After the Redskins agreed to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs for a 2018 third round pick and Kendall Fuller, the Kirk Cousins quarterback drama is finally over. Well…. actually it’s not, as according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter the Redskins are considering placing the franchise tag on Cousins in hopes of being able to trade him.
Kirk Cousins might not be so free after all…
Washington is considering placing franchise tag on Cousins to be able to trade him, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/keNB2pGApD
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 4, 2018
Now this article isn’t about how that is risky or even why it could happen. Instead, the bigger question is: Where will Cousins ultimately end up next season? There are realistically seven teams in play for Cousins’ services, but some are more likely to acquire him than others.
Almost No Chance (5% Likelihood)
New York Giants: Projected $21 million cap space
Possible cap casualties needed: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($6.5 million), Brandon Marshall ($5.1 million), Dwayne Harris ($2.4 million)
While Cousins may have ill feelings towards the Redskins and nothing would be better than facing them twice a year, the Giants just aren’t a real option for him. The Giants would have to cut all three players mentioned above to push their cap space to $33 million. Even if the Giants back-load Cousins contract, they would have about just $10 million to spend on filling all their other needs. Recently, new head coach Pat Shurmur has expressed his belief that Eli Manning has plenty left in the tank. However, if the Giants were able to bring Cousins to New York, they can save another $9.8 million against the cap by trading Manning.
The Giants are more likely to stick with Manning for at least another year and draft a quarterback with the number two overall pick. Then move on from Manning next off-season when they can save $17 million by releasing him and handing the starting job over to the rookie.
Buffalo Bills: Projected $31 million cap space
Possible cap casualties needed: Tyrod Taylor ($14.4 million), Eric Wood ($3.2 million)
Even after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, is anyone convinced the Bills have turned the corner into consistent playoff contenders? Cousins will have better options in free agency, whether it’s a team paying more money or having a better supporting cast. Reportedly the Bills seem unlikely to target Cousins in free agency. Instead the Bills are more likely to sign a cheaper “bridge gap” quarterback like Sam Bradford, then use some combination of their eight projected draft picks to move up for a quarterback.
On the slim chance that Cousins does want to play in Buffalo, the team would have to trade or release Tyrod Taylor before his March 16th roster bonus is due. They will likely release Eric Wood either way, as his career is over due to a neck injury. After releasing those two players, the Bills would have $48.6 million in cap space. Even if they can get Cousins’ first year cap number to under $20 million, they will have just $28 million to sign a top-heavy draft class and make moves in free agency, while knowing they have to start thinking about a long term-deal for Kelvin Benjamin.
There is a Chance (10% Likelihood)
Arizona Cardinals: Projected $23 million cap space
Possible cap casualties: Carson Palmer ($14 million), Jared Veldheer ($6.9 million), Antoine Beathea ($3.5 million), Phil Dawson ($3 million), Adrian Peterson ($2.8 million)
The Cardinals may be the wild-card team in all this. How many quarterbacks wouldn’t at least consider leading an offense with Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson as its top two weapons? However, outside of that, the Cardinals aren’t a very attractive option. The offensive line is a mess, the defense wasn’t as good as many expected last season, and outside of Fitzgerald and Johnson, the rest of the passing weapons are below average.
However, if Cousins wanted to join the Cardinals, they can very easily turn this team around rather quickly. By releasing the five players mentioned above, the Cardinals would open up an additional $30.2 million in cap space. With that extra cap space combined with their four picks in the top 100 in April’s draft, the Cardinals would have the money and draft currency to improve the offensive line, add a young receiver, and plug some of the holes on defense; making Arizona a much more attractive landing spot.
Minnesota Vikings: Projected $56 million cap space
Possible Cap Casualties: Sharrif Floyd ($6.7 million), Latavius Murray ($5.1 million)
Reportedly unless the Vikings can sign Cousins, they intend franchise tag Case Keenum. Tagging Keenum would be the cheaper of the two options, which might be the Vikings’ mindset knowing they have several players up for extensions soon. Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter are all in the last year of their deals and are key pieces to the franchise’s future. Signing Cousins to a long-term deal would more than likely mean the Vikings would have to let two of those three players leave as free agents in 2019.
The Vikings could sign Cousins while retaining all three of their key free agents in 2019, but it would be tough. After releasing the two players mentioned above, they would have to seriously front-load Cousins’ contract to take advantage of their cap space this season, while saving the rest to roll over into 2019. Currently the Vikings are expected to have approximately $78 million in cap space, not including Cousins’ deal or any other contracts in 2019. They can open up an additional $16.8 million by releasing a soon-to-be 30 year old Kyle Rudolph, Andrew Sendejo and Jarius Wright. While squeezing in those three new contracts along with Cousins’ contract would be tight, the Vikings might just be able to pull it off.
Real Possibilities (15% Likelihood)
New York Jets: Projected $79 million cap space
Possible Cap Casualties: Muhammad Wilkerson ($11 million), Ben Ijalana ($4.6 million), Jermaine Kearse ($5.5 million), Bilal Powell ($4 million), Matt Forte ($3 million)
Many, including me, thought the Jets were doomed this season and in line for the top pick in the 2018 draft. However, head coach Todd Bowles did a great job coaching what might have been the worst roster in the league. Recently, Cousins raved about Jets new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates in an interview. Bates worked under Mike Shanahan and runs a similar variation of the West Coast system that Cousins ran in Washington.
While Cousins being a fan of the offensive coordinator helps the Jets chances, the roster has to hurt them just as much. However, the Jets can offer Cousins whatever money he wants and still have plenty of cap space left to add pieces around him. If the Jets release all the players mentioned above they will have $107.1 million in cap space. The Jets also have three picks in the top 50 in the Draft and can select three impact players if they already have Cousins in the fold. Bowles has proven he can elevate a roster lacking in talent to a competitive level; imagine what he could do with Cousins, two other big free agents, and three top 50 draft picks.
Cleveland Browns: Projected $111 million cap space
Possible Cap Casualties: None
Entering free agency, the Browns are expected to have the most cap space in the league and can outbid any team for a player. But a 1-31 record over the last two seasons will scare away some free agents. However, with $111 million in cap space combined with 12 total draft picks — six in the first 65 selections — is a great way to jump-start a rebuilding process. According to Albert Breer, Cousins would “seriously consider” the Browns in free agency.
— Kyle Kelly (@KyleKellyCLE) January 10, 2018
The Browns could persuade Cousins to come to Cleveland by signing a few other big name free agents, then using both their top five picks on improving his supporting cast. Whether that is taking Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson or trading down to acquire more draft picks or proven veteran players, the Browns have the assets to build the roster around Cousins to his liking, and now a general manger in John Dorsey that knows how to do so. One other thing that could convince Cousins to sign with the Browns; there is no pressure to win. If Cousins can take the Browns to a 6-10 record, the fans will be happy to get six wins after having four in the past three seasons combined. And if he can somehow get them to the playoffs, he would be viewed as the savior of Cleveland.
The Favorite (40% Likelihood)
Denver Broncos: Projected $28 million cap space
Possible Cap Casualties: Aqib Talib ($11 million), Menelik Watson ($4.5 million), C.J. Anderson ($4.5 million), Domata Peko ($3.7 million), Trevor Siemian ($1.9 million)
John Elway hasn’t made it a secret that the Broncos quarterback situation is awful. Trevor Siemian clearly isn’t a starter, Brock Osweiler is a back-up at best, and former first round pick Paxton Lynch reportedly is more concerned with video games than the playbook. Elway has to fix this situation and fix it in a big way. Reportedly, the Broncos and Cousins already have a deal in place. While I don’t believe that, it just adds fuel to the fire that the Broncos will do everything they can to sign Cousins.
When did free agency move to January? https://t.co/u0Isvau163
— Daily Snark (@DailySnark) January 31, 2018
In order to sign Cousins, the Broncos will have to make a lot of roster moves. If they release the five players mentioned above, they can push their cap space up to $53.6 million. However, that would be releasing four projected starters entering the 2018 season. Another way the Broncos can create some cap space is by restructuring Von Miller’s contract. By restructuring Miller’s contract, the Broncos could open up $13.5 million in cap space. Recently Miller stated that “Cousins could take the Broncos to the next level.” Elway can fix his quarterback blunder while keeping his best player happy all in one move.
Von Miller thinks Kirk Cousins could take the Broncos to the next level. pic.twitter.com/mFNOPBQV64
— ESPN (@espn) January 31, 2018
Needless to say, there will be a hot market for Cousins assuming he hits free agency. Cousins would be the best free agent to hit the open market since Peyton Manning in 2012, and it’s probably safe to assume Cousins will become the highest paid quarterback once he signs his new deal.