MSU's Cousins gets franchise tag, $19.95 million

Howard Fendrich
Associated Press
Kirk Cousins

Washington — Washington has placed the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins, setting him up to earn about $20 million for next season while still leaving open the possibility of a long-term contract.

Tuesday was the deadline for NFL teams to use a franchise or transition tag. By choosing the franchise tag, the Redskins prevent the former Michigan State star from becoming an unrestricted free agent — a status that would leave Washington with nothing in return if the player reached a deal with another team.

The franchise tag for a quarterback in 2016 is $19.953 million. The Redskins now have until July 15 to negotiate with Cousins on a longer contract.

Cousins had a breakthrough year last season, his fourth in the league but first as a full-time starter, taking the job from Robert Griffin III late in preseason and never letting go. Washington won the NFC East behind Cousins.

Cousins led the NFL with a 69.8 completion percentage, set a league record with a home completion mark of 74.7 percent, and finished with 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, a franchise-record 4,166 yards and a passer rating of 101.6. He helped the Redskins win the division with four consecutive victories to end the regular season at 9-7; they lost to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round.

He played his best football in the second half of the regular season, throwing for 23 TDs with only three interceptions over the final 10 games. And Cousins was one of only two NFL QBs who had at least one scoring pass in all 16 games, along with Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

Cousins was a fourth-round draft choice in 2012, the same year Griffin arrived in Washington as the No. 2 overall selection after a massive trade with the St. Louis Rams cost the Redskins a bevy of high draft picks.

Used mostly as a backup until 2015, Cousins entered last season with a grand total of nine career starts in the pros. But coach Jay Gruden opted to make the change from Griffin, and Cousins wound up starting all 17 games, including the postseason.

Now Washington is expected to release Griffin — unless it can trade him — by March 9, the start of the new league year, in order to jettison his contract worth about $16 million for next season but guaranteed only for injury.

General manager Scot McCloughan made clear shortly after the season ended he hoped to come to an agreement on a multiyear deal with Cousins, saying: “Going forward, of course we’d like to have him around.”

Gruden also has talked about the team having decided it wants to make Cousins its QB of the future, which would be quite a change for a franchise that has been in flux at that position for years.

“Having some stability there is important — and something we look forward to having,” Gruden said in January.

“To watch (Cousins) get better throughout the course of the season, stay humble, continue to work and prepare was fun to be a part of,” Gruden said, “and moving forward, we’re excited about the thought of him being our quarterback.”