Washington and Kirk Cousins did not reach terms on a long-term extension before the deadline on Friday, meaning the quarterback will play the 2016 season on a one-year deal under the franchise tag.
The franchise tag will guarantee Cousins makes $19.953 million in 2016, which made a long-term deal something that Washington could've benefited from. While it would mean committing to Cousins for a few years, it would have allowed the team to spread out the cap hit and avoid a nearly $20 million commitment in 2016.
That large number was obviously attractive to Cousins, though. It gave him the leverage to turn down any contract offer that wasn't a blockbuster deal and the quarterback insisted all along that he was content to play 2016 on a one-year deal.
"I never played football thinking about money, and going forward I never want to play football thinking about money," Cousins told ESPN's Jim Trotter in March. "That's why I think it's important for me to play with a salary that's just locked in. I don't want to be thinking about individual accomplishments or rewards that would boost my salary or up my numbers. I just want to go out and play football and try and win games."
Cousins enjoyed a breakout season in 2015 and led Washington to its second NFC East title since 1999. Robert Griffin III was under center the last time Washington captured the division in 2012, but Cousins beat him out for the starting job at the end of training camp. Head coach Jay Gruden announced Aug. 31 he thought Cousins was the best quarterback on the roster, and Cousins proved him to be right.
The 27-year-old Cousins led the league with a 69.8 completion percentage in 2015, throwing for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was one of the best quarterbacks in football in the second half of the season, posting a 126.1 passer rating over the final eight games of the year.
Cousins didn't play all that poorly in Washington's 35-18 Wild Card Round loss to the Green Bay Packers, throwing for 329 yards and one touchdown. But it wasn't enough to hold off Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who ripped through Washington's porous defense.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Cousins last season was how much he cut down on his turnovers. In his first three NFL seasons, he threw a staggering 19 interceptions in 14 games. But in 2015, Cousins only threw 11 picks.
If Cousins can replicate his success in 2016, he'll get one step closer to a substantial contract that locks down his future in Washington, but he won't be able to negotiate that deal until 2017, at the earliest.