The Washington Redskins continue to say the right things with quarterback Kirk Cousins. They want him here long term, something they said last season, during the season and at the Senior Bowl. Coach Jay Gruden repeated it at the scouting combine Wednesday.
It sounds good. It’s what they should say, considering he’s still on their roster and, therefore, remains their starting quarterback. If he’s a lame-duck quarterback, then how will that play in the locker room? Of course, most players are year to year and some I communicated with Tuesday night were more worried about their own situations. As they should be.
But if the Redskins really mean it with Cousins? Quit talking about it and do it. Make him an offer that comes close to tempting him to sign. And for Cousins, if he really wants to be here? Then that would reveal just how badly. If you think it’s a bluff, call it.
If they make him a competitive offer and he wants no part of it, then we’ll know it’s not just about leverage. It’s about using that leverage to leave. At that point, the Redskins can pursue a trade. The issue with a trade is that they’d have to work out agreeable compensation and then hope the new team can make an acceptable offer to Cousins. Otherwise, it won’t happen.
The problem is, Washington hasn’t come close to committing to him in that manner. Maybe new talks at the combine will lead to more optimism than has been felt at any point in this process, dating back a year. If not, and you keep him around, you’re setting up a potentially awkward situation, especially if they draft a quarterback high in the spring. They can still build a winning team, but it would still be, well, different.
The best offer last season was for $16 million per year with $24 million in guaranteed money, according to not only multiple sources but multiple reports. It sounds like a lot, right? Except that less-proven Brock Osweiler got $2 million more per year. And that $16 million per year would have left Cousins ranked 20th, as of now, among quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Had they offered Cousins $18-20 million per year, which you now hear would have gotten it done? He’d be, at best, 11th among quarterbacks right now – before new deals for Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr. But the Redskins didn’t go that high, so we really don’t know what would have happened.
Oh, and by offering him “only” $24 million in guaranteed money, they enabled him to instead make $43 million by playing twice under the tag. My favorite phrase in the Cousins situation remains this: Do the math.
Some of that, of course, is hindsight. At the time, I understood their reluctance to commit heavily long-term. If they don’t believe in him to a certain level, it’s their right. Many around the league consider him good, not great. It’s not a crime. But they did have a chance to get this done at the time and that deal would look awfully good right now – and for the next few years.
And a lot of what we heard last year – how could they pay him $20 million per year! – is what’s now being said about $24 million. What will be said next offseason? The salary bar increases every year.
Anticipate, use foresight, or fall behind. The Redskins have done an excellent job managing the salary cap, creating a huge asset when it comes to space. It’s like a minor league team with a stocked farm system. That’s why they signed corner Josh Norman last year to a deal few saw coming. Even the Redskins know they overpaid; they got their man, so it was all good.
That’s not to say it must be spent on Cousins, especially if they’re not sold on him. But they have created the opportunity to do so without crippling the franchise. So if you want him here long term, you can get it done. You know the price. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Talk is cheap; the contract is not. If you’re not willing to pay, it’s time to move on. Otherwise, it's time to have serious talks.
INDIANAPOLIS -- It happens every year when the Dallas Cowboys restructure a contract or two. The salary-cap gurus and league experts wag their finger and say it will eventually come back to haunt the franchise.
In reality, it never does.
The Cowboys recently re-worked the contracts of left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick, creating roughly $17 million in salary-cap room. The moves added $1.745 million to Smith’s future cap numbers and $2.585 million to Frederick’s future cap figures through 2021.
The Cowboys re-worked Tony Romo’s contract so much in recent years that his cap figure stands at $24.7 million. Part of the reason why DeMarcus Ware was released after the 2013 season was because of a bloated cap figure from multiple restructures.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones defended the team’s approach. He said the Cowboys could restructure a couple more contracts this offseason to create more room if needed.
“We’ve got a good feel for what we’re doing in terms of when you push money out. At some point, you’ve got to pay for those guys. Certainly, Tony, for example, it’s a situation where, at some point we’ll have to get that contract whole under the salary cap. But once it’s cleared, you gain a lot of room back. It’s just a philosophy we have. It’s not necessarily for everybody, but we certainly think we can have success with it, especially when you start to get your hands on a team like this, that allows you to give it a chance to win a championship over the next two, three, four years here.”
As for those who keep saying a bill will come due, Jones points to the yearly rising of the salary cap. The cap is set for $167 million in 2017, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
“They’ve been saying that forever,” Jones said. “To me, it comes due if and when the salary cap goes flat to down -- which, it can’t do under our labor agreement -- if that flattens out and you don’t have growth in our league. Obviously that’s one of the reasons Jerry is in the Hall of Fame. He’s a huge proponent and had a big finger and a big hand in growing our league. We’re big believers that the league has a bright future, led by our commissioner and the ownership that we have in the NFL. We feel strongly that our league is going to continue to grow.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you want to continue to believe the Dallas Cowboys will chase the top free agents, stop reading. If you like to read the click-bait headlines about the Cowboys' interest in whichever big-name, high-priced cornerback, pass-rusher or any other position, stop reading.
If you want to hear the Cowboys' actual free-agent plan, here is what executive vice president Stephen Jones, the guy in charge of the salary cap and personnel chief, said about free agency Tuesday from the scouting combine:
"I just think you live and you learn," Jones said. "I've said it always about free agency: Sometimes you're required to use it, but you better go in with your eyes wide open that you're overpaying. You're going to pay good players like they're great, average players like they're good, below average players like they're average. It's just not a great way to build a football team. But sometimes there's situations that do present themselves and you've got to be ready to do that if you see the right value there. Not a huge fan of having to go out and pay guys a lot of money, filling in big needs through unrestricted free agency. We'd rather build through the draft and then pay our own players."
If you want, re-read that quote just for added emphasis.
Jones does not say this because the Cowboys are not exactly flush with salary-cap space. They can create space for major spending by restructuring contracts, extending some contracts or releasing players.
He said it because he believes it.
Not since 2012 when the Cowboys paid Brandon Carr a five-year, $50 million deal in free agency have they put out a big-money, multi-year offer to a player. Carr was not the reason why the Cowboys altered their philosophy, but the Cowboys have found free agency to be more palatable at paying reasonable rates rather than market-setting rates.
"You knew it probably the whole time but there's just some situations where you can't get everything taken care of," Jones said. "Your team is just not good enough and you can't get all your needs filled through the draft and through your own players. At some point if you don't draft well then that's what you're stuck with. That's why it's so important to draft well and make good decisions. You're not ever going to be perfect in the draft. You're going to make mistakes, as you do in any type of player acquisition, but you certainly want to be as good as possible especially in the draft, because that leads to being able to sign guys and you know what you're going to get. When you sign another team's player you don't necessarily know what you're going to get."
The Cowboys will meet with the agents of their upcoming free agents, like Darren McFadden, Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and Terrance Williams, to gauge the possibility to signing deals before the market opens.
With free agency coming March 9, Jones acknowledged it is difficult for players to pass up the chance to see what's out there.
"It can be real difficult especially when you're dealing with guys who might have a little higher evaluation or may think there's something out there for them that it's worth waiting," Jones said. "I understand that. It only takes one team out of 32 to have the cap room and be willing to pay a guy. We know that very well could happen with some of our players that they just end up making more money and not necessarily more than they're worth but more than we can afford to pay them with our situation that we have with what we're putting in our offensive line."
The Cowboys' top priority is to sign All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to a contract extension by this summer at the latest. With big money poured into Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, that means left guard Ronald Leary, who will hit the market, is likely to find a bigger deal elsewhere.
"You don't have enough money to go around when it's all said and done," Jones said. "So as much as we'd like to keep them all, some guys are going to make more than we can afford to pay them."
And if they are going to pay somebody, they like their odds of success paying a player they know and a price they like.
Peterson has already mentioned some of his preferred landing spots. The New York Giants were on that list. The question is whether that interest would be reciprocated.
The Giants have room on the roster for a veteran running back, and their running backs coach is familiar with Peterson. But does an aging running back coming off an injury-filled campaign really make sense, even if he’s a future Hall of Famer?
Why he fits: The Giants currently have Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen and little else under contract at running back. And they’re in need of playmakers after finishing 26th in points per game and 29th in rushing.
Peterson, 31, could help. He would be a high-upside signing for the Giants this offseason, given that he’s proven capable before of returning from serious injury and thriving. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2012 just months after tearing his ACL. Age and injuries eventually catch up to every NFL player. It just might take a little longer for it to happen to a physical freak such as Peterson. There still should be something left in his tank.
The Giants are intriguing for several reasons, none more notable than they appear to be a team on the rise. They won 11 games in 2016 and could be a Super Bowl contender with Peterson resurrecting a woeful running game.
“My main goal remains the same: to win a Super Bowl championship with a great team, which I also believe we have in Minnesota," Peterson told ESPN’s Josina Anderson in a statement on Monday.
The Giants also have a familiar face as their running backs coach. Craig Johnson was an assistant with the Vikings from 2011-13. Even though he coached quarterbacks, there is certainly some familiarity between the two.
On the surface, with the Giants in need of another running back to complement Perkins (who is coming off a promising rookie season) and Vereen (coming off an injury-filled campaign) and Peterson looking for a competitive team in need of a playmaker, Peterson signing with the Giants makes some sense.
Why he doesn’t fit: Let’s start with the Giants’ offensive scheme. They played more with three wide receivers and one running back than any team in the NFL last season. They didn’t even have a fullback on the active roster. A large majority of their offensive snaps (72 percent) were from a shotgun formation.
That would not play to Peterson’s strengths. He’s a patient, power runner with breakaway speed. He’s used to running behind a fullback in a pro set.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, a whopping 95 percent of Peterson’s career carries have come with the quarterback under center. Ben McAdoo and the Giants rarely play with their quarterback under center.
There is also the obstacle of money. The Giants aren’t going to pay a soon-to-be 32-year-old running back top dollar, especially with so much of their available funds tied up in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported that he still expects the Vikings to make an offer in the $6 million range, plus incentives.
The Giants, meanwhile, are busy trying to keep their defense intact. They still want defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebacker Keenan Robinson to return. Peterson doesn’t appear to fit into the financial plan, even if Pierre-Paul signs a long-term deal that lowers his 2017 salary cap number.
And none of this even factors in whether the Giants would be hesitant given Peterson’s past problems. He was suspended the final six games of the 2014 season for his involvement in a child abuse case. This might be hard for any team to stomach, especially the Giants, given their experience this past season. Kicker Josh Brown was cut midway through this past season after admitting to abusing his now ex-wife.
Chances he joins Giants: 10 percent
There seems to be more working against Peterson becoming a Giant than there is working in his favor. He may want the Giants, but it’s unlikely they will want him, especially if the price point is anywhere near where it is expected. And while a running back with Peterson’s talent can adjust, McAdoo’s offense hardly seems like an ideal fit. The potential move seems to make little sense for both sides given all these factors.
FRISCO, Texas -- With the scouting combine set to begin this week in Indianapolis, the Dallas Cowboys figure to draw a ton of interest -- and not because they will have their luxury bus on hand crisscrossing the downtown streets day and night.
Just because the focus of the week-long event in Indianapolis will be on draft prospects doesn’t mean there won’t be more to talk about.
Here are some Cowboys-related topics sure to be discussed this week:
What’s up with Romo?
The largest topic of the NFL offseason is the future of Tony Romo. With every team, every agent and mostly every draft prospect in Indianapolis, the picture regarding Romo’s future should start to come into focus.
Last Saturday, Jerry Jones said a decision on Romo’s future has not been made and he hasn't had recent discussions with the quarterback, but that doesn’t mean things can’t come together quickly. By now, Romo’s cap figure ($24.7 million) and cap savings if he is released ($5.1 million) are seared into the brains of every Cowboys fan. They should already know the difference between a June 1 cut and an outright release, which would save the Cowboys $14 million in cap space in 2017 but have him count $8.9 million against the cap in 2018.
If the Cowboys go the release route with Romo, it won’t happen until March 9 at the earliest. That’s the first day they can use the June 1 designation.
For those wondering about a potential trade, Jones has often said a player’s value is at his lowest around the draft, which could hamper a deal. While Romo’s base salaries from 2017 to 2019 are not guaranteed, the $14 million he’s due this year could make a deal difficult. Plus, Romo has a de facto trade veto because he can simply say he has no desire to go to Team X, which would tighten his market.
All of this is difficult, but not impossible.
What happens either on the Cowboys’ bus or in their hotel suite this week will go a long way in determining Romo’s future.
How much will Prescott, Elliott preside over this combine?
The success of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 has teams wondering if they can win early with rookies. There is a great bit of luck involved, especially with how the Cowboys landed Prescott in the fourth round after failing to trade up for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. The Cowboys also had to suffer through a miserable 2015 to get Elliott with the fourth overall pick.
The 2017 running back class is a strong one, with the likes of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara considered first-rounders. Do any of them grade as well as Elliott did at every aspect of the position, from running to catching to blocking? The Cowboys took Elliott that high -- which went against conventional wisdom that says a runner can be found anywhere -- because he was a three-down back.
Prescott’s ability to prosper right away was surprising to many, if not himself, and his success could help in the evaluations of other quarterbacks from spread offenses such as Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb.
Framing their needs
Teams are allowed 60 official interviews of prospects at the combine and unlimited unofficial interviews. A year ago, the Cowboys spent time with all of the top quarterbacks, save for Carson Wentz, whom they worked with for a week at the Senior Bowl.
Quarterback will not be nearly the focus this year as it was last year. The focus this year figures to be on cornerback and pass-rushers, which are considered two of the deeper positions in the draft. The Cowboys use the combine to help the coaches get to know the prospects better, and they then use the information gathered in Indianapolis to formulate their top 30 draft visits.
The Cowboys do not window dress their draft visitors. If a player visits, there is a strong likelihood the Cowboys are serious about drafting him. Since 2004, the only first picks not to visit the Cowboys before the draft were DeMarcus Ware (2005) and Morris Claiborne (2012).
At No. 28 overall in the first round, the Cowboys will be at the mercy of the draft board when they pick, but they will land a player they covet.
Free agency talk
The shopping officially starts March 9, but teams can talk with free agents starting March 7, although they are not supposed to come to terms on a deal. The legal tampering period is a nice touch, but the real work in free agency is laid out mostly at the combine.
For the Cowboys, they will meet with the agents of their 18 unrestricted free agents and get a better feel for what is being offered and what they can afford. The chances of re-signing a player to a deal this close to free agency are unlikely, but, like a potential Romo trade, not impossible. With so much cap room available to teams, players are normally better off waiting to see what’s on the open market.
The Cowboys have said they want to re-sign as many of their own free agents as possible, but the chances of keeping Ronald Leary and perhaps Terrance Williams are remote. It's possible the Cowboys can work a deal early with Barry Church, Brandon Carr or Claiborne.
Carson Wentz's name keeps coming up.
Speaking with league insiders in preparation for the start of free agency (March 9, 4 p.m.), it has become clear that there are several free-agent wide receivers drawn to the idea of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles because of Wentz, the second-year quarterback out of North Dakota State.
Money is king, obviously. You won't find many players who will leave the best offer on the table if it is significantly sweeter than the rest. But if it's close, other priorities come into play, and quality of quarterback is typically number two on a receiver's list. The reason is obvious enough: the wide receiver position is heavily dependent on the quarterback. The better the QB, the better chance the receiver has of meeting his potential, which in turn increases his value and odds of success.
That's basic logic. What's of note here is that Wentz is considered, at least in some circles, as one of those performance-enhancing signal-callers.
The former No. 2 overall pick did not put up great numbers in his rookie season. He did complete 62.4 percent of his throws for nearly 3,800 yards despite working with a lackluster supporting cast but threw 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 79.3, good for 25th in the NFL. Wentz cooled after a strong start, as the Eagles slipped from 3-0 down to 7-9 by season's end.
The focus, though, seems to be on Wentz's upside. It's more about looking at the big arm, the top-end physical skill-set and the pre-snap command and seeing a young quarterback with the potential to keep his weapons well-fed for a long time.
"Carson Wentz, he came in and had a heck of the year as a rookie. I don't think a lot of people saw that coming," he said, adding that Wentz "has all the intangibles in being a big-time quarter in this league." Jackson noted that, as a 10-year veteran, "I obviously would love to play with a great, great, great quarterback" before crediting Kirk Cousins for his production. The desire to be paired with a top-flight QB has been expressed privately as well.
Put Kenny Britt firmly in that camp as well. As we've noted previously, since being drafted in the first round by the Tennessee Titans back in 2009, Britt has been teamed with Vince Young, Kerry Collins (in his late 30s), Rusty Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Austin Davis, Shaun Hill, Nick Foles, Case Keenum and Jared Goff. Stability at quarterback becomes all the more appealing when it has proven elusive over the course of a career.
It remains to be seen whether Wentz develops into the type of "great, great quarterback" that Jackson covets, but the early evidence suggests at a minimum that if Jackson -- or fellow speedster Kenny Stills -- goes streaking down the sideline, Wentz has the tools to capitalize on it. He flashed enough his rookie year to stir imaginations about the heights he can ascend to.
That's a nice thing to be able to dangle from an organizational standpoint, and could be a factor for free-agent receivers weighing comparable offers over the coming days.
The reality of the situation continues to be apparent: It’s hard to see the marriage between Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins lasting beyond 2017. His price tag remains high; their love for him has a financial ceiling. And neither side appears willing to budge from its stance.
This really isn’t a case of both sides wanting to break away from each other. According to multiple people, Cousins likes playing in Washington. According to multiple people in the organization, the team truly likes Cousins. But the leverage Cousins enjoys isn’t about to change, and the Redskins clearly aren’t prepared to pay him what he thinks he can get.
That’s why with all the options as to what can happen if he’s tagged by Wednesday’s deadline, one has a higher percentage of happening: a trade. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said last week that he thought there was a better chance that Cousins would be traded than that he would return. It’s hard to argue against that, and some close to Cousins say that’s what the Redskins want to do anyway, knowing that signing him to a long-term deal will be difficult. It may even be impossible, given their different positions on what his ability is worth.
As of now, some in his camp view any deal reached at the July 15 deadline as an impossibility. It certainly would take an increased offer by Washington. I don’t know that this is a universal opinion in Cousins’ camp, but the point is that based on the Redskins’ actions to date, there’s no reason to believe their offer will increase that much. They clearly view him as good, not great. And there’s no reason for Cousins to lower what he believes he should get.
There’s also the matter of past slights still bugging Cousins, including an initial offer last offseason of $12 million per year with low guarantees. It was bad at the time; it’s ridiculous now. Had the Redskins given him $18 million per year – before the Brock Osweiler deal with Houston – with solid guarantees, then there’s a good chance he would have signed (but impossible to truly know). That deal would look mighty good now.
The Redskins’ problem is that there’s only one team Cousins will sign with right now, according to one source: San Francisco. So Washington doesn’t have much bargaining power with other teams. This isn’t just about Cousins maximizing his financial value; it’s about putting himself in the best position. Reuniting with a coach (Kyle Shanahan) who loves you in an offense you love? That’s a win-win for Cousins. But it's a tough way for the Redskins to maximize his trade value on the market.
Therefore, with a trade, the Redskins can get what they can for a player they’ll lose in a year anyway. Of course, if Cousins plays under the tag, he’s gambling that San Francisco – a preferred destination with Shanahan in charge – still will need a quarterback next year. But with a six-year contract, Shanahan can afford to wait. Use the picks this year on other spots knowing the quarterbacks will arrive in 2018.
It’s hard to say the Redskins definitely will trade him; it’s not hard to say they will try. With the combine starting this week – and agents in touch with teams – Cousins and his side should have a good sense of what San Francisco might do. If he signs the franchise tag right away, or within a few days, it likely means he knows what will – or won’t – happen. Cousins also knows a year from now he’ll be free.
The transition tag idea for 2018 at around $28 million has been floated. It’s not realistic. So if Cousins leaves after 2017, then the Redskins would get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019. If they can get a good return from the 49ers this offseason, it’s hard to imagine them saying no. Quite a bit of work remains for this situation to be resolved, whether via trade or anything else. But for the marriage to continue, the first step would be a willingness on both sides to alter their position.
The Washington Redskins' decisions about their free-agent receivers will be easier to make if second-year WR Josh Doctson is healthy. That’s why seeing him take the next step in his recovery, and performing agility drills, is a positive development for Doctson and the Redskins. Of course, the next step is for Doctson to continue being able to do these drills for an extended time without feeling any pain.
Doctson posted video on his Snapchat account, showing him doing the drills and catching passes Thursday. He has been bothered by his Achilles’ in both feet since, though it started when he tweaked his right one May 25. It sidelined him thereafter until late in training camp -- and then he was only able to play in two games, catching two passes for 66 yards. After that, the Redskins rested him and then eventually placed him on injured reserve.
Again, this was on Thursday and not today. A good sign, regardless. https://t.co/kj7zMfclUf
— Master Tesfatsion (@MasterTes) February 24, 2017
Doctson’s progress impacts what the Redskins do at receiver. They have two free agents in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. There is no guarantee both will depart, but the Redskins are content to see how the market develops for both -- and then make a final decision.
They have not spoken to either player, but likely will meet with them at the combine next week. However, multiple teams will do the same and both players know they will be in high demand.
That means Doctson’s progress is pivotal. The Redskins viewed him as a top-10 player before the 2016 draft so when he was still available when they selected 22nd (after trading back one spot knowing he’d still be there) they didn’t hesitate to draft him. They’ll obviously monitor him closely and word is that Doctson’s spirits are good, perhaps a function of his recovery. But the key will be how he feels after extended work; after all, he had returned at other times.
At the time they drafted him, the Redskins knew there was a chance both Garcon and Jackson could be gone. Doctson would provide a replacement, giving them a 6-foot-2 receiver capable of tracking the ball well down the field, as he did at TCU. But those plans were stymied because of an injury that did not exist before the draft.
It led to all sorts of frustration as doctors at one point before camp feared it would take eight to 12 weeks to heal. That report soon changed, but later Doctson said doctors told him extended rest was the best cure. He visited multiple specialists about the injury.
After the season, Doctson said, “It’s a unique injury from what I’m hearing by doctors. It’s been a frustrating year. There’s not a certain diagnosis other than tendinitis. It’s something that hopefully won’t reoccur if I let it calm down. I’ve never had this problem ever. It was foreign to me, and that’s why I tried to play through it.”
The Redskins need him to do more than play through pain this season. There are many steps to go, but Doctson took another one this week.
The Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins remain at an impasse, with one week left before the deadline for the franchise tag. It’s not exactly a surprising spot, considering the leverage of one side and the clear doubts on the other. And it makes sense for Cousins to stay unsigned.
So says a veteran of NFL front offices, Joe Banner.
He spent 17 seasons as president of the Philadelphia Eagles; two years as the CEO of the Cleveland Browns and two more years as a front office consultant to the Atlanta Falcons. He offers a unique perspective and understands the dilemma facing the Redskins -- and Cousins’ unique position.
“If I was the agent, I’d want to see if they tag me before I did anything,” Banner said. “If they don’t tag me, I’d love to hit the open market and if they do tag me, use that as the base to open the negotiations. It’s pointless to negotiate now until the player and agent know whether or not they’re getting tagged.”
Here’s why: If the Redskins somehow let Cousins hit the open market, Banner said it would result in a big payday.
“He’d get a huge deal and would become the highest-paid QB by a moderate amount,” he said.
Cousins' potential, and just how good he already is, has led to many debates. Banner places Cousins in the good-but-not-great camp. That doesn't mean his pay would be commensurate.
“We’ve all wondered if a quality quarterback actually hit the market in his 20s where he had six or seven years left to play and total unrestricted free agency, what is his real market value?” Banner said. “We don’t know that. No one has had that opportunity or had the patience to get tagged twice. He’s now very close and in complete control and whether or not that happens, that’s a powerful place to be.”
Banner said the options here are clear. The Redskins can let Cousins walk (which he said he doesn’t believe they’re considering), tag him or do a long-term deal.
And that would lead to a deal that will cost quite a bit.
“The only way you get it done is if you pay him,” Banner said. “You probably have to make him the highest paid, at least to this point. Losing him is a terrible option. Keeping him on a one-year deal is the best under the circumstances, but it’s not a great option and having to overpay with a long-term deal with a huge signing bonus. If you think he’s the answer, it’s a no-brainer. But if you think he’s good but not good enough to carry the team, that’s problematic.”
The question is: If the Redskins tag Cousins, would there be a trade market? Banner said he could see someone wanting to trade for Cousins, but to a point. There will be other choices for teams in need of a quarterback, whether via trade (New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo), free agency (if Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick become free) or the draft.
“How high the picks would be,” said Banner of a possible deal involving Cousins. “Could you get meaningful compensation in a trade? Here’s the problem with quarterbacks: It’s as big a difference-making position in all of sports and there’s a big short of talent versus the number you need. … The problem is if they trade him, where are they at the position that most defines your ability to win or lose?”
Some of that depends on how they view other solutions -- and if they believe Cousins is truly worth $20 million more than backup Colt McCoy.
Still, Cousins is in a unique position. He’s had success -- how much is due to him is part of the debate -- who plays the most important position and who is willing to play on one-year deals knowing the potential market that exists.
And that leads to this thought: Even if the Redskins come close to the offer Cousins is seeking, he might not sign. After all, a year from now he would have freedom to choose the best situation, which may or may not be Washington.
“Why would you take a deal [now] unless you really, really love where you are and think you have a chance to win big? You love your coaches, you love everything,” Banner said. “Let’s say they tag him and he hits the market [in 2018], that doesn’t preclude him from signing with the Redskins. So I’m sure that’s part of their private conversations. And you’re betting that you play reasonably well.
“If they tag him this year and he got hurt and it’s not career-ending but consequential but he’ll be fine for 2018? He still gets a massive deal. The risk of playing under the tag for a year is pretty small and the potential upside is very large. I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to negotiate on behalf of the Redskins.”
Honestly, I can’t remember where I read that, but I immediately thought that was incorrect.
The Giants invested heavily on the defensive line before the 2016 season, re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and adding Olivier Vernon with an $85 million contract. The Giants also signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison. Certainly they had more sacks than the Cowboys, right?
The Cowboys had 36. The Giants had 35.
Now, sacks aren’t the end-all, be-all for stats when it comes to affecting the opposing quarterback. Pressures matter, too, although I think pressures can also be viewed as warning-track power in baseball. You’re close to getting there, but can’t quite finish. It’s not a 100 percent adequate comparison, but teams that talk about pressures are teams that generally don’t sack the quarterback as often. But maybe the Giants’ 17 interceptions, which tied for fourth in the NFL, came about in part because of the pressure from the defensive line. Maybe the Cowboys’ nine interceptions came in part because of the lack of pressure from the defensive line.
It’s a good debate, but let’s keep this to sacks since the definition of a pressure can vary from team to team.
Of the Cowboys’ 36 sacks, 30 came from their defensive line, led by Benson Mayowa’s six. Of the Giants’ 35 sacks, 25 came from their defensive line, led by Vernon’s 8.5.
So does this mean the Giants overpaid for Vernon? Not necessarily. And it doesn’t mean the Cowboys have a bargain in Mayowa, who signed a three-year deal with $3.3 million guaranteed.
It just is what it is.
But it shows the Cowboys’ approach to free agency, lamented by some fans who want them to sign the biggest and best every year, works to a certain degree. It’s just good enough to be good enough, if not great.
The Cowboys had 10 defensive linemen record at least one sack in 2016. The total 2016 cap value of those 10 players, according to ESPN Stats & Information figures, was $14.075 million. The Giants had eight defensive linemen record at least a half-sack in 2016. The total 2016 cap value of those eight players was $32.819 million.
Cost benefit matters in free agency. The Cowboys believe there are too many bucks put into free agency and not enough bangs. Cornerback Brandon Carr has been a solid player for the past five years, but at the $50 million it cost to sign him in 2012 as a free agent? Probably not.
Unless the Cowboys get lucky in the draft or move away from their free-agent philosophy of recent years and make a commitment to somebody like Pierre-Paul, the rotation that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli favors figures to remain in place.
Only three Dallas linemen played more than 500 snaps on the defensive line in 2016: Maliek Collins (656), Tyrone Crawford (624) and Jack Crawford (530). David Irving checked in at 487 snaps and had four sacks, five tackles for loss, 26 quarterback pressures and five pass deflections. Could he do more with more snaps in 2017, or would that overexpose him?
The biggest free-agent deal the Cowboys handed out last year was to defensive tackle Cedric Thornton for four years and $17 million, with $9 million guaranteed. He had 1.5 sacks, but pass-rushing is not his strength.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is on record as saying he wants to bring in a top pass-rusher this offseason. He had one for the better part of a decade in DeMarcus Ware, who became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. In 2015 Jones added Greg Hardy in free agency, but that was a failure. The Cowboys didn't take an early-round chance on a pass-rusher in last year’s draft, waiting until the fourth round to take Charles Tapper, who did not play a snap as a rookie because of a back injury.
Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence fell to one sack in 2016 after an eight-sack season in 2015, in large part due to suspension and injury. Maybe he'll put it all together in a contract year and become the guy opposing offenses have to worry about every snap. Maybe Tyrone Crawford can stay healthy and find his form. Maybe Tapper can be an answer. Maybe Irving is about to break out.
Those are all big maybes.
But so is spending huge in free agency.
Carson Wentz's rookie mistakes were often compounded by a group of receivers that rarely bailed him out.
Take his first career interception in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions. With his team trailing by a point late in the fourth quarter, Wentz decided to take a shot deep which was intercepted by Darius Slay. Bad decision. But if Nelson Agholor does a better job of tracking the ball, the play could have had a different outcome.
Scan the Philadelphia Eagles' 16 games, and it's hard to come up with many big-time catches where the receiver stole the ball, whether by muscle or grace. Instead, the opposite comes to mind: minimal separation; drops (5.1 percent of Wentz's attempts were dropped, the fifth-highest rate in the league, per ESPN Stats & Information); and one-on-one battles lost.
The Eagles' front office and coaching staff are painfully aware of the unit's shortcomings and have dedicated the offseason in part to bolstering the supporting cast around the young signal-caller.
At the top of the free-agent wide receiver class is the Bears' Alshon Jeffery, who would cure a lot of what ailed the Eagles' pass attack in 2016.
"He's not a true burner, but what he is in my opinion is someone who is excellent at the catch point, someone who you can throw a 50-50 ball to, which is very important for a young quarterback," said ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, a Chicago-area native. "Because I think part of the discussion has to be about Carson Wentz. I believe everything that Coach [Doug Pederson] does and the front office does has to be built around the quarterback.
"If he's covered, it doesn't mean he's 'covered.' You still throw the football. And you say, 'OK, there’s a 50 percent chance my guy is going to catch the ball.' I think with Jeffery, it's probably 60-40, maybe even 65 percent that he's going to come down with the football because he's so strong, he's got a great catch radius, he's got great hands and he knows how to use his body."
Despite some of those high-degree-of-difficulty efforts, Jeffery was charged with just one drop on 92 targets this season. Meanwhile, Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham had 11 combined drops, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
While the abilities are obvious, there are some questions with Jeffery. He was suspended four games last season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances and finished with 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns. After scoring 20 TDs over his first three seasons, Jeffery, who has been hampered by injuries some of late, has just six over the last two seasons.
Bowen believes shaky quarterback play was a significant factor in Jeffery's statistical dip this past season.
"When Jay Cutler was in trouble, when Jay Cutler needed to make a play, the ball went to number 17. That's how it worked. When Jay Cutler left and Brian Hoyer came in ... he's going to go through his progressions quick, get the ball out, kind of take what the defense gives him, that's what he's going to do. With Jay Cutler, he had a much more aggressive quarterback, a quarterback with a much bigger arm down the field.
"When he went out, those 50-50 throws were gone. You didn't see many of them on the film. [Jeffery] didn't see many red zone opportunities. Then he missed some time, then he had the suspension. That stuff really impacted his total production."
Jeffery (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) would probably be considered a good fit in just about every scheme, but Bowen believes he is well-suited for a West Coast style system like Pederson's because of the amount of inside-breaking routes, which play to his strengths.
"What I always look at with receivers is not what they do at the line of scrimmage -- he's big enough, strong enough where he’s going to get off a press -- it's what he can do at the top of the route. Because that's where he makes his money is between 12 and 15 yards; that's where the route is going to break with him. He's going to get open," Bowen said. "He understands now how to sink his hips, how to accelerate out of the break, how to create enough separation. Even if a defensive back does close, now you go back to the size and strength at the point of attack; he's going to pin him outside just like a basketball player in the post. That shows up a lot in third down, that shows up especially in the red zone."
"He's a guy that can move the sticks all day for you. And I really think that's what Carson Wentz needs right now."
While the Eagles are interested in acquiring a burner that can take the top off the defense, there is something to be said for providing Wentz with a high-end security blanket as well. But, as is the case with most high-end items, it will come at a cost. If the Bears decline to use the franchise tag on Jeffery (they have until March 1 to do apply it), he could be seeking a deal that lands him in Dez Bryant/Demaryius Thomas territory (both are averaging $14 million per season with north of $30 million guaranteed). That's a lot of money, especially for a team that's somewhat restricted financially and has other holes to fill.
Assuming he hits the market, the Eagles will have to decide if the risk associated with the 27-year-old out of South Carolina is worth the potential reward of arming Wentz with the best receiver the market has to offer.
Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson knows skeptics anticipated a short career for him, given his small stature. But, having turned 30 years old in December, and eyeing free agency in a little more than two weeks, Jackson is clear on this: He wants to play a while longer, perhaps as much as six years. And, yes, he's thought about that happening with Philadelphia.
On Adam Schefter’s latest Know Them From Adam podcast, Jackson discussed free agency, a possible return to the Eagles and how he hasn't yet lost a step. Jackson also spoke about what it means to have his son and how he thinks about his late father every day. It was the most I’ve heard Jackson speak about that topic, and it was interesting. You can listen to the extended interview here.
The question is, where will free agency take the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jackson? There has been a lot of speculation about a possible return to Philadelphia. The Redskins haven’t ruled out his return, but it’s far from a guarantee -- and, at this time, unlikely. Tampa Bay is a possibility, too, where he’d be paired with strong-armed quarterback Jameis Winston.
Besides wanting the best contract, Jackson said, “I would love to play with a great quarterback. I think Kirk Cousins is a great quarterback. He’s done some great things the past couple years as far as statistics. If it’s another team I have to go to, we know the business of the NFL. I would love to play with a great quarterback and take that to the next level.”
The Eagles, of course, drafted quarterback Carson Wentz second overall last spring. They lack deep-ball threats, too. There’s a chance Philadelphia will pursue Jackson or Redskins teammate Pierre Garcon.
“I mean, it’s definitely a great story and ending, I guess you could say,” Jackson told Schefter of a possible return. “Starting your career somewhere and you go to a division rival and possibly maybe going back. You think about all that, you start somewhere and maybe you want to finish it. There’s a lot of speculation of a lot of thoughts. It all sounds good, but you never know until the final decision is made.”
But he does like Wentz.
"He killed it," Jackson said. "He had a heck of a year. He showed he can do it all. He has the intangibles of being a big-time quarterback."
But Jackson’s foray into free agency in 2014 was forced after the Eagles cut him. It led to numerous questions and much speculation about off-field issues. Jackson, though he would often miss volunteer workout sessions in the offseason with Washington, stayed out of trouble.
“I sit back and laugh about it,” Jackson said of the Eagles' release. “I felt I was at the top of my game; I was blossoming. To be set back like that ... that made me a little more humble. I came out and thought I’d be a first-round pick and I slipped to the second round. That motivated me my whole five, six, seven years in the league and then you have something like that happen. It re-motivated me and re-triggered a situation like, this is really a business. You have to hold yourself accountable and watch who you’re hanging around and watch what you post on Instagram. You’re just being a young guy, having fun and you work so hard to get blessed with money and accolades, but then you have the opportunity to sit back and reality kicks in. This happened, so how do you regain everyone’s attention.”
He did that with his speed. Jackson certainly didn’t appear to have lost a step this past season, when he averaged 17.9 yards per catch. He finished with four 100-yard games in his last six outings. He also told Schefter he could still run a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash.
That’s why he said he’s not ready for a switch to the slot. Someday? Yes -- maybe.
“I’m not ready for that now,” he said. “I still feel I can play outside and play at a high level. Maybe if it ever comes to a point where you do lose a step [but] you have guys like Darrell Green who never lost a step. Hopefully I can stay at that level and keep all my speed.”
Jackson spent the last three years in Washington, averaging 19.03 yards per catch during his tenure -- most of any receiver during that time. This past season, he caught 56 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns. And he remains as confident as ever of what he can do.
“My mindset has been putting myself in the best position to sustain another four, five, six years in the NFL,” he said. “I still feel young and rejuvenated. I want to do all the things the right way. The past couple years I’ve proven I can still go out there and take the top off and be one of the best deep threats in the league.
FRISCO, Texas -- Next week the Dallas Cowboys will move their operations to Indianapolis for the scouting combine and we can start to truly wonder about who they will select in the draft.
Before that, however, we have some other wonders.
Five of them to be exact.
Away we go:
- I always enjoy those who get upset each year when the Cowboys restructure contracts as if they are the only team in the NFL to use such a tool to help manage salary-cap space. On Monday they reworked the deals of Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick and created $17.3 million in room, and almost immediately came the howls of "kicking the can down the road." I get it. The move adds to the cap figures of Smith and Frederick over the next five years, but after 2018, Smith's cap number decreases each year from 2019-21 and Frederick’s cap number tops out at $10.235 million. Those are manageable numbers for the best players at their positions. But I wonder if those who always say, "that will catch up to the Cowboys," ever truly know if it will catch up with them or not. The cap goes up every year. The road in which the can is kicked doesn't seem to have a stop sign. It forces the Cowboys to manage their cap differently than others, but it's not keeping them from signing players they want to sign.
- We opened up Five Wonders by talking about the combine, but I wonder if the Cowboys will be able to use their time to get a feel for what their free agents will be seeking when the market opens. Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne and Terrance Williams will have suitors, but the Cowboys will try to re-sign most of their free agents. For a player like Church, this will be his last chance to cash in. Same with Carr. Money will matter. Claiborne's injury history makes him a risk for any team. Williams seems like he will get more than what the Cowboys can pay. I'm not even talking about Ronald Leary. The Cowboys could get a valuable compensatory pick in return in 2018 for Leary signing elsewhere. I don't wonder if they will sign any of their free agents before the market opens. Considering the money that will be out there to spend, every player should wait for free agency to begin.
- I wonder if the New England Patriots will break the Cowboys' mark for consecutive winning seasons. The Patriots are at 16 and counting. The Cowboys posted 20 straight winning seasons from 1966-85. With Tom Brady saying he wants to play until his mid-40s, who's to say New England won't continue to win? Heck, it showed in 2008 it can win without Brady when Matt Cassel took over for the final 15 games and posted a 10-5 mark. They went 3-1 without Brady last season with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. The AFC East remains a mess with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills running in quicksand. The Miami Dolphins showed promise under Adam Gase at coach, but they showed promise under Tony Sparano a few years ago and weren't able to keep it together. The Cowboys' run of success over those 20 seasons remains Tom Landry’s hallmark, but Bill Belichick might have something to say about it.
- One of the more underrated parts of the Patriots’ comeback in Super Bowl LI was the strategy they used on their kickoffs. Stephen Gostkowski made the Atlanta Falcons returners make decisions. After cutting the gap to 28-12, Gostkowski's kickoff was popped up to the Atlanta 17 and returned for 10 yards. After cutting the gap to 28-20, the ensuing kickoff went to the Atlanta 3 and returned 7 yards. After tying the score at 28-28, the kickoff went to the goal line and returned 11 yards. I wonder if the Cowboys would want a do-over on their kickoff in their divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers. After tying the score, Dan Bailey's kickoff went for a touchback and Aaron Rodgers put together a winning drive in the final 35 seconds. Had Bailey been asked to hang the ball high and force Christine Michael to make a decision on the ensuing return, they could have burned time off the clock as well as perhaps pinched the Packers deeper inside their territory.
- I wonder how much Adidas will be fans of the Cowboys. Dak Prescott has a sponsorship deal with the shoe company and it will undoubtedly do more with him if his success continues to grow. Prescott has a great story to tell that can earn him a good deal of money off the field. But Adidas also has a deal with linebacker Jaylon Smith. His comeback from nerve damage sustained in a serious knee injury would be another great story to tell. Perhaps Prescott and Smith could combine in some ads?
It’s not the salary-cap hit that matters most when it comes to quarterback Kirk Cousins' future contract. Rather, it’ll be the space it occupies on the Washington Redskins' cap (or whatever team he ends up with).
The cap is projected to be around $168 million; the Redskins' adjusted cap space, thanks to the unused portion they can carry over from last year, is expected to be around $183 million. As of now, they have $64 million in available cap space.
If the Redskins place the franchise tag on Cousins again, he’d count $23.95 million. That would take up 13.1 percent of their adjusted salary cap. Six quarterbacks carried a higher percentage this past season.
But if Cousins signs a long-term deal, he’d likely count less against the cap in the first year. So if he counted, say, $20 million, it would be 10.9 percent of the adjusted cap (same as corner Josh Norman). Of course, the key will be when Cousins' number hits the high point in two or three years, what percentage does it occupy? That will depend on where the cap goes and how much carryover the Redskins can bring into that year. But Washington must stomach that potential figure in agreeing to a deal.
Though the Redskins can improve multiple ways -- they've managed the cap well and have nine picks this spring -- will they want to commit that sort of space to a quarterback they're not convinced is a top-10 guy?
Of the top 10 quarterbacks last year in terms of salary-cap hits, four signed their contracts in 2013: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, Dallas’ Tony Romo, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. The other six were signed in 2015 or ’16. That also includes Cousins, who played under the franchise tag.
Only five of them led their team to the postseason this past year. And the futures of two quarterbacks -- Romo and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick -- with their current teams is uncertain.
The contract that should be applauded is Green Bay’s with Rodgers. The Packers deserve credit for signing him to an extension in the spring of 2013 with two years remaining on his deal. That enabled them to spread out a $33.25 million signing bonus, dumping $6.65 million into 2013 and ’14.
So even though Rodgers’ five-year extension, which ends in 2019, averages $22 million, he’ll never count that much vs. the cap. The result? Green Bay has one of the top quarterbacks at a cap-friendly percentage. Of course, at the time of the deal Rodgers already had won a Super Bowl and it was clear Rodgers was capable of reaching the Hall of Fame. A long-term deal was a no-brainer.
(Note: Check back every day this week for a free agent file)
Pierre-Paul is set to become a free agent after completing his seventh season with the team. He had 7.0 sacks in 12 games before sports hernia surgery ruined his prove-it year.
To erase doubts he could still play at a high level after losing his right index finger and parts of several others in a fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul was among the league leaders with eight batted passes and added 54 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Giants are sold.
"Do we want him back? Of course we want him back," general manager Jerry Reese said after the season. "He's a good football player."
It’s not going to be easy. Pierre-Paul deservedly wants to get paid with a long-term deal, but the Giants are already heavily invested in their defensive line and have Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins as pending free agents. Word on the street is that they are genuinely trying to keep the defense intact, which means bringing back Pierre-Paul and Hankins.
The Giants might need to use the franchise tag on Pierre-Paul for the second time in three years to make it happen. The franchise number for a defensive end is expected to be about $17 million. That might be where this one is headed, at least as a place-holder until a long-term deal is reached.
Free agent file
Position: Defensive end
Experience: 7 years
Projected contract: 4 years, $59 million, $21 million guaranteed
(Note: The projected contract was derived from the average of five league sources surveyed. The panel consists of a front office executive, salary-cap experts and agents.)
Comparable contract: Olivier Vernon (Giants)
It’s not exactly apples to apples, but Vernon signed a five-year, $85 million deal with a record $52.5 million guaranteed last offseason. That was money that likely wouldn’t have been available had Pierre-Paul not been involved in a July 4th fireworks accident the previous year. Now Pierre-Paul is 28, has damaged fingers and quite a bit of wear and tear on his body. Pierre-Paul is going to aim for a similar deal (and likely more), because when he was on the field this season it could be argued he was the better player. The difference is he’s not injury-free, 25 years old and in a free-agent class with a dearth of pass-rushers. Still, Pierre-Paul is justifiably going to want to get paid. He’s waited seven years for this long-term deal and already said he’s not going to play on another one-year contract. If the Giants use the franchise tag, it’s not going to be well-received.
Market: Teams are always looking for pass-rushers. For a team that plays a 4-3 defense, Pierre-Paul might be the best available option at defensive end, although there are some quality 3-4 edge rushers this year. The Giants, Bucs, Jaguars, Cowboys and Browns are some potential suitors. The market for Pierre-Paul should be strong, which could make it difficult for the Giants to get him at a price that works for both parties if he hits the market.
What he brings: Pierre-Paul is a solid run defender and pass-rusher. He proved this past season that he can still play despite the limitations with his hand. He’s in tremendous physical shape and has a body that can make him a force in any system. He has a solid all-around game that can help just about any team. The biggest question is his durability. In addition to the hand, he’s had back, shoulder and abdominal problems throughout his career.
Synopsis: Pierre-Paul proved this past season that he’s worth a lucrative investment. Even though a good chunk of his sacks came against the Browns and Bears (two bad teams), he produced consistent pressure off the edge and re-established himself as an effective run defender. He’s not among the league’s best pass-rushers, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with each week for opposing offenses.
Chances he returns to Giants: 70 percent
The franchise tag factors heavily into this equation. If that tool weren’t available, the odds of Pierre-Paul returning would be 40 percent. But it’s hard to imagine the Giants allowing a 28-year-old pass-rusher with plenty of gas in the tank to walk without any immediate compensation in return.