Snyder’s support, Gruden’s play-calling will determine Cousins’ fate with Redskins

Cousins deal not expected to get done (1:28)

Adam Schefter explains why the likelihood of a deal between Washington and Kirk Cousins before the deadline is quite low. (1:28)

The Washington Redskins‘ best shot at signing a long-term deal with quarterback Kirk Cousins was last year. The top price was more modest and he had just one good season on his resume.

Once negotiations entered this offseason — with another solid year and a rising salary cap boosting the price tag — it was always going to be more difficult to get a deal done. Cousins owned the upper hand thanks to a second year under the franchise tag.

The Redskins failed to sign Cousins to a long-term deal Monday, the deadline for franchise tag players, setting the stage for his possible departure next offseason.

But Cousins has said publicly several times that he likes playing in Washington. And multiple sources over the past few weeks have reiterated that he’d definitely consider staying here beyond 2017, even if no long-term deal was struck.

Here are the factors that will help determine Cousins’ future home, whether in Washington or elsewhere:

Direction of the franchise: After firing general manager Scot McCloughan and promoting Doug Williams, among others, the Redskins have altered their front office. One year isn’t enough to tell how good they’ll be, but it can at least provide indicators. Early in the offseason the perception was that Washington’s front office was in chaos (the Redskins say it was more chaotic before the firing). It’s not just about the front office, but also results on the field. If the Redskins struggle — and it’s not due to Cousins — then, sure, that could increase a desire for change. On the flip side, Cousins already is playing for a quarterback-friendly coach with a good pass-protecting line and plenty of weapons in the passing game. Assuming they stay productive, it would enhance his desire to stick around.

Working with Jay Gruden: Cousins clicked with Sean McVay as a play-caller and offensive coordinator, but McVay is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. And though Cousins started only four games with Kyle Shanahan calling plays, he worked well with him, too. Gruden called plays in 2014 when Cousins played five games. But how will that go this season? Every coach has a different style; McVay is different than Gruden. Both, though, are considered good offensive minds. The early stages of the Gruden-Cousins working rapport apparently went well. Cousins has talked to other quarterbacks about this topic, so it matters. If they’re in sync, it increases the odds of a return. Both are good at what they do and know how to work together. There’s a belief, too, that working together in this role will deepen any relationship, giving both an understanding of each other.

Owner Dan Snyder: The Redskins never came close to finalizing a deal with Cousins. However, owner Dan Snyder’s involvement since early April — and an improved vibe — helped change the notion that Cousins’ departure was a forgone conclusion. During Cousins’ first four years, he rated a clear second to Robert Griffin III when it came to the owner. But without Griffin here, and with two productive years under Cousins’ belt, that has changed. In order to have a shot at Cousins long term, it needed to.

The transition tag: Because the franchise tag would be prohibitive at $34 million, the Redskins could use the transition tag at a cost of $28.7 million. They would be eligible to use the transition tag in 2019 as well (at approximately $34 million). The danger would be possibly losing Cousins with no compensation if another team signs him and the Redskins decline to match. It could help set the market, though Cousins could always prolong this year-to-year storyline by signing the tag — and then seeing what happens in the 2019 offseason.

Cousins’ performance: Cousins’ career, dating to high school, always has been about proving himself. For a third consecutive year, he’ll enter a season needing to do so again in order to receive a new contract. The Redskins’ offense lost two 1,000-yard receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. They did add one in Terrelle Pryor, but the point is that it’s not the same passing attack (though he still has tight end Jordan Reed and receiver Jamison Crowder). Cousins must get in sync with Pryor, as well as 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson. Cousins needs to do his part to keep this passing game productive. But he’s set a franchise mark for passing yards (4,166, 4,917) in each of the past two seasons.

Unlike 2015, Cousins was inconsistent down the stretch in 2016. In the Redskins’ last six games, he posted three games with a passer rating of less than 79 and three that were higher than 104. The Redskins failed to beat Carolina and the New York Giants in their last two home games and the offense struggled in both games. If Cousins doesn’t produce to a certain level, the Redskins could always decide they just don’t want to hit a specific price. If that’s the case, they could decide to let him walk and gain a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Cousins has only played in one postseason game, so leading Washington to the playoffs for a second time in three years would boost his stock. Of course, one person alone can’t get a team there — or even win a game — but a strong performance in the playoffs would matter.

McCloughan said Cousins had reached his ceiling as a player. Those who have worked with Cousins disagree, though how much better he can get is, as usual, debatable. But based on how he works, those who know him best say he’ll always be productive. Clearly, if you’re going to pay someone an average salary in the mid-$20 millions, that’s a must.

Leverage: If there’s no threat of a future franchise tag, it would alter Cousins’ stance. The Redskins needed to make offers the past two years that reflected their ability to keep him under the tag. They did not, opting for offers that might have made sense had he been completely free. If they don’t use a tag on him next offseason, then everyone finally will see his true market value.

Timing and leverage always dictate who becomes the highest paid player at a position, or at least who rates among the top. Of course, free agency poses its own threat. If the San Francisco 49ers or the Los Angeles Rams need a quarterback — if Jared Goff develops for the Rams, they’ll be out of the market for one — then it would present Cousins two fantastic options.

Cousins has a strong relationship with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and McVay, having worked with both in Washington. It’s also rare for good quarterbacks to hit the open market, so other needy teams could help drive the price.

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