Redskins decline to use franchise tag on Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins is a free man.

The Washington Redskins declined to use another franchise tag on him, a move that would have been designed to use Cousins as trade bait. The deadline for doing so was 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Doug Williams, Washington's senior vice president of player personnel, said at the scouting combine last week that it was unlikely the team would tag Cousins. Multiple reports over the previous month had stated it was a possibility.

Tagging Cousins would have been an attempt to recoup lost compensation after trading a third-round pick and corner Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for quarterback Alex Smith. Cousins will be worth a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 -- but whether Washington actually gets that still depends on what happens in free agency.

Tagging him was fraught with risks if a trade couldn't be made immediately. Had the Redskins tagged him and he didn't sign, then it would have counted on their salary cap once free agency started. Had he signed and they were unable to trade him, they would have had two expensive quarterbacks and one awkward situation.

That potential $34.5 million cap hit would have prevented them from pursuing other free agents. In the end, it wasn't worth it for Washington.

Now the question focuses on Cousins' next stop. The final four teams that emerged over the weekend include the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets,?? Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos.

He tweeted Tuesday that he's "open to suggestions" on his next team.

Because Cousins won't be on the tag, his agent can talk money with teams during the legal tampering period, which starts March 12. The new league year begins March 14. At that point, there's a good chance Cousins will make an immediate visit to a team that likely made the best offer -- or the best combination of offer and situation. A decision could come on the first night of free agency -- if all goes well. Otherwise, he'd visit the next team on his list.

But deciding not to tag Cousins ends the drama for Washington. The Redskins used the franchise tag on him each of the past two offseasons, earning him $44 million in guaranteed income. The sides never came close to a multiyear deal, but they both wanted a long-term solution. For Washington, that solution was Smith -- who will count $17 million against the cap this season. He will sign a four-year extension once free agency begins and the trade becomes official.

Cousins, 29, started all 48 games for Washington the past three seasons, averaging 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions per year. He played in the Pro Bowl after the 2016 season.

"I can't speak for Kirk and his reasons for not signing a long-term deal and that's a mutual deal," coach Jay Gruden said last week. "He wants to do what's best for his family and we're trying to do what's best for our organization and our team. It just didn't work out. What the reasons are, I'm sure there are a handful on his side and a handful on our side. But it's time to move on and we will."