The Redskins have enacted phase one of the Kirk Cousins conundrum.

Washington placed the exclusive franchise tag on the quarterback, the team announced Tuesday.

By opting for the exclusive designation, the Redskins have ensured that no other team can negotiate with Cousins absent Washington’s permission. Because he’s drawing the tag for a second consecutive season, Cousins’ tender is expected to be valued at $23.94 million — 120 percent of his 2016 salary.

The two sides have until July 15 to negotiate a multi-year contract. This is where Cousins’ extreme leverage comes into play.

The franchise-tag mechanism will end up awarding the 28-year-old $43.89 million in guaranteed money for two seasons. If the ‘Skins want to go the same route again in 2018, the price tag will be a prohibitive $34.47 million. In other words, Cousins would end up collecting $78.36 million, shattering the record for most guaranteed money in a three-year span.


Had the Redskins offered the going rate for franchise quarterbacks ($20 million annually) last offseason, they would have Cousins’ services under contract for the next half-decade. Instead, they miscalculated his market and underestimated his ability.

Among all players with at least 500 attempts, Cousins is the NFL’s highest-rated passer (104.7) since midseason of 2015 — when “You like that!” became a bizarre national catchphrase. He and Russell Wilson are the only two quarterbacks with a winning record and at least 4,000 passing yards in each of the past two seasons.

Now that his last two offensive coordinators — Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay — are overseeing their own teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Cousins’ leverage ratchets up another notch with the knowledge that he has suitors outside of Washington.

Having placed his franchise in checkmate, Cousins is ready to cash in his winning ticket after betting on himself in a make-or-break contract year. He has little incentive to sign for even a penny less than the highest contract in football.

The Redskins understand Cousins isn’t worth Aaron Rodgers money, but what’s the alternate plan at professional sports’ most important position?

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