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Kirk Cousins' future with Redskins lies in play down stretch

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As the Redskins take the field tonight against the Giants, they are currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs. They need a win to have a chance to get back into the mix.

And beyond 2017, their future at the quarterback position is not yet defined, either.

The Redskins have options for Kirk Cousins, who is playing under his second consecutive franchise tag at $24 million in 2017. And while the final answer on what they'll do is not yet definite, some options are.

Sources say the transition tag that would pay him $28.8 million in 2018 is not considered a viable option. Instead, it's a decision that will come down to franchise tag for $34.5 million or allowing him to walk into free agency likely to sign with another QB-needy team.

What will be the deciding factor in that call? His play down the stretch will have a huge impact.

Riddled with injuries, with half of his offensive line on injured reserve and two top running backs out, Cousins can step to the forefront and will his team to some victories late in the season. The thinking goes that franchise QBs pull their teams to two or three wins a year that other teams with pedestrian passers have no chance at. If Cousins does, it will solidify his standing as the 'Skins star for the future and his contract will be in line with what other elite passers get (Lions quarterback Matt Stafford's extension averages $27 million per year).

If Cousins does not, the Redskins might not deem him not worthy of $34.5 million in 2018 as a jumping off point for negotiations and they might be in the hunt for a new quarterback who's more efficient, cap-wise. It's not a question of whether they want Cousins to be their quarterback. It's a question of value.

Statistically, Cousins is having another great year -- 17 touchdown passes against five interceptions. But a look deeper may explain the Redskins' reticence: Cousins is completing just 44 percent of his passes inside the 20 and 35 percent inside the 10. Rarely is he among the top quarterbacks for touchdowns. They want more plays in the red area and in crunch time. For the money they'd pay him, they could decide they want more.

Neither side can negotiate until season ends. Cousins talks won't even begin until he learns whether he'll be tagged or not on March 6. And if the team comes to him and doesn't treat him like the franchise quarterback he believes he is, the talks won't get very far. That was what derailed discussions the past two seasons.

Why not the transition tag? Though it would seem to be $6 million cheaper for 2018, it also invites a bidding war -- and there would surely be one from many teams. The thought is, a team would end up structuring a deal that would make sure the Redskins paid more than $6 million more in year one with a front-loaded deal. Going for the cheaper option would backfire, and they wouldn't end up saving anything. And if Cousins isn't worth the franchise tag anyway, then what's the point of a bidding war for a quarterback you are uncertain about?

Thus, the decision of franchise tag and possible long-term extension or allowing him to walk as both sides would enter new beginnings. Sources say, the choice is in Cousins' hands.

His play over the last month-plus of the season will go a long way in determining if he's the Redskins quarterback of the future or not.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet

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