Mark me down as one of the more naïve followers as to what was going on between the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins in the contract disputes that came into effect after his four-year, $2.74 million rookie deal expired after 2015.
And that naivete continued earlier this week, when it became clear that Cousins was headed to the Vikings, and on a three-year, $84 million deal that would be fully guaranteed.
I was spouting that the contract certainly would carry a clause that would prevent the Vikings from placing a franchise tag on him for 2021, after this deal expired. It does prevent a transition tag (a lesser amount), but if the Vikings would choose to franchise Cousins four seasons from now … go for it.
Why? The tag will be worth a $40 million salary by then.
What a dummy -- me, not Cousins, and certainly not Mike McCartney, the low-key, prescient agent behind this strategy to win guaranteed dollars from the money-stealing operators of NFL teams.
As it turns out, the franchise tags were never a problem for Cousins and McCartney. Rather, they were means to a triumphant end.
Cousins was taken in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, the same one in which the Redskins took quarterback Robert Griffin with the second pick. The expectation was that Cousins would watch Griffin become a star, and then move on in a minor trade near the end of his rookie contract.
It didn’t work out that way. Griffin was injured and became a bust. By 2015, Cousins was the Redskins’ quarterback, starting the 16 games and putting up large passing numbers.
With the rookie contract expiring, it has been reported that McCartney gave the Redskins a proposal: three years, $58.5 million, fully guaranteed. The Redskins shrieked in horror at that last part and kept Cousins with a franchise tag costing $19.95 million for 2016.
Cousins followed with 16 more starts and continued big numbers. Any contract offer from Washington now had to be for many more millions – and again, fully guaranteed.
The Redskins tagged him again, leading to a salary of $23.94 million in 2017. Why was I goofy enough to think the Redskins using back-to-back franchise tags must have been an irritant to Cousins?
The tags were driving his salary to wonderful heights. They were perfect, as long as the quarterback won the bet on himself to stay healthy.
There was a third franchise tag available for Washington on Cousins for 2018. It would have been for an estimated $34.5 million.
The best guess is that all along – from that first tag for just shy of $20 million – MCCartney was advising Cousins that the franchise designation would get too exorbitant for the Redskins and he would wind up on the free-agent market as a coveted quarterback before his 30th birthday.
The storyline became that Washington’s failure to deliver a satisfactory multi-year deal was based on the team’s uncertainty that Cousins was the quarterback to lead a long-awaited return to glory.
Wrong, again. It was about guaranteed dollars – not some of the millions, not most of the millions, but all of the millions. And those franchise tags weren’t a lack of respect for Cousins. They were favors.
The Redskins wouldn’t fully guarantee a large contract, and they finally had to blink at that third franchise tag for $34.5 million, give or take a few hundred thousand.
On Thursday, Cousins was introduced as the quarterback of the Vikings on a three-year, $84 million contract that, amazingly in today’s NFL, is sure to pay him $84 million.
And if it gets to be 2021, and Cousins has success here, and the Vikings don’t want to fully guarantee, say, a three-year, $110 million extension, McCartney and Cousins can accept happily a third and final franchise tag – that $40 million mentioned earlier.
Thursday was a great day in American sports. An NFL player got his money … all of it.
Of course, the Vikings at the same time were putting a vise on running back Lattavius Murray to take a cut for the second season of his alleged three-year, $15.5 million.
The Vikings did this not because Murray failed to meet expectations in 2017, but because that’s what the NFL teams do whenever possible: make a deal, then take back as many dollars as possible, even if a player has performed to the standards of the contract.
Sheldon Richardson, the new defensive tackle, and his agent also might be ahead of the curve on contracts. He took a one-year deal from the Vikings, with $8 million guaranteed and $3 million in incentives.
Why take a three-year, $30 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, when a team is going to come back and steal 40 percent of the Year 2 salary and maybe all of the Year 3 salary?
Play one season, get paid $10 million, and hit the market again in 2019. In Richardson’s case, he’s now 27, and with a strong season, he could do this all over again … for more guaranteed money.
The millions are much different at other positions, but Cousins might have set a good example for players in their prime:
Bet on yourself with deals that put you back on the market as soon as possible, because NFL management is determined to rob you on the longer deals anyway.
Ask Lattavius Murray. Heck, ask the now-retired Chad Greenway, and he’s going to end up jn the Vikings Ring of Honor.