Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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No Deal!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Deadlines spur action—except in Washington.

 

That’s true of both our filibustering government and the beleaguered football team that inhabits our nation’s capital. It’s common knowledge that NFL owners wield more power than owners in any other sport (Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman articulates this subject as well as anyone). Yet somehow the Redskins were outsmarted by the GMC Savana of quarterbacks. To quote the esteemed rap producer and garden enthusiast DJ Khaled, congratulations, Washington—you played yourself.

 

This shouldn’t have been that complicated. Does Kirk Cousins belong in the upper echelon of NFL signal callers? Probably not, but he’s the next step down and if the Redskins wanted to lock him up, they should have done it a long time ago rather than sending mixed signals for the past two years. Monday’s 4 ET deadline for signing franchise players came and went without a new deal for Cousins, meaning he’ll become the first quarterback in NFL history to play under the franchise tag two years in a row.

 

Sure Cousins would have preferred the stability that comes with a long-term contract, but for now, playing it year-by-year makes plenty of sense. It’s not like Cousins is out here rubbing two nickels together and filling his grocery cart with ramen noodles. He’s made a killing under the franchise tag, pulling in nearly $44 million over the last two seasons. Like LeBron James—who correctly surmised that he could maximize his earnings by going year-to-year until the salary cap skyrocketed from the NBA’s new television deal—Cousins has gladly accepted huge salaries under the franchise tag while waiting for an even bigger payday down the line. It’s true that Cousins is betting on himself. But it worked last season and if the originator of this catchphrase can hold it together for one more year, there will be a king’s ransom waiting for him in free agency.

 

As you’d expect from one of the league’s most volatile organizations, the Redskins are painting their own picture of the negotiations, framing Cousins as a greedy sell-out lost in his own delusional sense of self-worth. The Redskins skipped passive and went straight to aggressive, taking the nearly unheard-of measure of revealing their exact offer to Cousins. They claimed to offer him $53 million guaranteed (and $72 million for injury) with an annual salary that would have made Cousins “at least” the second highest-paid player in football. That’s definitely not chump change but you can see why a player of Cousins’ caliber might balk at it. Essentially, the Redskins presented a six-year deal with only two years guaranteed, an offer Cousins should easily beat on the open market next offseason.

 

No, Cousins isn’t the second-best player in football or even close to it. But that has little to do with his market value. Until the salary cap plateaus, the highest-paid player will likely be whichever big-name quarterback was paid most recently. That’s why Cousins and Derek Carr are both earning more than Aaron Rodgers, who is still a year or two away from his next deal. It may seem overly ambitious for Cousins to seek out the largest deal in NFL history (until that mark is inevitably topped by a younger signal-caller like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston), but any ascendant player at the end of his contract would do the same exact thing.

 

And can you really blame Cousins for playing hardball with the Redskins? No team in recent memory has been more ambivalent about its star player. It’s bad enough that the Redskins waited almost four years to hand over the offense to Cousins after watching injury-prone draft bust Robert Griffin III face-plant at every turn. But now that they’ve low-balled Cousins for the second year in a row while publicly shaming him for not accepting a below-market deal, there’s really no way the Redskins can spin this in their favor.

 

Any leverage Washington may have had over Cousins has quickly evaporated. The franchise tag for quarterbacks rises to $34.48 million next year while the $28.73 million transition tag is only slightly more affordable. Cousins has remained diplomatic throughout the process, claiming the July 17 deadline didn’t offer him enough time to make his decision. But in all likelihood, he’ll be headed for greener pastures next year and the Redskins will have only themselves to blame.

 

Even surrounded by a slew of capable pass-catchers in Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed and Josh Doctson, there’s not much keeping Cousins in Washington. Whether on purpose or by accident, it’s pretty baffling that Redskins president Bruce Allen still isn’t sure of Cousins’ first name, and the team’s continuing front office turmoil isn’t helping. If Cousins escapes Washington for a new, brighter future, perhaps he’ll consider the 49ers, who are coached by his former OC Kyle Shanahan. The rebuilding Niners have ample cap room and will surely be looking for a quarterback to supplant current placeholder Brian Hoyer next year.

 

Cousins wasn’t the only franchise player to go without a deal on Monday. The Steelers couldn’t close the gap with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who reportedly turned down a deal in excess of $12 million annually. Because he has yet to sign his $12.12 million franchise tender, Bell is free to hold out without financial consequences, which is exactly what he’ll do.

 

It’s surprising Bell hasn’t put pen to paper yet. From everything we know, the Steelers have presented a fair offer, one that Bell would be hard-pressed to beat on the open market. The $30 million the Steelers have offered over the next two seasons is more than Bell would earn if the team tagged him again in 2018.

 

Of course, there could be more to the story and it’s quite possible that Pittsburgh’s offer, though generous in terms of annual salary, could be light on guarantees. Bell also wants to be an ambassador for the running back position and feels he can do that by resetting the market. "We do everything,” said Bell after Monday’s deadline. “We block, we run, we catch the ball. Our value isn't where it needs to be. I'm taking it upon myself to open up some eyes and show the position is more valuable.”

 

Bell’s holdout is far from unprecedented. Eric Berry kept his distance from the Chiefs last summer after failing to secure a long-term contract, waiting until August 28 to sign his franchise tender. That worked out for both sides as Berry turned in another All-Pro season before striking a six-year, $76 million deal to stay in Kansas City.

 

Early reports suggest Bell won’t arrive at Steelers camp until mid-to-late August. For fantasy owners, there’s not much to be concerned about. Bell has gotten late starts before—he’s been suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy—and it’s never impacted his on-field performance.

 

If anything, staying away from Steelers camp may actually benefit Bell, as he’d stand a greater chance of getting hurt at practice or in preseason play. Bell’s absence will also open up more opportunities for younger players like third-round rookie James Connor. Those reps may not have been available had Bell been present for the start of camp. Bell went under the knife this offseason after playing through a groin injury late last year (the injury limited him to 11 snaps in Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to New England) but is already trending toward 100 percent and should be a full-go well in advance of Week 1 against the Browns. That’s only 53 days away.

 

Quick Hits: It’s been a rough week for Ezekiel Elliott. Days after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Zeke was bracing for a 1-2 game suspension stemming from a 2016 domestic violence incident, the Cowboys running back made headlines again, this time for an altercation at a Dallas bar. On top of that, Elliott is appealing a speeding ticket he incurred for going 100 mph in a 70 mph zone … Monday the Panthers stunned everyone by parting ways with GM Dave Gettleman. The firing came seemingly out of nowhere, though Gettleman rarely budged in contract disputes (even with Greg Olsen threatening a holdout) and owner Jerry Richardson reportedly wasn’t a fan of how he handled the departures of star players Steve Smith Sr. and Josh Norman. Gettleman, who has already been replaced on an interim basis by Marty Hurney, came in at No. 7 in RotoPat’s annual GM rankingsAustin Hooper recently trained with Matt Ryan during a three-day stint at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California. The 22-year-old tight end pulled in 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie last season … The Cardinals appear to be set with Kerwynn Williams as their No. 2 running back, though re-signing free agent Chris Johnson remains a possibility. Williams barely saw the field last year, logging just 50 offensive snaps with 30 of those coming after workhorse David Johnson bowed out with a knee injury in Week 17 … Free agent Anquan Boldin has a visit lined up with an unknown team this Sunday. The 36-year-old led the Lions with eight touchdown receptions last season … Philip Rivers hopes he’ll still be with the Chargers in 2020 when they open their new stadium in Inglewood. The 35-year-old is under contract through 2019 … Lions DE Armonty Bryant was hit with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The 27-year-old served two suspensions last season including a four-game ban for PEDs and a three-gamer for another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy … Aaron Rodgers said he hasn’t discussed a new deal with the Packers. The two-time MVP implied he was looking for a raise after the Bears handed Mike Glennon a deal worth $15 million annually, but he seems to have softened his stance. Including this season, Rodgers has three years remaining on his contract … Jeremy Langford has been slow to recover from offseason ankle surgery. The 25-year-old began last year as the Bears’ starting running back but fell behind Jordan Howard due to injuries and ineffectiveness … Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times believes Zach Miller will need a standout camp to crack the Bears’ 53-man roster. Miller is coming off foot surgery and now faces competition from second-round pick Adam Shaheen and free agent signing Dion Sims … Bears OL Kyle Long is making the switch from right guard to left. Josh Sitton will man right guard, the same position he occupied in Green Bay. Long is still recovering from ankle surgery but should be ready by Week 1 … According to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears are planning to start Mike Glennon all season. Assuming they stick to that plan, second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky will handle backup duties ahead of third-string quarterback Mark Sanchez.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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