, their first rounder will only cost around 1.15% of the cap in 2016 and the second round pick won’t make much more than 0.50%, so their rookies shouldn’t cost them more than 4-5% of the cap. This leaves around 10% of the cap, or roughly $15 million, to spend on free agents and their 2016 cap hits before they get to cutting players. We already know about Cousins, but the other top candidates to re-sign are DT Terrance Knighton, DE/OLB Junior Galette, RB Chris Thompson and RB Alfred Morris.

We’ve forgotten about Galette, but he’d probably be available to them at a decent price, maybe even just a one-year deal, that could be one of those Bill Belichick type steals we’ll be talking about come next January if Washington makes it. They also need to extend Jordan Reed as he’ll be more expensive if they let him hit the market rather than extend him; as Jason wrote in November about the Patriots, it’s kind of like “buying out free agency” as a way of the team saving the money that the player could command after testing the waters. It’s about finding a nice area where the team is comfortable with the player living up to the deal, while the player feels like he’s getting close to what he thinks he should earn, while not having to play a season with the risk of being injured, or the stress of earning that next contract, hanging over them.

There are some easy cut candidates to make room as well. Dashon Goldson is their seventh highest cap hit at 5.19%, he has no dead money, and had the worst PFF rating of 88 safeties overall and his run game rating was last as well. He led the team in tackles, but PFF ranked him second for all safeties with 19 missed tackles. If we started with, 10% just to use a round number, we’re now at 15.19%.

The Redskins clearly have room to improve on offense with a rushing game that was 20th in yards. I do think they’ll re-sign Morris, as he’s very one-dimensional, so his price will be lower, but they’ll need to improve that line first and foremost. They might let him go considering he had his most success with RG3 as a run threat, and he might get signed by the Panthers or Seahawks for more than Washington wants to pay. They need to improve on a 3.7 yard per carry output that was 30th in the NFL.

Their passing game seems to have every piece they need to succeed and they have the right guy piloting the ship as Cousins led the NFL in 2015 with a completion percentage of 69.8%, which was 1.6% higher than Drew Brees who came in second. During this season, I really gained an appreciation for the importance of completion percentage and I think the FBS National Championship personified this. Both quarterbacks had terrific days, but Jake Coker’s 335 passing yards came on only 25 pass attempts leading to 13.4 yards per attempt, while Watson’s 405 came on 47 passes leading to 8.6 yards per attempt. It’s not an argument of who was the better player on that day because that’s not something we can quantify, but we can see the difference in efficiency per play there. Using this high completion percentage, Washington was seventh in the NFL with 7.3 yards per attempt. Who knows how much higher that number would have been if Jackson played all year with the offense flowing like it was with him in.

One suggestion might be to add a reliable veteran back-up receiver for a low-cost, or draft someone in the middle rounds, who can give you a bit of a deep threat, so you don’t run the risk of losing that if Jackson were to go down. Maybe they have that guy on their roster and he just needs more time to develop, but I do think that’s one strength they don’t want to risk missing as we saw the difference between them with and without Jackson. Like I said before, we saw in Philadelphia and Green Bay what happens to these quick passing offenses if they have no one to threaten deep and create that space underneath.

For about 10 years the Redskins were in constant disarray, always signing players for more than they were worth and rarely competing for division titles, but they seem to have righted the ship.

And that brings us back to Cousins. Cousins’ is the right quarterback for this team as he gives them the skills that their system requires in a quarterback. Too often we all get caught up in name recognition, college abilities, hype, and other things outside of a simple concept like that Kirk Cousins is a solid player who can lead the Redskins to the playoffs year in, year out if given the pieces. Like Ozzie Newsome of the Ravens says, the goal is to make the playoffs every year and eventually you’ll win a Super Bowl. The first goal is to figure out how to get in every year, and then once you’re there, the second goal is to figure out how to win a Super Bowl.

Signing Kirk Cousins to a reasonable deal is the first step of both of those objectives, while winning a Super Bowl requires them creating a better rush offense and defense. I think the Championship Weekend games gave us a good illustration of this–being able to control the pace of the game with both of those, plus making sure you aren’t going to get shut down in the running game and become one dimension against Super Bowl caliber defenses. We saw how the Broncos teed off on Brady as he took 20 hits, which was more than any quarterback took in a game all season. The short passing game has always been a de-facto running game for New England, with them even beating the Ravens in the playoffs last year with only 14 rushing yards, but against a defensive front like Denver’s, that didn’t work.

The road to a Super Bowl championship requires being a complete team on offense and defense because you’re going to face teams that will be able to shut down parts of your game. If Tom Brady can’t do it, make sure Kirk Cousins’ doesn’t have to try to do it. The best way to do this is first by ensuring Cousins won’t be paid far above the value he can provide.

Below are the figures for the top paid QB on each of the last 21 Super Bowl teams, which show how spending on QBs isn’t nearly as high as one would think considering the names on this list and the cost of, let’s say, Matt Ryan as an example. His 2015 cost was 13.61% of the cap, while his 2016 cost is projected to be 15.42%.

Super Bowl QB1 Spending

Bringing these costs to the contract, Cousins’ has played like a star since his “YOU LIKE THAT” win over Tampa Bay, but that’s not a huge body of work. Over the first six weeks of 2015, Cousins averaged 25 for 38 (66.2%) for 237 yards with only six touchdowns to eight interceptions. Including that Tampa Bay game where everything started rolling, Cousins was 23/32 (72.4%) for 275 yards with 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions over the last 10 games. His completion percentage of 69.8% over the course of the season led the NFL this season, but prior to his run over the last 10 games, Cousins hadn’t shown us much that would make us think he was worth an Andy Dalton type of deal.

Here is what Dalton’s contract and cap % hits look like:

Andy Dalton with Cap Hits

That contract was an extension signed during August 2014, so some new money is worked into the 2014 cap hit. It has escalators that could potentially bring the contract’s total value to $115 million, so it’s a contract where Dalton can earn his way to more money with his performance and the team’s success. I’m unsure of where those figures are or what they are, but if designated as Not Likely to Be Earned (NLTBE) incentives, then the increase in Dalton’s salary would count against the next year’s salary cap. I think a similar incentive structure could be used by the Redskins to protect themselves from the possibility of Cousins’ not playing up to his second half of 2015 showing. This is a very real risk as the Redskins themselves had this happen with RG3, with injuries playing a major factor as well, of course.

The adversity of having your confidence seemingly snatched from you in front of, what feels like the entire country is something that us normal folks can’t comprehend. It’s why the mental aspects of sports are becoming increasingly important. One thing I’ll always remember from Dr. Kevin Elko’s stories is that he and Bill Cowher used to look for players who had overcome adversity because the road ahead of them in the NFL would surely be filled with more of it. The mental make-up of Cousins is something that I can’t quantify, but is a major factor in this. I do think he’s shown strength by overcoming previous struggles in his career, being benched, and especially the way he played this season in the face of his father’s cancer diagnosis this year are all signs he won’t falter mentally.

Dalton’s contract costs about $13.95 million over the seven years that it spans with it being worth $16 million per year based on the $96 million over 6-year structure. That $16 million per year seems to denote where the bottom of the second tier of the quarterback market is. There is then a dip all the way down to Nick Foles at $12.25 million a year, which the Rams are now regretting, but which was a sensible deal for the information they had at the time. Foles cap hits for 2016 and 2017 are 5.68% and 8.13%, which aren’t too high for the player they hoped they had. Nick Foles contract has $13.7 million in guarantees compared to Dalton’s $17 million.

Is Cousins a part of that second-tier? That’s the big question for both sides and, while he certainly has shown the potential, Cousins’ hasn’t shown it over an extended period of time and, maybe an even bigger factor, he seems to be very reliant on the talent around him. People haven’t talked about him much, but Nick Foles and his contract are probably a better comparison to Cousins. They both had one good season on teams where they had really solid receiving talent, coincidentally Desean Jackson. Foles’ 2013 and Cousins’ 2015 are very similar end of season runs with Foles throwing for 27 TDs and two INTs in 10 starts.

When you break down Dalton’s contract, you get a number similar to what Foles’ average earnings are with Dalton having a cap hit of $11,864,766 per year over the first four. That includes the 2014 season, where his $12 million signing bonus and $5 million roster bonus gave him a nice payday, while keeping his base salary where it was at $986,027. Over those four years, Dalton’s cap hits total $47,459,063, which could be a nice aiming point for what Cousins could try to get in total over the next four years whether that’s in signing bonuses or base salary. If you extended Foles’ $12.5 million contract over four years, that’d be $50 million.

Considering that Foles contract is spread out over three years, that $12.5 million per year is slightly misleading:

Nick Foles Contract with Cap Hits

That average of $8,747,333 over three years is a sign of a smart move by the Rams as it’s a very team friendly deal, and since his 2017 dead money total is only $1 million, they can get rid of him with little consequence. It was really a two-year prove it deal all along with his 2015 and 2016 cap hits averaging $6,396,000. That’s far below that $12.5 million a year number.

You’ll see the vast difference in the percentage of the cap each player takes up as Dalton averages 8.25% over those seven years using my future salary cap projections. His first four years consume slightly less at 7.88% of the cap. Foles is only at only 5.54% over three years, and only 4.25% over the first two, which is the more relevant number for us.

Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Sam Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick should all land somewhere between those two players Dalton’ and Foles’ contracts, in my view. For Cousins, Osweiler and Bradford, who are all under-30, Dalton’s contract’s first four years at 7.88% of the cap would be the absolute high-water mark. All four teams should be incentivized to sign their guys as soon as possible as I think the biggest influence on these contracts will be the contracts of the other players in the group. I don’t think that other potential suitors will be as much of an influence in the Cousins and Osweiler negotiations as they’re solid fits for their teams and don’t have long track records. It is in the Redskins best interest to get this deal done quickly as whoever moves first will probably have a little more control over the negotiations, just like Jason explained with the Zach Ertz deal being the first in a group that includes Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert and Travis Kelce. Unlike Ertz though, Cousins should probably be the highest paid in this group regardless of when they sign him.

With all these variables, I don’t think the Redskins should get distracted by anything outside of focusing on where their cap is going in the next few years, plus the value that they saw out of Cousins this year and extending what that would be worth over three or four seasons. I would use the signing bonus as a tool to lower the cap hit and give him more money up front. Money today is much better than money tomorrow and this is especially so in the NFL.

Every agent has to know what the value of $1 million in a signing bonus is worth compared to that $1 million instead being a part of a future year of a salary. That relates to the potential of being cut, but also the potential value of having that $1 million today over having it in two years. What could that money do for the player in his savings or investment account and what of future inflation that deflates future payment value??

Given the above, I’ve settled on a contract in the area of $10-12 million per year over three to four years. I would be more comfortable with something in the neighborhood of $10 million per year, but I don’t think that will be realistic as, while I don’t think Cousins will leave Washington, there are many West Coast offenses in the NFL as potential suitors.(There’s also the franchise tag, which I’ll mention later.) Even though they don’t run the West Coast offense, who’s to say the Jets wouldn’t be interested in a younger quarterback at a higher price tag? What about the QB needy Texans? Doug Pederson just came over to Philadelphia from Kansas City, so who’s to say they wouldn’t want Cousins?

Hue Jackson with the Browns is likely the biggest threat to sign Cousins away from the Redskins, but might have too many issues to entice a young QB from a now more stable franchise. Cleveland may finally be on the path to success with their front office changes and Jackson at the helm, so maybe they have a chance at Cousins, but it’s going to take a couple years to right the ship, then maybe a couple more to compete in a division with three of the most stable franchises in the NFL. If I’m Cousins, I stay away from that team and division as it would lead to a higher risk situation for future earnings than staying in Washington.

In my opinion, the risk in leaving the team you’re with as a quarterback, having to learn something new, leads to risks higher than the reward. Cousins has already said that he wants to go where he’s wanted, which is a polite way of saying that he’s open to other options and won’t accept being paid below what the market might think he’s worth. I’m sure Cousins knows that learning a new offense would be a big challenge and he’d likely need a huge increase over what the Redskins offer him.

I think we’ll find him signing a deal that looks a bit like this:

Kirk Cousins Final Contract with Cap Hits

His four year average cap hit would actually out-earn Dalton’s $11,864,766 average from 2014 through 2017. They could prorate out a $12 million signing bonus over four years with a $5 million roster bonus in year one. Those two guarantees would be identical to Dalton’s and be a nice figure to represent that the Redskins believe in Cousins, while not having to overextend this contract into bigger numbers in later years. If Cousins somehow ends up being a bust, his dead money figure would be $6 million in 2018 and $3 million in 2019. Joel Corry does a good job of explaining Dalton’s incentives in the italicized section starting after paragraph four here. Using similar incentives could be a way the Redskins work to keep the contract slightly lower.

The numbers that matter most to me are the cap percentages of Super Bowl teams about which I have written extensively. I like keeping contracts as balanced as possible over the years, so you don’t end up with a roller coaster that results in seasons like Ndamukong Suh’s $28.6 million cap hit in 2016, which will consume 18.57% of the cap, and already has the Mike Tannenbaum talking about a restructure less than a year after the contract was signed. While Suh is a great player, the destruction this contract does on their salary cap can’t be worth it. Mike Tannenbaum and the people in Miami are much more qualified than I, but it seems like a bad team building strategy as it leaves gaps where you have to work around monstrous cap hits. The best run organizations seem to avoid these, but they also avoid overpaying for prized free agents.

One spot where the Redskins could be looking to keep the cap number low is in 2016 as that 6.49% cap hit may take up too much of the about 15% total to sign their free agents and draft picks. Kory Lichtensteiger didn’t perform well this season and rookie third round pick Josh LeRibeus took his place, so cutting him could add 1.92% of cap space. Inside linebacker Perry Riley probably isn’t worth $5,049,804, which is 3.28% of the cap, so cutting him could create 2.60% or they could re-structure his contract. There are plenty of ways they can increase their cap space in 2016, but they only have $113 million committed to 2017, which means they’re in pretty good shape moving forward from here.

As Jordan Reed rises to prominence and they re-sign him to a contract similar to the one Zach Ertz just signed, they should be moving toward a future with a tight end based passing attack, much like the ones we saw the Patriots and Panthers employ very well this season with Gronkowski at 6.04% of the cap and Olsen at 4.40%. Considering that prototypical WR1’s like Demaryius Thomas cost 9.21% of the cap, that’s a huge swing for your number one target’s cost. Having Reed average around 4.00% of the cap over the course of the deal like Ertz (3.92%) will save money for the Redskins in the prime of Cousins’ career, which will allow him to get up towards 10% of the cap starting in either 2019, if they restructure there, or after. I’m in the process of writing what will either be an article or a podcast, about ways to save money in the pass game through this strategy with tight ends. It’s one of the best examples I can think of with the foundational principles idea I’ve been writing about. You’re trying to move the ball down field through the air and it doesn’t matter who catches those passes, just that you move the ball. It helps to have multiple guys who can help you accomplish this, guys with different body types and styles of play like I explained in the NFC Championship notes with the Panthers, so going with the tight end offense is a good strategy to decrease costs and produce similar results.

Could Cousins’ be franchised and locked into a number that Joel Corry has projected at 12.82% of the 2016 cap? Definitely. That leverage could bring Cousins’ contracts signing bonus and guarantees higher than what I mentioned before, maybe even increasing that signing bonus to $16-18 million, but Cousins’ at 12.82% of the cap isn’t good for either side, especially with the Redskins being in the top third of the league in 2016 spending. For the sake of both sides, 2016 could be the season where this organization takes the next step and competes for a Super Bowl, so it could take increasing Cousins’ signing bonus and guarantees to make a feasible four-year contract like the one I mentioned a possibility. Let him earn about what he could have with the franchise, but keep him at a cap figure that allows him to continue growing into a bigger role. Maybe the $12 million signing bonus, plus the $5 million 2016 roster bonus will be enough, but he and his agent might be able to squeeze a few million more out of the Redskins in bonuses and guarantees, then add a few million to the total contract value as well. His agent could use the franchise tag to leverage the incentives from Dalton’s deal into this deal as well if those aren’t already included.

If he were to have an average 2016 on the franchise tag, then he might end up back in this situation and locked into a longer deal in the $12-14 million range, rather than something averaging in the range of $20-25 million in 2019. They could restructure before then too if he vastly outperforms his second contract. The third contract may be the thing Cousins, and his agent, are working towards with this second contract being the bridge that gets him there.

Cousins could have 10-12 more years of top earnings if his career keeps trending in this direction and the salary cap will be over $200 million by 2020. That means that 10% of the cap will be over $20 million a year for the rest of his career, so working his way towards a restructure in 2019 for a contract like that should be the goal over the next couple years. The Redskins will have prepared the cap and the roster for this contract by that point with the Jordan Reed deal and drafting receivers, so everything should fit together nicely.

In a division with Tony Romo and Eli Manning, plus an Eagles team that has the players to compete next season, the Redskins are in a more competitive division than people realize because of the disastrous showing due to Romo’s injury and the Giants third year in a row being one of the most injured teams in the NFL. Another factor people didn’t take into account, myself included, was the difficulty of that schedule. Everyone in their division played the Patriots and Panthers, so two losses for each team (except the Eagles) adds up and before you know it the division winner is 9-7.

Keeping the cap integrity the Redskins currently have by signing Cousins to a reasonable deal, then being smart in free agency these next two years could be the start of this franchise finally turning things around for a nice, prolonged run of success with Kirk Cousins as the captain of the ship.

@ZackMooreNFL

Episode #4 of The Zack Moore Show will be on iTunes within the next couple days where I’ll discuss this and things related to Super Bowl 50. E-mail Caponomics@gmail.com to be alerted to when the Caponomics book becomes available. 

2016 Redskins Positional Spending

2016 Redskins Positionals

2016 Redskins Top 30

2016 Redskins Top 30

  • McGeorge

    Zach,
    Keep in mind there are external factors. Like the Cleveland Browns. They are desperate for a starting QB. They may be willing to offer Cousins more than “fair value”. Cousins can use that as a bargaining chip. Maybe the Browns will be willing to pay 15MM/year. That would allow them to use their #1 to draft the best player available, or trade it for future picks, like a handful of #2s. QB is unlike any other position. You can get by with a below average anywhere else, but not at QB. To be able to get an average QB, without using draft picks is huge.

  • Werner

    Browns would need to offer fair value, which includes the liquidated (non pun on Johnny M.) damages of having to be there on a daily base.

  • Jon

    You are really under valuing Cousins’ worth and need to take his leverage into greater consideration. He will for sure make over $16 million per year in his extension. His leverage is basically, “pay me or I’ll play under contract at $20 million next season or hit the open market.” If the Skins even asked him to accept $10-12M per year, Cousins and his representatives would hang up the phone immediately.