Derek Carr’s new contract with the Oakland Raiders again hammers home the price of doing business with good quarterbacks. It’s an expensive lesson for the Washington Redskins, who will either pay several million more than they would have last year for Kirk Cousins or risk losing him. In other words, we remain in the same spot.
Carr’s contract doesn’t change any of that. But what it does remind everyone is that the new cost of a good free-agent quarterback is in the mid-20s, as in millions of dollars. If the Redskins want to keep Cousins long-term, they’ll have to accept that reality.
The question is: Will Carr’s deal, a five-year extension worth $25 million per year, alter Cousins’ demands? Not necessarily. Some of it depends on the guaranteed money; that’s always the key. But it certainly provides another benchmark for any quarterback whose contract is being negotiated. Remember this: The price always rises.
But would Cousins earn a deal greater than Carr’s only two or three weeks later? The deadline for any long-term deal with Cousins is July 17. Carr just turned 26; Cousins turns 29 in August. Carr has thrown a combined 60 touchdowns to 19 interceptions the past two years. Cousins has thrown 54 touchdowns and 23 picks during that same period.
Carr produced seven fourth-quarter comebacks, adding strength to his résumé, for a team that went 12-3 with him in control. It’s hard to imagine any negotiator opposite Cousins not using the last regular-season game, capped by his interception, to reduce the cost.
The Redskins have pointed, quite often, to that last game — for the team in general, that is — as the impetus for many changes in the offseason. Timing, though, matters in negotiations.
Cousins’ quest has never been to become the NFL’s highest paid quarterback; that’s not something I’ve heard in multiple conversations with people involved in the situation. If that happened, it would stem from the leverage he enjoys rather than his pecking order among young passers. He’s not Aaron Rodgers. Guess what? Few are. But Cousins is a good quarterback in a league in which play at that position matters. If they feel they can make do with Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld in 2018, then they won’t get it done with Cousins.
And nobody should be surprised that Carr has received such a contract; this isn’t like Brock Osweiler in 2016. Cousins’ side knew that had he signed a deal earlier this offseason, three others would surpass him rather soon: Carr, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. In fact, that was a selling point: Get it done now and he’ll soon be pushed down the ladder. They weren’t waiting to see what other quarterbacks received; they were waiting for an offer to kick-start legitimate talks.
But this has always been about the leverage, thanks to the franchise tag. Without it, Cousins would have been more affordable — but it exists and the Redskins used it, so he’s more expensive. This is important, too: They chose not to make a stronger deal last year, wanting to wait and see how Cousins responded to a second year starting. The price went up. It always does.
Once Carr signs, he’ll become the 12th quarterback to make at least $20 million per year. Stafford will become the 13th whenever he reaches an extension. Had the Redskins signed Cousins last year for $20 million per year, the talk now would be: What a smart move. They weren’t sold; it’s their right and there’s no crime in thinking he shouldn’t be paid a certain amount. The Raiders deserve praise for signing Carr now.
Cousins will make $23.9 million guaranteed this season. Carr’s deal doesn’t have to alter how much Cousins receives per year — the guaranteed portion will be most important. But if the Redskins’ offers don’t match the leverage — or at least come close — it’s not worth signing.
If Cousins wants to play hardball, he can demand more than Carr and tell them, “OK, if you really want to get it done now, this is what it’ll cost.” Otherwise, he can hit the market next offseason and perhaps get it at that time — provided his play continues at a certain level.
If Cousins really wants to be here, it doesn’t have to change much at all. Just meet the leverage and he’ll be good. So far, that has been the sticking point.