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Jay Gruden ‘optimistic’ deal with Kirk Cousins happens, but comfortable with Nate Sudfeld as plan B

Jay Gruden hopes Nate Sudfeld “eventually can take over” for Washington — just not any time soon.

Washington Redskins v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

PHOENIX — Kirk Cousins is a franchise-tagged player for the second consecutive offseason and unless he reaches an agreement on a long-term deal with Washington before the July 15 deadline, he will again play for the team on a one-year deal.

Washington has ruled out the possibility of a trade, and giving Cousins the franchise tag again in 2018 doesn’t seem realistic with the number skyrocketing to $34.47 million. So the team is facing the real possibility that it has less than four months to reach a mammoth deal with the quarterback or it could soon be without him.

“It’s important to have our quarterback back,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said at the annual league meeting Tuesday. “We’d love to come up with a long-term deal with him, and hopefully that’ll happen. We’re still optimistic that’ll happen.”

But the reality is that it might not happen. Cousins is set to make $23.94 million in 2017 under the franchise tag, and has little reason to accept any contract that isn’t the largest in NFL history. After all, if Washington isn’t willing to give it to him, he could certainly receive that kind of deal on the open market as a free agent.

He’s also been the subject of trade rumors and reportedly liked the idea of a reunion with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, who is now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Some NFL pundits — including Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated and Dieter Kurtenbach of Fox Sports — have recently posted mock drafts with the team taking a quarterback to prepare for the possibility that Cousins will leave. But Gruden insists the team is comfortable with the talent on the roster, which will likely have Colt McCoy in place as the backup in 2017.

He even believes 2016 sixth-round pick Nate Sudfeld could be the team’s future starter.

“[Sudfeld]’s a good, young prospect,” Gruden said. “We liked what he did in training camp last year. He didn’t get a lot of reps after that, but hopefully with his knowledge of the system, he can be the young guy moving forward that eventually can take over. Hopefully it won’t happen for a while, Kirk’s still very young.”

Cousins, 28, isn’t anywhere close to retirement and Sudfeld, 23, still hasn’t taken a regular season snap in his NFL career.

Realistically, Sudfeld’s only chance to “eventually take over” comes if Cousins leaves in 2018. And even if Washington isn’t able to keep the Pro Bowler, it seems like a stretch to expect Sudfeld to be a player the team is comfortable turning to.