Why the Redskins-Cousins contract talks have taken a turn for the weird

The only thing less ideal than the Redskins using the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins is not using it all.

Reports surrounding the contract negotiations between the Washington Redskins and free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins ramped in recent days. That included a nugget via Twitter from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the two sides have "broken off contract negotiations," according to a team source. Then came another Schefter note, as relayed by ESPN's John Keim, from the same team source.

The source also told Schefter it's not a foregone conclusion that the Redskins would use the franchise tag on Cousins. Teams have until March 1 to apply the franchise tag.

Now, my spidey sense tells me that basic nature of these reports is simple negotiations with each side trying to win the PR battle. However, the second item from Schefter about the Redskins possibly passing on the franchise tag isn't a ploy. Can't be, right?

Check out any list of 2016 free agents. Cousins is the top free agent QB. Go look at how many teams need or would consider a QB. The answer is more than you can count one hand. It only takes one team to offer big bucks and Cousins could walk. Why wouldn't teams want a closer look at a quarterback clearing growing?

https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/699672748470177792

There's something to be said for stability. There's something to be said for a former fourth-round pick and backup a mere six months wanting his pay day.

If Cousins doesn't return, then what for the Redskins? No, sorry, Robert Griffin III isn't coming back. Washington won't pay $16.5 million and coach Jay Gruden won't reverse course after setting sail last season without RG3 at QB. 

Colt McCoy is a free agent. Some think he can be the starter and maybe should have been all along. If the Redskins had the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos defense, maybe, but even then, probably not. A training camp competition? Maybe, but ideally no. Place holder if somehow Washington spent an early draft pick on a QB? Maybe, but that doesn't sound like a plan of a team looking to defend its division title.

Even if the Redskins were open to replacing Cousins in the draft, the only three quarterbacks with consistent first round grades -- Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch -- are projected off the board before Washington picks at 21. 

Even if the Redskins are cool with adding a different free agent, which one? Sam Bradford's career reeks of underwhelming. Denver probably doesn't let Brock Osweiler leave. One could argue that Ryan Fitzpatrick is Cousins, but six years older. Everything else, including Kellen Moore and Matt Moore, smells of backup material.

The Redskins have until March 1 to use the franchise tag. That means two-plus week for negotiations on a long-term deal. 

Should Washington use the franchise tag? Cousins would receive approximately $20 million for franchise tag -- and the Redskins lose payroll flexibility. The roster needs help all over for a true Super Bowl push. With this in mind, financial flexibility trumps nearly all of other strategy angles.

Is Cousins worth $20 million for one season? Probably not, but the one-year deal gives Washington a clear out contractually should the former Michigan State standout follow up his breakout season like another ex-Spartan, Nick Foles, did in Philadelphia. There's also the risk Cousins wows the NFL and walks when his 2016 contract ends.

There's no surefire proof Cousins repeats his 2015 season. Is it risky giving a multi-year deal with a fat guarantee to a player with only one season as an NFL starter? Sure. However, that's how the timing broke. Signing Cousins to a long-term deal helps with their salary cap and roster building going into free agency. 

That's the ideal scenario, but a backup plan exists. Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan is a smart guy who made numerous tactically appropriate moves in 2015. Nothing rash, largley reasoned, which is why the threat of not using the franchise tag doesn't mesh if he's callng the shots.

You know what's riskier than a multi-year deal? Not using the franchise tag and letting the 2015 NFL leader in completion percentage test free agency with no clear backup plan. So, negotiate away. Just keep the tactical ploys within reason.

Ben Standig is the Publisher of Breaking Burgundy. You can find him on Twitter @benstandig and on Google+

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