The debate over Kirk Cousins' contract isn't going away. If anything, it's growing louder. That's in part because within every game and often within the same drive, those who think the Washington Redskins should pay up for their quarterback and those who aren't convinced are emboldened by what they see from Cousins.
Some who are covering the league from afar or who simply view the team from 30,000 feet can't comprehend how the Redskins could let Cousins test free agency considering some of his impressive statistics, the positional importance, lack of league-wide options and Washington's winning record. Based on my observations and discussions with those around the team regularly, the conviction that a future deal will happen isn't there. That doesn't mean both sides won't come to terms once a deal can be struck in the offseason, especially if it follows a second straight playoff appearance. It just means I don't know many (any?) who think a long-term deal is a foregone conclusion.
Here are two reasons why I'm part of the unconvinced, two reasons I don't think are receiving enough play in the discussion.
Scot McCloughan Wants His Own Choices
Quarterback and head coach are the most important decisions any NFL general manager can make. Those calls, along with possible postseason success, define a tenure. McCloughan inherited Cousins and Jay Gruden. McCloughan is also human and therefore has an ego. It's incredibly reasonable to think GMSM would want to forge his own identity with these spots just like most of his contemporaries.
There are 32 NFL teams and therefore 32 general manager types, though some organizations have different decision-making flow charts. Most general managers picked their QB and coach. At the very least one or the other. Only three picked neither. Scot McCloughan is in the neither camp.
Picked QB, coach: New England, Denver, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Arizona, Minnesota, Houston, NY Jets*, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Oakland, Buffalo, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia
Picked coach: Chicago, NY Giants, San Diego, Miami, Tennessee
Picked QB: Seattle*, Kansas City, Los Angeles
Picked neither: Washington, Carolina, Detroit
(* The Jets hired their GM and coach almost simultaneously, but the GM came first. The Seahawks hired coach Pete Carroll one week before adding GM John Schneider.)
Carolina's Cam Newton and Detroit's Matthew Stafford were the No. 1 overall picks in their respective drafts. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman also inherited coach Ron Rivera when he signed on in 2013. The Panthers went 12-4 the following season. Detroit hired general manager Bob Quinn in January. We'll see if he keeps coach Jim Caldwell beyond this season, but the 5-4 Lions are currently tied for first place in the NFC North.
The Redskins won the NFC East with Cousins and Gruden last season and are tracking for another postseason berth this campaign. McCloughan sees this. So does Camp Cousins. If McCloughan sees Cousins as the best fit, he doesn't seem like the type that would allow ego to overrule logic. Of course, he has also made it clear that when it comes to contracts, he's looking at the 53-man roster and not just the one player.
Does this GM actually want to pick his own quarterback and head coach? This is unclear. Based on human nature, he does.
All the leverage is with Kirk Cousins
The debate for most seems to focus on whether the Redskins are locked into keeping their 2012 fourth-round pick. Head coach Jay Gruden, he's good. Is the general manager cool with spending a huge chunk of the salary cap on one position? Do those cap concerns rise when even the most ardent Cousins backers aren't sure he's a Super Bowl-winning QB? Is ownership on board seeing as No. 8 isn't the same as the old No. 10 when it comes to buzz and pushing merchandise?
The Redskins could kick the contract can down the road by simply sticking Cousins with the franchise tag for a second straight season. Ideally -- and assuming they view Cousins as part of the future -- Washington would sign him to a long-term deal so they could spread out the guaranteed money ($50 million?) over several seasons. This also, in theory, eliminates any potential tension between the two sides by putting the money talk to bed.
Yet a multi-year deal, from the Redskins' perspective, likely doesn't come with an average salary of $24-25 million. That's the range Cousins would get with another franchise tag. That's also the likely salary he'd receive on the open market, if not more. The Jets, Bears, 49ers, Vikings, Jaguars and Browns are among the teams possibly looking for a quarterback next offseason. Unless a battered Tony Romo is your choice, Cousins is the No. 1 option.
Unless Cousins 100 percent wants to stay with the Redskins, there is zero reason for him and his representative to take a dime less than the franchise tag salary as the baseline for a multi-year deal. He's going to get paid, bigly.
"As we've said before, the reason I signed the franchise tag as quickly as I did was because I felt it to be a great opportunity for me, a good contract. I really have no issue with it. In order to sign an additional contract beyond that, it would need to be a deal that puts me in a great opportunity, a great spot because already the franchise tag does that.
There are reasons why both sides should want to make this work. There are human and financial reasons why they might not. Those reasons need to join the discussion.