Washington isn't going to let Kirk Cousins reach free agency, but the team may allow the quarterback to negotiate with other teams if it uses the transition tag on him. That is a move the team is leaning toward, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Cousins, 27, took over as the full-time starter for Washington in 2015 and showed enough to convince the team that it was a much better idea to keep him around than allow him to walk. He led the NFL with a 69.8 completion percentage to go with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
But Washington and Cousins haven't had the easiest time agreeing on his value. Since the season ended, contract talks have reached roadblocks, pushing the team toward using other means to keep the quarterback from reaching free agency. While many believed the team would use the franchise tag, Rapoport instead says the transition tag is likely on the way for Cousins.
Why use the transition tag instead of the franchise tag? It's cheaper. Instead of averaging the top five salaries at a position like the franchise tag, the transition tag pays the average of the top 10 salaries, which is a significant difference for a position like quarterback. Instead of getting $19.953 million with the franchise tag, Cousins would instead stand to make $17.696 million under the transition tag.
The transition tag comes with a notable risk, though, and that's that it will allow other teams to negotiate with Cousins without the threat of losing draft picks.
Both the non-exclusive franchise tag and the transition tag allow teams to match any offer made to a tagged player, but if a franchised player is allowed to take a deal from another team without it being matched, the original team is owed two first-round picks.
Without the threat of lost draft picks, quarterback-needy teams like the Cleveland Browns or Houston Texans will have no negative ramifications if they choose to negotiate with Cousins if he is given the transition tag. Of course, the most likely scenario is that Washington will be ready to match any offer extended to Cousins.
That means it's still unlikely that Cousins slips through Washington's fingers, but when Alex Mack was given the transition tag from the Browns in 2014, he negotiated a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that was extremely player-friendly. While Cleveland matched the offer, the contract gave Mack the opt-out option that he is expected to use before free agency begins next week.
If Cousins is given the transition tag, the door is open for another team to either irresponsibly overpay the quarterback or create a contract that is difficult for Washington to deal with. Then, the team will be stuck with the choice of matching a contract it doesn't want or allowing the quarterback to walk.
By applying the transition tag to Cousins, Washington would save about $2.3 million but leave the possibility of a scenario that pulls the team's quarterback away.