The Washington Redskins have every right to tag Kirk Cousins and try to trade him. That doesn't negate one fact: It will be difficult to pull off and they could severely damage their cap space, hurting their ability to sign other free agents.
It's a move many have described with one word: risky.
It's not without precedent in Washington. In 2004, the Redskins placed the franchise tag on cornerback Champ Bailey and traded him to Denver for running back Clinton Portis. It worked because Bailey liked Denver and was agreeable to a long-term deal. Denver also received a second-round pick in exchange.
However, at that time if a player left via free agency there was no possibility of a compensatory pick. If Cousins leaves via free agency, because of the expected size of his deal, the Redskins would receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.
The Redskins also could tag Cousins, see if there's any possibility and then rescind the tag before free agency. The window to tag a player is Feb. 20-March 6. In communicating with nine people connected to the league, no one felt good about the Redskins' chances of pulling off this move. As one coach said, he could see the Redskins considering it because they view Cousins as a possible asset, but he acknowledged it would be tough.
There are roadblocks:
Cap space: Once the Redskins place the franchise tag tender on Cousins, it would count against the salary cap. He does not need to sign the tender for it to count. All teams must be in compliance with the salary cap before free agency begins on the first day of the new league year, March 14. As of now, the Redskins have about $32 million in cap space. The franchise tender would count $34.5 million.
Because Cousins can't be traded until he signs the tender, if he hasn't done so when free agency begins, he'd occupy cap space and prevent the Redskins from possible signings.
Franchise tag sign and trade: Because it would be a third franchise tag, according to the collective bargaining agreement it must be exclusive. That means only the Redskins can negotiate with Cousins. So, even during the legal tampering window before free agency, Cousins' agent would be unable to discuss contract numbers with other teams.
Yes, there are ways around that, but there are also ways to let other teams know this: Cousins won't agree to any wink-wink extension before free agency. Because of the restrictions, it would raise eyebrows in the league if there were a deal in the first minute of free agency that includes an extension.
Also, it's hard to imagine the detailed and prepared Cousins agreeing to anything before meeting with the coach and visiting the facility. He clearly will have done his research on each team or city. But wanting to visit would be a logical move based on his personality.
No talks: Considering the tag number and possible compensation, teams would want to discuss a long-term deal. It's very possible -- likely -- Cousins would not negotiate a long-term deal with a new team if he's tagged.
The Redskins could ask Cousins what teams he'd be interested in and try to make a deal with one of them. However, though that might help out his former team, giving up picks wouldn't help his new one. But the Redskins could try this route.
Let's say Minnesota and Jacksonville -- places that would be attractive -- want Cousins and it's unclear which one he would choose if on the open market. Maybe one would give up a pick just to secure his rights. Even in this case, Cousins' side could let teams know that because he's on the tag, the starting price for a new deal is $34.5 million. That has been the message Cousins' side has delivered the past two offseasons.
Once again the major roadblock here -- and the key to everything -- is Cousins would have to have signed the tender before the Redskins can trade him. If he's determined to hit the open market, there's little chance he'd sign the tender before free agency begins knowing the ramifications.
But if he has signed, would another team really give up high picks plus that much cap space if they know he wouldn't sign a long-term deal? Cousins might be the most attractive free-agent quarterback, but there will be other possibilities for teams wanting, perhaps, just a veteran quarterback for one or two seasons that are far less expensive.
Transition tag sign and trade: If they used the transition tag, and he hasn't signed the tender, all Cousins must do is get an offer sheet from another team, sign it and then the Redskins have to match or receive no compensation. And until he signed that offer, he'd count $28.8 million against the Redskins' cap.
File a grievance: Whether or not this would be successful, Cousins' side could file a grievance with the NFL Players Association. Their contention would be tagging Cousins goes against the original intent of the tag, which was designed to protect players they wanted to keep. The Redskins no longer want or need Cousins -- a trade for quarterback Alex Smith will be official on March 14.
In the end, it's one thing to consider tagging Cousins. Some might view it as petty, others will see it as trying to maximize an asset. But it would be another thing altogether for it to work.