In what sets up as an offseason game of chicken that would markedly influence the quarterback market, the Washington Redskins will consider placing their franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins so they can trade him and recoup some of the compensation they are sending to Kansas City for quarterback Alex Smith, per league sources.
Tagging Cousins would prevent him from becoming a true unrestricted free agent, able to sign where he wants once the new league year opens March 14, and could impact how other teams approach free agency and the draft. Without a franchise tag, Cousins would be considered the NFL's top available free agent, expected to draw interest from Arizona, Denver, the New York Jets and other quarterback-needy teams.
But Washington might want a say in where Cousins winds up, which would enable the Redskins to try to extract compensation in the 2018 draft rather than having him walk away for nothing this year.
However, Cousins still would be able to wield some control of the situation and could force Washington into a challenging if not uncomfortable situation. Washington could not trade him until he signs the franchise tag, and if Cousins wanted, he could delay signing it for weeks or even months, with the Redskins having to count his approximate $34.5 million against their salary cap.
Cousins also could tell any of Washington's potential trade partners that he is unwilling to sign a long-term deal there, dampening that team's enthusiasm for surrendering a top draft pick for his services and holding up any potential trade.
If Washington decided to pull the franchise tag to get Cousins' contract off its salary cap, it would lose the right to recoup a 2019 compensatory draft pick that it would get if Cousins were able to leave right away as a free agent. So tagging Cousins would undoubtedly carry risk.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not give Cousins a sense that the team would use its franchise tag on him when the two spoke last week, but others connected to the team insist that Washington is considering it. They believe it is nothing more than a business decision, a way for the team to try to get back at least the third-round pick it is trading to Kansas City for Smith.
It is a decision that Washington will have to make in the coming weeks. Teams can begin designating franchise players on Feb. 20.